“Discernment of spirits” – Dealing with Desolation – 4

Desolation as a tool for growth:

Perhaps Desolation, which seems properly and exclusively to come from our self-centred Ego, can have some benefits. The spiritual person learns something about reality from his or her Desolations, and receives something of an inoculation – though never a complete one – against pride.

Desolations involve a process of purification. A person begins to sense almost instinctively that things do not work if she tries to sustain herself simply with her own Ego. In the process, she learns about what hinders her growth. Repeated experiences of the Ego’s fragility exhausts our narcissistic selves that are so little inclined to acknowledge our weakness, and so prone to put up barriers against God’s gracious action within us. The experience of desolation thus has an important and necessary purifying role. It removes false supports, and dashes false and narcissistic hopes. Desolation can often be a valuable lesson, helping a spiritual person to value properly what they regularly receive, and to understand what they are receiving as a gift.

When we are in desolation, the Spirit’s invitation takes the form of an insistent demand to move beyond our own sadness, to ‘move outside’ our ‘self-love, desire and interest’, and to overcome the mortal evil of despair. For any Christian in desolation, there can be a new perspective that leads him beyond obsessive fixation with sadness, and allows him to discover, precisely in what is causing his desolation, the closeness of the Risen One who is giving life. As he responds to this experience, his faith increases. Every situation of desolation has hidden within it this supportive provocation from God: ‘Who are you really looking for—really?’ If we honestly confront the provocation that such a question represents, if we try to unearth the response hidden within our griefs and disappointments, and if we reread the mission that God has given us on this basis alone, then we come to sense that we are being nudged by God to new tasks and labours in a way that is radically different.

Desolation used in this way has strengthened our confidence. Nobody can do anything to shake us out of the discouragement and sadness that are consuming us. One of the sad effects of desolation is that one loses even the smallest sense of being part of a community, part of a Church. The person in Desolation has had to see himself empty in order to recognize that his strength is a gift, and that every gift requires the receiver to give thanks. Sooner or later, people living by the Spirit will, like Peter, get the message from their Consolations and Desolations, and simply give themselves fully and freely to their sisters and brothers. Everything is received so that it can be passed onwards. We have to move beyond narcissistic pretensions, beyond imagining ourselves as owners of the good within us; we must also avoid the trap of seeking to hold on to it for our own enjoyment. (Return to Suggested Practices) (Return to Consolation and Desolation)