The big moment that wasn’t

October 1, 2006 | Conversion, Prayer, Spiritual Dry Spells | 24 comments

Today we had a half-day RCIA session from noon to five o’clock. For the most part it was like our regular classes, but at the end they surprised us with an hour of Adoration. We knelt on the concrete floor as the deacon brought in the monstrance, then our adult education director invited us to come before the consecrated host one by one to say a prayer.

The vibe in the room wasn’t exactly conducive to prayerful reflection (it was a gymnasium-type building with bright, glaring florescent lights and the A/C set on “arctic”), but I was excited nonetheless. I’ve heard so many good things about it, I wondered what it felt like to participate in this event that so many people believe involves the real presence of Jesus Christ. And it couldn’t have come at a better time.

As part of the normal ebb and flow of my budding spirituality I’ve been having another dry spell where I don’t feel particularly in tune with God. I’ve been praying daily for my faith to be strengthened and hoped that maybe something at this RCIA retreat would help. So when our director announced that we were going to have Adoration I thought, “This is it!” and sat back and waited for my powerful religious experience.

I smelled the incense and watched the deacon walk down the isle in his elaborate, beautiful robe. I saw many people go before me to recite the prayer of devotion to Jesus, often becoming overwhelmed with tears. I stared at the monstrance, waiting to feel something, waiting to feel that Jesus was truly present in this most sacred of events. I tried to silence my usual racing, scattered, overly-analytical thoughts and simply let God speak to me and lead me in the right direction.

So it was with a heavy heart that I realized I felt nothing as I watched person after person get up from kneeling to wipe tears from their eyes. A moment before I went up to take my turn I begged God to let me know if this was the right path, to give me some sort of feeling or sign that he is truly present here, that we’re not all just woefully misled, just revering manmade objects. And still, I felt nothing. I returned home from the retreat and Adoration about the same spiritually as before I left.

Normally it’s no surprise when experiences that are spiritually powerful for others don’t affect me — as I’ve mentioned many times before, I’m spiritually inept. But I’ve heard so much about Adoration I suppose I just took for granted that it was going to be a thunder-and-lightning sort of experience, that this was the big gun you pull out when you’re flailing and in need of direction. In the back of my mind I always thought, “Well, if I get too far off course and my doubts get too overwhelming I’ll just go to Adoration, that’ll fix it.” Looking back I see it was silly to think that there’s some sort of insta-quick-fix for matters of faith, but it was disappointing to come to that realization nonetheless.

So, I’m not sure what to make of that. Obviously I’m not going to give up on Adoration based on this one experience. Hopefully I was just having an off day or something. But since one of the main purposes of this site is to give a completely honest, uncensored chronicle my experiences with faith, both good and bad, I wanted to share this story.

I also want to hear what my readers think: Have you ever had a setback like this, something you thought would be powerful and transformative but fell flat? Also, was it perhaps something I did wrong? Was there something I should have done to put myself in a better mindset to appreciate it?

Prayers and thoughts appreciated, as always.

UPDATE: A wonderful Part II to this post is here.

24 Comments

  1. Anonymous

    I am not a Catolic, but I often go to Catholic church. First time I was at Adoration it was quite boring. They set up the Sacrament on the alter, turned off the light and we sat in the dark for three hours and nothing happened.
    But I have been to Adoration later, and then I tried worshipping God, loving Him as I was sitting in the church and that totally changed my experience of God’s presence. It was really powerful.

  2. Anonymous

    Well, it’s the feast of St. Therese today! The Little Flower often mentioned “spiritual dryness.” (Not sure if that’s exactly what you’re experiencing.) I’ve read that you can see this as a gift to God as well. For example, it’s easier to love and worship Jesus when we’re being rewarded with this intense spiritual feeling. But we know from our Catholic tradition that offering up what is not easy gives great honor to Jesus.

    The fact that you aren’t getting a tangible feeling (reward), but still want to believe, I have no doubt pleases Jesus.

  3. Barb, sfo

    Yes–I have had this happen, and sometimes I have given in to the feeling that I am unworthy or not spiritual enough or whatever it is…and then that blocks me from going the extra mile the next time.
    I commend you for not giving up, just because you didn’t wind up with some deep feeling as a result of Adoration. That’s not always what we need. So don’t beat up on yourself because others had something you didn’t. God will give you what you need, when the time is right.

  4. Joanne

    I’m a convert as well (raised in atheist family, now Christian) and I usually don’t have any big spiritual/emotional feelings when I think I’m “supposed to.” When I do have these moments they are not planned for or expected. I don’t know why it’s that way. For myself, I try to remember that feelings/emotions are great & are a part of our faith, but they are not the whole of it. Part of faith is “feeling,” but so is “doing.” If I wait and wait until I *feel* like praying, I’ll never do it–so it’s OK to start out by just going through the motions if that’s the best I can do.

  5. Julie D.

    Definitely don’t give up!

    I have read accounts of Adoration which were actually the person stopping in to eat lunch while in front of the tabernacle and mulling over what job to take. No “feelings” involved but looking back there was definite guidance. This is from the forward of a HIGHLY recommended book … “No Wonder They Call It the Real Presence: Lives Changed by Christ In Eucharistic Adoration by David Pearson.”

    That book really helped me with the entire concept of losing expectations over what sitting with Jesus would do for me … and set me free for being open to what God would send, which has been powerful on occasion and also felt like nothing upon occasion. As a previous comment has said it was when I dropped my expectations that I was surprised by Jesus with His presence. 🙂

  6. Bekah

    I would guess that a lot of the reason why some of us react emotionally to God’s dispensation of Grace is because we have been trained so. As an atheist, you have not developed that “reaction to stimulus,” if you will. That doesn’t mean there is something wrong with you or that your faith is inferior. We can often be distracted or misled by emotion, or lack of it. The measure of our emotional response is not equal to the measure of our alotment of faith. In fact, keeping the faith in spite of lack of feeling is more laudable because we are more prone to doubt lacking this internal reward. Ask yourself if you more greatly desire the reward of emotion or the reward of Grace? Persevere.

  7. Adoro Te Devote

    Here’s the thing; worship is not about emotional response or about “feeling” of any kind. Faith is not an emotion–it is a conscious act of the will, but it is also a gift from God (faith is one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit). You have faith–it’s all over your post. So what if you dont’ have “feeling”?

    Sometimes I tear up during the consecration, sometimes I cry my eyes out in Adoration…but most of the time it’s pretty dry. I have to remember that Jesus is really present, I have to pray for the eyes of faith.

    Don’t get hung up on not having a “thunder and lightning” experience–God sometimes uses those to get our attention, or maybe just to let us cry as tears can be very healing. He gives us what we need, not necessarily what we want. The most intimiate and powerfult work the Lord does in our souls is often not accompanied by any sort of recognizable feeling on our part. Take it as a compliment from God that you weren’t overwhelmed from emotion…could it be that you have a more mature faith?

  8. melanie b

    I’ve had some emotional highs during adoration, mass, and prayer. But mostly not. Generally I’m distracted and dry.

    But I’d agree with the other posters who have pointed out that adoration is not about emotions and feelings, it’s an act of will.

    I’d further clarify that it helps to remember that adoration is other-centered as opposed to me-centered. I tend to go astray when I’m more worried about what I get out of prayer than about what I’m giving to it.

    Think about having a conversation with a person. If you aren’t listening to what they say, but only worried about what you will say next, it’s not much of a conversation, is it?

    Or, to use another analogy that springs to mind, it might help to reflect on the idea of mass as a marriage feast. We celebrate the wedding of Christ the bridegroom with His bride, the Church. If either husband or wife enters the marriage bed totally focused on the feelings I have and worried about whether I will experience pleasure, the usual result is disaster. Marriage is properly about a gift of oneself to the other.

    Likewise in adoration our focus should be on pleasing Christ with our attention. Sometimes to make a marriage work you have to fake a smile and pretend to be interested even when you are not.

    Though the result is often that in faking it and losing focus on yourself you do enjoy being with your spouse. Self sacrifice does usually lead to pleasure. In the long run if not in the short term.

  9. Anonymous

    (((((Hugs, Jen )))))

    Spiritual experience is not congruent with emotional experience!

    This is one of the reasons I love being Catholic. When I was a protestant (having tried several flavors over a number of years), I was always made to feel second-class because I did not get the big emotional highs many protestants mistake for spiritual experiences. I’m just wired in a more masculine way, relatively even emotionally compared to most women. But so many protestants worship emotional experiences more than God, and they don’t even know it. Coming Home to the Church was such a big relief in many ways … and being allowed NOT to be emotionally overwrought was one of them.

    Now, some Catholics will have those overwhelming emotional experiences, too, and those individuals will probably push emotional highs as “genuine” experience. But our Church teaches a bigger Truth than emotional experience.

    Also, dry spells happen. Mother Teresa was beset by a dry spell lasting for decades. It must have been agonizing for her, but never did anyone question the authenticity of her faith! You can get more info on dry spells from your priest.

    Only you can know whether you tend to be more emotionally even-keeled than most … and if that’s the case, you can still be a good Christian as a Catholic, thanks be to God! 🙂

    God bless you and I’m praying for you now.

  10. Patty in WA

    Just a random thought: Do you always *feel* crazy in love with your husband? Do you still do things that tell him that you love him, even when you don’t get that crazy in love feeling? Is the feeling or the fact of the love that matters most?

  11. Tim

    “Obviously I’m not going to give up on Adoration based on this one experience.”

    That’s the right attitude, Jen!

    I rarely have any feelings when I go to Adoration. A couple times I’ve felt inspired, but 90% of the time I feel absolutely nothing. Sometimes I’m even antzy and will leave earlier than I had planned before I got there.

    The thing that I DO notice, however, is the increased sanctity in my life since I started regularly Adoring the Lord. I walk in an aura of peace these days that I didn’t have before.

    My ex-wife noticed it the other day and spent a week going to Adoration with me because of it. The biggest spiritual effect I can attribute to Adoration is a curious release from sexual lusts that used to plague me. I can now embrace celibacy, lifelong if need be, with ease. It is as if I had spiritual surgery or something. I mean, it’s revolutionary!

    So, the idea with this devotion as with most is perserverance. Be patient with yourself and with God. His blessings will come. The key is to drop all expectation and concentrate on your own faithfulness. We must look to the Giver and not the Gift. The Gift is nice and we should thank the Giver but then quickly give the Gift back and turn our regard back to the Giver. This is the spiritually mature way to handle these things.

    You’re doing fine, Jen, thank God you have such a cool RCIA program.

  12. Anonymous

    Jennifer,

    Everyone else has said what I was going to say about emotion and faith. I’ll add only a couple of things. First, your faith is probably deeper than you think. I say this because you are pressing forward even when you feel spiritually dry or feel far from God. I am so happy for you that you aren’t letting your emotions rule in this situation. It’s tempting to do so because we are such emotional creatures, and everything in our society seems to point us in the direction of following our hearts and emotions on everything. So the fact that you are approaching this with such an attitude (that you won’t give up on it) shows a great maturity in your faith. I know cradle Catholics who still haven’t figured this out!

    Secondly, I wanted to let you know that I’ve still kept you in my prayers, mostly for your health, but I’ll also keep in mind your journey home to the Church. There have been times when I felt really far from God, too, and it wasn’t until years later than anyone told me that saints have felt the same way! (I bought “Dark Night of the Soul” by St. John of the Cross, but I haven’t started it just yet.) It is a comfort to me to know that, for example, Mother Theresa had a “dark night” that lasted from the time she left the convent until her death.

    God bless you, Jen!

  13. SteveG

    So many fantastic comments! First off, keep in mind what a miracle it is that you were even there. What a blessed and amazing journey it has been which led you to that spot, on that night. It’s breath-taking…truly!

    Beyond that, I can’t add much new, but will just reiterate a few things I’ve seen said already (especially the comments of Joanne, Bekah, and AdoreTeDevote-who’ve all said what I wanted to say).

    Be careful of going into such practices with any expectations of what you ‘should’ experience. That’s just asking for trouble.

    Don’t get overly hung up on the emotional aspects of the faith. Emotional consolations are great when they come, but they just aren’t the end all and be all, nor are they even required.

    So often when we pray we are trying to figure out what to say, how to approach God, what to do. When in reality if we’d but be silent and open our hearts, maybe we’d find that it is us who should be listening, and allowing God to approach us. It is after all we who are in need of transformation during prayer, not the other way round.

    Keep in mind one of the most powerful prayers for people in such situations as you have described.

    Mark 9:24 “I believe; help my unbelief!”

  14. ELC

    “The wind blows where it wills, and you can hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes; so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8 NAB)

  15. Amy Caroline

    Jen,
    I think you might have hit the nail on the head when you talked about being made to kneel on the hard concrete floor in front of a bunch of people in a gym. I don’t think I would have felt all that moved in that situation of the Pope came walking in holding the monstrance.
    I tend to be one of those people that need the atmosphere, the actual air of faithful prayer… and that was definitely not it!
    I also tend to find prayer a private thing. If I were doing it before a group of people that would make me nervous and overly aware of self. Sometime in the future go to an adoration chapel, of your own free will. Take your rosary and just be.
    God Bless!

  16. Tony

    I heard that God loves our worship especially at those times when we are distracted or are not getting anything out of it, because we are doing it completely for Him, not for whatever positive feedback we might get.

  17. Anonymous

    I think the comments you have received are fantastic. I’d just like to add that I am a cradle Catholic who takes her faith very seriously and have been exposed to many liturgical celebrations in my life (both tridentine and novus ordo masses, benedictions, all the sacraments, etc, etc) and I can honestly say I’ve NEVER gotten overwhelmed with emotion or teary at any of them (well, I did get teary at my own wedding, but that was kind of different!). I don’t take this to mean that my faith is any less than people who do get these overwhelming emotional highs.

    I enjoy going to adoration and just SITTING. Not feeling the expectation to feel anything, pray any certain prayer, or act in any specific way. I find that when I go with little expectation, I am able to just sit and BE with God. And it’s very peaceful indeed.

  18. Anonymous

    Dear Jennifer and All Other Bloggers on This Site,

    I am very happy for you that you are on your journey home. You see, it really is a journey home. God loves you so much and yearns to reveal that to you. No matter what “flavor” of Christianity you choose, it is of great importance that you pray that God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit would reveal to you the love of the Father.

    There are many important things to understand about your faith (walking in love, understanding faith, prayer, etc.). ****However, first and foremost, above all else you are God’s child. He loves you and desires for you to know Him more and more and more.****

    I myself am a charismatic Christian. What I enjoy about being charismatic is that I am encouraged to experience my relationship with God to the fullest and to respond to Him. At times I have cried at a certain revelation of an experience with God. There were other times when I have laughed and laughed just being silly. Other times I have simply walked in faith of what I know the Bible says.

    Perhaps at another time I will tell you how I came to know God and Jesus as I became a Christian.

    I wanted to post this message to encourage you to take a look at this website

    http://www.fathersloveletter.com/fllpreviewlarge.html

    This is not only beautiful but these are truly God’s words spoken to you. Please take a look at this and rest in Him.

    Once again, Welcome home.

    Caroline

  19. Anonymous

    Dear Jennifer (and All Other Bloggers on This Site Who Relate to What I am Saying in This Message):

    I wanted to tell you how happy I am that you are on your journey home. And, it really is a journey home. Your Father God loves you and aches for you to come close to Him and to experience His love. Please take a look at this website.

    http://www.fathersloveletter.com/fllpreviewlarge.html

    As you look at this website, please know that this is not just a nice presentation. These are truly God’s words of love to you…to “whosoever will may come.”

    Once again, Welcome Home.

    Caroline

  20. Catholic Mom

    So many good analogies and words of encouragement! Please indulge me as I offer my own. Sometimes my husband and I will sit in the same room and each read our own book or newspaper. We don’t necessarily say much but we are keenly aware of each other’s’ presence and enjoying it. When he is out of town I may sit in my same chair and read my book, but it is not the same because he is not there. Time spent in Adoration does not have to be spent kneeling and staring at the monstrance. It is an excellent time to take some spiritual reading and study in His presence. Cardinal Arinze mentions in his podcast (which I highly recommend!) reading the papal encyclicals and apostolic letters in front of the Blessed Sacrament. Just as sometimes I am prompted by my husband’s mere presence to close my book and go give him a hug, you may occasionally be prompted by the realization of Christ’s Real Presence to look at Him and pray from the heart. At other times it may be enough to just be with Him and read.

  21. Kiwi Nomad 2006

    When I was in France earlier this year I often used to read the Church noticeboards. In one group of parishes the priest was conducting a series of weekly meetings about different aspects of Adoration. I stayed with a French friend who is a nun in an order that prays a lot and they spent time daily in Adoration. Maybe there is more to “know” in order for it to be more meaningful.

  22. John

    In my RCIA class they just gave us an excerpt, called “Prayers of the Forsaken,” from a book, Prayer by Richard Foster. It’s about the times of dryness that all who pray suffer from sooner or later. I found it very good.

    Among his points is that we have to come to accept that God must be just as free to not talk to us as we are to not talk to Him. We have to abandon the idea that we can control things and make things happen when we want…

    “…Like a frightened child we walk cautiously through the dark mists that now surround the Holy of Holies. We become tentative and unsure of ourselves. Nagging questions assail us with a force they never had before. “Is prayer only a psychological trick?” “Does evil ultimately win out?” “Is there any real meaning in the universe. “Does God really love me?”

    Through all of this, paradoxically, God is relying our faith by if threatening to destroy it. We are led to a profound and holy distrust of all superficial drives and human strivings. We know more deeply than ever before our capacity for infinite self-deception. Slowly we are being taken off of vain securities and false allegiances. Our trust in all exterior and interior results is being shattered so that we can learn faith in God alone. Through our barrenness of soul God is producing detachment, humility, patience, perseverance.

    Most surprising of all, our very dryness produces the habit of prayer in us. All distractions are gone. Even all warm fellowship has disappeared. We have become focused. The soul is parched. And thirsty. And this thirst can lead us to prayer. I say “can” because it can also lead us to despair or simply to abandon the search….”

    He also says we can pray the “Prayer of Complaint!” He mentions the Lament Psalms, where the ancient singers often complained with exasperation about God forsaking them…

  23. Laura H.

    I’m really late on this one but I guess I would just say “yes! me too!” to most of the comments already made.

    First off, this adoration experience sounds much different than most. Instead of everyone staying in the same place and just having their time with Jesus without distraction, you had people watching you go before the Lord and pray. I would be nervous! (It would definitely be very hard for me to focus in that situation.)

    It is easy to go in and expect for something specific to happen. You hear from Friend A that this one thing happened to him during confession so you go in expecting the same thing to happen to you and when it doesn’t, you panic. You hear from Friend B that this one thing happened to her during communion so you go up expecting the same thing to happen to you and when it doesn’t, you panic. I can only imagine what it’s like to sit there and SEE it happen and then it not happen to you.

    But it’s not reason to worry.

    God will send you fuzzies when He knows you need them or cares to grace you with them. Strong spirituality lives through the times that lack these things.

    This all comes right back to a point I’ve tried to make at least two other places on the web recently. I’ll post part of one of my responses as I think much of it applies to your situation as well…

    “Reflecting on prayer recently with a friend I had this to say:

    “Exodus 14:14 The LORD himself will fight for you; you have only to keep still.

    Keeping still seems to be the key in many spiritual matters. The more we pray the more we are able to be still. Practice of prayer is indeed practice of stillness. And it is in these moments of stillness that we allow ourselves to hear what it is God is saying to us and feel the love He is giving to us.”

    I think what I am trying to say here is that perhaps you should focus less on what you are saying and how you feel about what you’re saying and listen more. A huge part of praying is listening to the Lord and what HE has to tell US. Instead of worrying about your language or the passion you feel is conveyed, take comfort in knowing that He knows what is in your heart and that He wants to speak to you just as much as you want to speak to Him. He wants to whisper into your heart His love for you and if you shut out communication because you feel you do not have something to bring, you fail to hear Him telling you it’s okay.

    One of the great things about private devotions is that they are private! No one need know what devotions you have. Find something that allows you to sit still in the presence of the Lord, something that allows for joint, open dialogue, and that you do not feel pressured to keep. Ask our Lady to bring you to a devotion that is suited for you. She will help.”

    Obviously the specifics are slightly different so in your case, Jen, I would change the focus of my response from words to feelings. Instead of focusing so much on how you feel, focus more and what God wishes to do for you and how He wishes to speak to you in those times.

    I encourage you to keep going. I also encourage you to practice listening and stillness in your every day life. It has helped me in adoration in terms of being still and not always feeling the need to speak. We are in a world where everything is about feelings and words. We measure experiences in these terms and so, when we walk into adoration and do not leave feeling ‘high’, we are disappointed or think we’ve done something wrong or that the Lord does not listen to us.

    I assume that a different environment for adoration would also lend itself to a more evidently fruitful experience.

    I have had many things ‘fall flat’ in the few short years that I have really been active in my faith. The reason though is exactly what I addressed before: my expectations. When you cast aside all expectations, you are open to anything. You are open to what the Lord wishes to give you (which is the BEST) and are not sitting there missing it because you’re looking and waiting for something else that you THINK the Lord wants to give you. (Or sometimes, that you think the Lord SHOULD give you.) It’s not always easy to walk in and give it all up because, again, we are living in a culture which tells us to do the exact opposite – but it is possible.

    Anyway… long comment. Sorry. Prayers for you during your journey!

  24. The Koala Bear Writer

    Having joined the Church around the same time you did, I could identify with this. I was really sceptical about adoration for quite a while. My first time was at a small chapel off a large city church. I spent a lot of time thinking and talking to God about whether that was really Him there. And I felt – in a very small, quiet way – that it was. Nothing grand. Later, at other adoration experiences, I’ve had tears come at the feeling of His presence. Other times, nothing. When it’s not awesome, it’s probably because I’m too distracted… too human. 🙂 But thanks for your honesty!

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