The greatest nothing I ever felt

August 10, 2009 | 36 comments

When I first stepped into the chapel at my Christ Renews His Parish retreat this weekend, I felt a sense of nervous anticipation. My eyes gradually adjusted to the candle-lit room as we all filed into the pews for a moment of Adoration, and I gazed up at the monstrance on the altar. The movement of the swaying candlelight lent an ethereal feel to the room, and the ancient sounds of Gregorian chant lifted us out of the building off of I-35 in twenty-first century America and took us to some place where time and place were irrelevant and only God mattered.

If I were ever going to have a religious experience, it would be here.

Other women began to sniffle and lean their heads on the pews, and I grabbed a couple Kleenex from the box next to me for when my own powerful experience began. As regular readers know, God rarely speaks to me so clearly as when I’m in Adoration (as I talked about in my posts about the Adoration list and my moment of surrender on food issues), and it seemed inevitable that going to Adoration in such a beautiful chapel surrounded by such God-loving women at such a Christ-centered retreat would leave me open to the Lord’s promptings as never before. I crossed myself, prayed, gazed at the monstrance, and waited.

And waited.

And waited some more.

I felt nothing, I heard nothing, so I said another prayer asking God to speak to me. I even did that thing where I make my inner chatterbox shut up for a minute so that I can just listen and see where the Lord seems to be leading my thoughts. Still nothing. My thoughts were only led to the facts that I had a slight headache and the room was cold.

When I looked up at the monstrance, I did not sense the Lord’s presence at all. If I am to be totally honest, my gut reaction was, “That really does look like it’s just a wafer.”

I leaned back in the pew, tucking my Kleenex into my pocket since I obviously wouldn’t be needing it, and looked around the room, casually glancing from the typed note about conserving energy on the thermostat to a clump of dust hanging from the ceiling.

As the minutes ticked past and I remained entirely unmoved by the experience, I waited for the inevitable frustration to bubble up within me. Based on how it usually goes, this was the part where I was supposed to silently rage at God, asking why I cannot hear his voice when so many other people seem to be able to, begging him to give me some sort of sign that he is there, demanding that he make me overcome with excitement every time my eyes fall on his Presence in the monstrance. I waited and waited, but it never came.

I felt fine. Actually, I felt great. I might not have had the pleasant emotions I wanted, but I had something else…perhaps, to my surprise, something even better.

It occurred to me that the knowledge and experiences God has given me over the past few years, along with the grace of the sacraments, has left me in a place that is best described not in terms of belief versus doubt, but simply in terms of awareness. Sometimes through reading and thinking, sometimes through great “coincidences” and seeing his hand at work in my life, I’ve been brought to a place where I no longer even think of it in terms of whether or not God exists — “exists” being a weak word with an obvious antonym, implying that nonexistence is possible. To say that something “exists” usually has the unspoken implication of a transitory state, since every material thing in the universe will eventually cease to exist. Duck-billed platypuses exist; spiral galaxies exist; I exist. The English language doesn’t have a proper word to describe the state of being of God, who always was and always will be, who is more real than reality, other than to simply say that God is.

I realized that this relatively new understanding of God gave me a certain kind of joy. It wasn’t a shout-from-the-rooftops, overwhelming kind of joy borne of a powerful visceral reaction to some event; rather, it was the calm, steady, quiet joy borne of knowledge of the truth. In place of the feelings I might have hoped for, I felt a great freedom — an emancipation from emotion.

Who knows why I couldn’t hear God’s voice or feel his presence the way I often do in Adoration: maybe I was too tired, maybe it was the headache, maybe there was a reason God wasn’t speaking to me the same way he usually does. But a smile spread across my face when I realized it didn’t matter, and it never would. I don’t know why it had never occurred to me until that moment, but there in that pew I could finally appreciate just how liberating it is to know that my fickle emotions change not a single thing about God. So often I had often carried with me, hidden in the back of my mind, a worry about future spiritual dry spells. “What if I don’t feel God at work in my life next week? What if I face a problem and it doesn’t seem like God is there? What if I go to Adoration and I don’t feel anything?” My whole body physically relaxed as I let those worries pour out of me.

As I looked up at what looked like just a wafer in the monstrance, again feeling nothing inside, I felt the quiet peace, the silent joy of being able to rest in the knowledge that its power comes not from how I feel about, but from what — or, rather who — it is. I basked in the presence of God in the Blessed Sacrament and all around me, aware of him not because I felt him, but because he was there.


  1. Brendan

    What an insightful post. That is a great way to look at the situation you were given, very wise of you. Thanks for sharing.

    God Bless,


  2. Amy

    As someone who went to Adoration several times in the past couple of years but failed to have that hoped-for religious experience, epiphany, or glimpse of faith, I have to tell you this is a beautiful post.

  3. el-e-e

    amazing post. amazing revelation. 🙂

    P.S. I was appalled in my parish's Adoration chapel the other day because… there was no Kleenex box! Shouldn't that be a requirement??

  4. Jet

    Beautiful post, Jen. You really internalized and experienced "Be still and know that I am God." Thanks so much for sharing! I will now have a different outlook on my experiences at Adoration.

    Blessings, Janet

  5. Adoro

    Well said. On my last discernment retreat, I didn't have a "mountaintop" experience, either. Just a knowledge God was there. No emotion. No consolations. It's perfect.

    "Be still and know that I am God."

    He always gives us what we need, in every single moment.

  6. Kevin Adams

    Sounds to me like God was speaking to you – and that you were hearing.

    Remember, the goal is to love God for His own sake – not for the sake of consolations that He may or may not give you. I'd say that this moment was a time for you to become aware that GOD IS – quite apart from anything you might feel or experience, and that He is calling you to love Him – quite apart from any feeling or experience of Him that you might have.

  7. deanna

    Many times, the most important 'thing' I get from going to Adoration is peace. Which of course, is really the best gift of all. I do however, agree with el-e-e, tissues are mandatory!

    • Renato

      Deanna, allow me to add your comment by saying that Peace is the most important thing we can “have and feel”…….one of the most important and regular frases from Jesus:”Peace be with you”…….Deanna…….Renato from Brasil.

  8. Karinann

    Sometimes just as with 2 people who love each other, you can be in each other's presence and not utter a word and it's OK. You can be comfortable just as you were in this moment. Don't mean to oversimplify-just a thought.
    Thanks for sharing.

  9. Colleen

    Wow. What an amazing reflection. You have given me much food for thought that I will take with on my next trip to adoration!

  10. Nadja Magdalena

    Beautifully insightful. Thank you for posting this.

    I believe God is with us because I choose to believe. Charity is not a function of the emotions, but an act of the Will.

  11. Anonymous

    Hi Jen,sometimes at Adoration when we don't "receive"anything it's a reminder that we don't make things happen. It's not dependent on our input. God abides in mystery and we can't by sheer will effect a change. He can't be forced to show up for a command performance that fits our limited view of what He should be doing. He's bigger than that. And we are so small. I think you did hear what He was saying to you at adoration-He says, I'm still God.Love your work! You're doing more than you can ever imagine..Thanks

  12. Beth

    Awesome Jen! I loved my CRHP retreat. You will have one heck of a witness!!

  13. Bethany Hudson

    I totally second what Karinann said. That's just what I thought as I was reading this…and frankly, often what I feel during prayer or adoration. Sometimes, I just feel "there" with God. And, that's okay. Sometimes, we don't have anything to say to each other other than "I'm here. You're here. That's nice."

  14. clairesd

    I have to agree with Kevin and say that this thought may not have occurred to you had you NOT been in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament.

    It is truly astounding what can happen when we just sit and "keep watch."

  15. Kelly the Kitchen Kop

    That is quite possibly the most amazing post I've ever read, EVER.

    Never doubt the powerful way God works through you.

    Your book will be wildly popular, as it should be.


  16. elizabeth

    He JUST is! Ain't it awesome?
    The Alpha and Omega!
    You (and God) sound like an old married couple – comfortable in your silences together. God Bless you!!!


  17. Lucy

    Mmmm. Beautiful. And wise. What a blessing to be in a place like that and just BE.

  18. Becca Neal Tharp

    Such a great outlook on your experience. I have had similiar ones myself… keep up the great posts! I love reading them!

    PS- Added you to my blogroll tonight

  19. Mandy

    Thank you so much for sharing this. It has given me something to really ponder and think about. I am Baptist, so I am unfamiliar with some of the Catholic ways of doing things, but isn't it wonderful how God still speaks to and works in us regardless of our denominations! My husband and I, as well as several people we know, have all been feeling distant from God lately. It's the only word I can think of to describe it. I think you called it spiritual dry spells, which is also a good adjective. We have been very disturbed and bothered by this feeling and have been desperately searching for an answer to "why?" Your experience and revelation have given me some insight – a starting point, perhaps, in figuring it all out. Thank you for letting God speak through your experience. 🙂

  20. HIS daughter

    I get your posts in e-mail, and this one I just had to comment on.
    THANK YOU, thank you, thank YOU…for your total honesty! So refreshing to hear such honesty and no one jumping in to condemn or "fix it".

    As a cradle Protestant, who has been given the grace to see the truth of the Church, I struggle with this.

    I absolutely believe in the HIS presence in the Eucharist, but the moments when I feel near to HIM are during Mass when I gaze upon the large Crucifix with the life like Corpus Christi. Being Protestant, we never would "keep Jesus" on the cross.

    Maybe I still have a way to go, but just seeing HIM depicted on the cross, I feel overwhelmed. I feel the Blessed Mother and the other women around me at the crucifixion — and I am so full of grief I cannot stop the tears.

    Hard to explain, but even though I know that HE rises again – there at the foot of HIS cross, I selfishly want HIM not to "die" and leave us. The Blessed Mother is always calmly assuring that HE was never meant for "us" only.

    Strange, I know, but I love the Catholic Church because as my parish priest, Fr.Tim says, "There are so many experiences in their devotion to HIM, we don't dwell on strange…just the love and worship of HIM".

    Sorry so long – just wanted to basically say in the Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament…I haven't felt that same way. I'm still praying.

    Peace of Christ be with you,

  21. Elizabeth Mahlou

    Thanks for your refreshing honesty. I think many people go through the same set of feelings — and think something is wrong with them or that God has temporarily forsaken them, when that is not the case at all. When things move deeper, they do not always bubble up to surface emotions.

  22. d.e. waite

    You and I have a lot of experiences in common. This is one of those times. Thank you for describing an experience I have know but have never been able to adequately describe.

  23. Dean

    You have once again hit the ball out of the park. This is mature faith, the faith we all strive for. Since converting to the Catholic CHurch, I have come to see this empahsis on feeling as one of the weaknessess of the Evangelical magachurch. The emotional high becomes the sign of God's reality and presence, but your wondereful comments today are a treasure and a reminder that we have to go futher. Feelings would seldom, if ever, led one to martyrdom. Dean

  24. Roxane B. Salonen


    I'm sure you know about Mother (Blessed) Teresa's "Dark Night of the Soul," which lasted for years and years. She often did NOT feel God's presence, but continued to do her work anyway, going on faith alone, and not feeling. I'm always inspired by that thought when those feelings don't come. It reminds me of the adage that love is not a feeling, it's a decision. That's not to say we won't feel that love, but it cannot happen on demand, even when we're in retreat. The feelings will come — when we least expect them. 🙂 We're just required to work on trusting, and acting on faith.

  25. Maggie

    Thanks for this Jen!! So often we come to the Lord (either in Adoration or just in prayer at home) expecting to "feel" something or "know" something… only to be disappointed when we don't "get anything out of it." Your take o this is so beautiful. Thanks!

  26. Laura @ Our House of Joyful Noise

    And such is the basis of true FAITH.
    Believing…knowing….without the need for proof, by seeing OR feeling.
    Beautiful. Thaks for sharing that experience. : )

  27. Babs

    Wow! I have seldom "felt" anything when at Adoration. It has mostly left me feeling frustrated and a failure because I didn't experience the intensity or peacefulness I saw in those around me. But I, like you, don't question whether or not there is a God, or whether Jesus is present in the Host. Each of us have a different faith journey, and different needs. God knows that and entices us to go deeper than we are. I like the feelings, but know that a growing relationship must go further. What you wrote helped me immeasureably.

  28. deb

    This is truth.
    Even in all the years when I doubted other things, or struggled to find what makes me"happy" , I never lost the faith.
    I wonder if it depends on how you come to believe, but I truly feel for people who are on the rollercoaster ride of feeling alone or rejoicing.
    Mine is more of contentment and quiet and sometimes glory and trembling or tears.
    Thank you for sharing this.

  29. Arkanabar T'verrick Ilarsadin

    first, I'm going to agree with Jet, Adoro, and Kevin Adams. Just because God didn't roll out the loudspeakers doesn't mean He had nothing to communicate. In this case, what He let you know is that you are immersed in His grace, even when nothing seems to be happening. "Be still, and know that I am God." You hear the still, small voice — VERY still in this case.

    I encourage you to learn more about Catholic spirituality and doctrine. Look for the "nihil obstat" and "Imprimatur," typically on the copyright page. You can rely on,, and Unfortunately, you can't always rely on all websites self-identified as Catholic.

    It is very unfortunate, but a lot of deliberate misinformation is out there — so much so that people often spread falsehoods without knowing they do so.

    I think you are right about the tendency of our Evangelical separated bretheren to rely on emotional rewards and consolation.

    Bl. Teresa of Calcutta had a more or less normal sort of "dark night of the soul" — one where she doubted the existence of God because His consolations were so distant. I have heard it didn't last long, perhaps not even through her novitiate. The decades without consolation were different, because she never had doubt. They were a trial, without a doubt, but of a different sort than the usual dark night of the soul.

  30. Sara

    I'm off to the monastery Jen, and I just wanted to thank you for your blog – what a beautiful witness to the goodness of God! I'll remember you when I'm in Adoration; please be assured of my prayers. Peace be with you!

  31. bearing

    English – perhaps all languages, I don't know – is a bit impoverished when it comes to the words "exist" and "existence." We apply them to the unique kind of existence possessed by God, who alone exists in and of Himself; and we also apply them to what material objects are doing for as long as they last. Really the two kinds of existence are so very different that they ought not to have the same term apply to them.

    Lacking a concise way to distinguish between them can lead people into logical fallacies. For example, "the universe" is sometimes defined as "the totality of all that exists." Not a good definition, if you also hold that God "exists" *and* that God is not part of the universe, but is the creator of the universe. This will get you into trouble with atheist pedants. Always remember to define your terms! If the universe is defined as "all that exists," then God has to be said to do something other than exist. Transcend existence, maybe, or pre-exist.

  32. Mary333

    All I can say is…WOW! Amazing post by a very gifted writer. I would definitely buy your book!

  33. Mitzi

    I found myself nodding at several places in your post. I have been graced to have had a similar experience. I term it, just "be-ing", borrowing from my philosophy class.

    It is indeed freeing to just BE in God. He understands me and meets us where we are. Wait upon the Lord and just BE. Isn't it grand? 🙂

  34. jrbaab

    The only thing I would add is osmething that my favorite priest once said to me. I admitted to him that I felt selfish with Jesus. i wanted to feel His presence and be with Him always. The priest said, "It's ok to want to be with someone you love." Currently I am struggling to love God unselfishly. It's difficult to love Him without the feelings. I'm still learning. Though I find consolation in that comment and I find it in this post. It's time to be still and know that He, Christ Jesus, is God.

  35. Miłość

    This is a wonderful post 🙂 Last year I went to adoration for the first time. I had just started going to church weekly, so I had never heard of adoration before, and we were having it for Lent, so I decided to go. I googled it and heard about other's amazing experiences, and psyched myself up for a big emotional experience. And my experience was just like yours; I felt nothing. And when I realized this, I expected to feel let down, and dissapointed, but I was just calm and peaceful. I ended up walking the 1/2 mile home from church that night instead of calling my mom for a ride, and I couldn't stop grinning the whole walk home because of the peace I felt.

    Thanks for sharing 😀


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