It seems like a lot of people I know are going through spiritual dry spells lately, feeling apathetic about their relationship with God and/or feeling like God’s voice is silent during a difficult time. In case it’s helpful to anyone, I thought I’d post a list of some practical tips I’ve heard on the subject that I learned during my own times of spiritual dryness:
1. Make sure you’re not doing anything to block out God’s voice
As I’ve talked about before, my conversion started in a spiritual dry spell; I didn’t feel God’s presence in my life at all. It all changed for me after I read the C.S. Lewis quote that I discussed in this post, in which he pointed out that asking God to dwell in a heart filled with darkness would be like asking the sun to reflect off of a dusty mirror.
Though it’s not as simple as cutting out sin = feeling great spiritual consolation (since, as we’ll talk about in #9, God sometimes has a purpose behind letting us experience spiritual dry spells), there are some cases, like me at the beginning of my conversion, where it’s mostly just an issue of the filth of sin blocking out God’s light. I’ve found that it’s easy for me to slide into “little” daily sins like gossip, envy, uncharity and especially pride, and when I do, I’m often left feeling distant from God until I make a serious effort to amend my ways.
2. Keep praying (no, seriously, keep praying)
I know that when I’m feeling distant from God, the first thing to go is my prayer life. “Why bother?” I’ll even catch myself thinking sometimes. It’s during these times that it’s most important to remember that prayer is not all about what we get out of it, that God is worthy of our praise and worship even if we don’t get nice experiences or emotions in return. Also, the only hope for getting out of a spiritual dry spell is increased communication with God, not decreased. A prayer through gritted teeth saying, “I feel abandoned, I feel like I’m talking to myself when I pray,” is better than no prayer at all.
Along these lines, my spiritual director once pointed out that a spiritual dry spell is not the time to start subtracting spiritual practices that you once felt called to do. For example, if a few months ago during a period of closeness to God you felt strongly led to pray a Psalm every morning, don’t stop doing it just because you’re experiencing a spiritual dry spell. Wait until you’ve regained the peace of the Holy Spirit to abandon things you once felt called to do.
3. Receive the sacraments
If you’re Catholic, increase the frequency with which you receive the sacraments of the Eucharist and Confession. As with prayer, it’s tempting to slack off on going to Mass or Confession if it doesn’t lead to an emotional experience, but the sacraments are channels of grace regardless of how we feel when we receive them. If you need some good motivation, here’s an article about the power of the Eucharist, and here’s some great info about Confession. (If anyone’s interested, here are my own thoughts on receiving the Eucharist and confessing my sins to a priest.)
4. Read inspiring spiritual books
I never cease to be amazed at what a boon it is to my spiritual life to always have a good, inspiring book going (in addition to the Bible, which I think of more as prayer than as light reading). A while back I noticed that I’d drifted into feeling lukewarm about my faith, and then I remembered that I’d been steeping myself in only secular reading material for the past few months. I found a good book that challenged me to live my faith more fully, and found that it alone reignited much of my lost zeal. I still read many secular books, but I try to always have an inspiring book about the faith going as well, and it works wonders for keeping me energized. If you’re looking for some specific recommendations, all of the following books are all excellent:
- Mother Teresa’s Secret Fire
- In the Shadow of His Wings
- Come Be My Light
- He Leadeth Me
- Finding God’s Will for You
- 10 Prayers God Always Says Yes To
If you have some book recommendations, please let us know in the comments!
5. Make sure there’s not a physical cause
As I talked about back here, I once went to my spiritual director to get advice about my slack prayer habits, and her surprising response was to tell me to get more sleep. After a lot of prayer and thought, I realized that not taking care of myself physically can have seriously negative repercussions in my spiritual life.
Though we always have free will to turn to God no matter what the circumstances (as I was recently reminded), I’ve found that if I’m staying up too late, constantly eating junk food, not exercising, pushing myself too hard, etc., I’m far more tempted to turn away from God than when I’m feeling good physically — and this alone can lead to spiritual dry spells. Again, there’s not always a direct cause-and-effect relationship to your physical wellbeing and your spiritual life, but if you’re in a spiritual dry spell it’s worth at least taking a look at what’s going on physically to see if there are any contributing factors in that department.
6. Make sure you’re recharging your batteries
This is similar to the above, but it’s so important yet so often overlooked that I think it’s worth addressing as a separate point. A few years ago I took a Birkman personality inventory where I learned about the critical importance of understanding how you recharge your batteries, i.e. knowing what activities give you energy vs. what activities drain your energy.
I cannot overstate the impact this had on my life. I learned that I am an introvert, which means not that I don’t like people (in fact one of my great pleasures in getting together with friends and meeting new people), but that the way I recharge my batteries is by having quiet time alone or just with my husband — and when I don’t get that time I end up in a state of psychological distress. Once I understood the high importance of making sure that I got regular introvert time to recharge my batteries, not only did my ability to deal with daily life increase, but my spiritual life improved significantly as well since I found myself spending much more time in a peaceful, calm state of mind.
All that is to say: especially if you’re experiencing a spiritual dry spell, spend some time reflecting on how you recharge your batteries, and then make sure you’re carving out time for those activities. Introverts who aren’t getting any down time or extroverts who are constantly cooped up in the house are going to have a hard time functioning, let alone deepening their relationships with God.
7. Find a spiritual director
I’ve found it invaluable to meet regularly with a trained spiritual director to help me grow in my faith, especially when I’m experiencing times of spiritual dryness. Spiritual directors can help you work through questions like, “Am I doing something to block out God’s voice?”, “What could be the purpose for God’s silence in my life right now?”, “How can I keep praying when I feel so unmotivated?”, etc. Here’s a post about how to find a spiritual director.
8. Consider counseling
If you think you might have serious unresolved issues in your life that are impacting your relationship with God, you may want to consider finding a Christian counselor to help you gain peace in those areas of your life. For example, I once heard someone who had an abusive father say that she had a major block relating to God as Father because of her experiences growing up, and it really helped her relationship with God to resolve that issue through counseling. Here’s a site for finding Christian counselors, and here’s one for finding Catholic counselors. Also, I’ve heard rave reviews of the Pastoral Solutions Institute’s telecounseling service, which offers Christian counseling over the phone.
9. Research the Christian understanding of spiritual dry spells
If you’ve done all of the above and nothing is better, it may simply be that God is withholding spiritual consolation from you for a reason. I once posted a great email I received addressing why God allows us to have spiritual dry spells, which I highly recommend reading. Also, in addition to reading the thoughts of great historical Christian thinkers who experienced spiritual darkness like John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila, you may also find inspiration in reading up on the life of Mother Theresa. She once wrote in a letter:
[I have] this terrible sense of loss, this untold darkness, this loneliness, this continual longing for God, which gives me that pain deep down in my heart. Darkness is such that I really do not see, neither with my mind nor with my reason. The place of God in my soul is blank. There is no God in me. When the pain of longing is so great I just long and long for God and then it is that I feel He does not want me, He is not there…Sometimes I just hear my own heart cry out ‘My God’ and nothing else comes. The torture and pain I can’t explain.
If you’re experiencing something like this, take comfort in knowing that you’re not alone; some of the greatest saints in history, including our own Mother Teresa, went through terribly difficult periods in their faith. One of the books I mentioned above, Come Be My Light, specifically address how Mother Teresa overcame her own darkness and might be a source of inspiration for anyone experiencing something similar.
Again, I’m not a theologian, spiritual director or pastor — this is just a list of practical tips I’ve collected in my own research and reading on the subject over the past few years. Anyone else have any good tips?