What happens when we enter into the desert of prayer?
While some of us easily walk in the hope and solace of Christ in the sacrifices of the season, others of us wonder whether we’ve wandered from our Guide and question His ongoing Presence. The saints often speak about dryness in prayer. While I am no canonized saint (though I believe in God’s greatness to make me one), it brings me a bit of comfort knowing that I am not alone in experiencing a similar dryness in the spiritual life despite my efforts.
Dryness in prayer time can come to those who, despite sincerity in their efforts, meet a sense of separation from God, “with no taste for thoughts, memories, and feelings, even spiritual ones,” particularly when reaching a point of contemplative prayer (CCC 2731).
However, before we self-diagnose our dryness, we should first remind ourselves that “[p]rayer is both a gift and a grace and a determined response on our part. It always presupposes effort (CCC 2725). We must prudently caution ourselves in confusing spiritual dryness with spiritual laziness.
Imagine having a coworker that you work side-by-side with everyday, but know nothing about. You two carry on in a “business as usual” sort of way day in and day out without any sort of invested interest or personal dialogue to truly enter into one another’s lives outside of the task at hand. There is an unspoken agreement to maintain a utilitarian relationship. Similarly, if we only perceive our relationship with God as utilitarian, a sort of “I ask and You answer” entitlement, there is no real relationship or sincere care for the other. We cannot say that our prayer is dry if we have not put in the effort to make a connection and respond to His pursuit of us (CCC 1).
Now that we have that out of the way and we can say we are experiencing dryness in prayer, what can we do about it?
4 Things To Do When Your Prayer Time Is Dry
The Sacrament of Reconciliation
St. Ignatius’ second Rule for Discernment addresses this:
“[I]t is the way of the evil spirit to bite, sadden and put obstacles, disquieting with false reasons, that one may not go on; and it is proper to the good to give courage and strength, consolations, tears, inspirations and quiet, easing, and putting away all obstacles, that one may go on in well doing.”
Remember that we are not at war with flesh and blood, but principalities and powers (see Ephesians 6:12). The evil one distracts us with our sin to keep us from growing closer to Him.
It may be that we are not in a state to readily hear God in prayer because we unknowingly find ourselves further away from Him, especially through venial sin. What better way to “lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely” so that we may more freely “run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the Pioneer and Perfector of our faith” than by the Sacrament of Reconciliation (Hebrews 12:1 RSVCE)?
Explore Other Practices of Vocal and Meditative Prayer
Sometimes the problem is simply a rut. I think of people who cross train for a particular sport, changing up their workouts every now and again to be more balanced and to keep things fresh. When we feel separated from God, it may just be that we need to change up our typical methods of prayer.
If your preferred tool is the Rosary, try praying with Lectio DIvina. You usually pray with Scripture? Consider journaling an Examen. Like to reflect on your day? Maybe use music to spring you into dialogue with God. Are you a fan of praying with music? Maybe give imaginative prayer a go and place yourself in the Sunday Gospel reading or think back on a challenging situation this week and pray about how the Father loved you through it.
A spiritual director or faith-filled friend could walk you through this.
Be in the Desert
We may be quick to want to leave the desert and dryness because it is uncomfortable. Sometimes, we need to simply be with Christ in the desert. God has a history of calling us into the wilderness and to wait to hear HIm in the whisper of the wind (see Hosea 2:14 and 1 KIngs 19:11-13). Time of dryness challenges us to love God more purely and vigilantly.
We might want to check our intentions for prayer and whether we pray for the sake of the gift (of fruit) or the Gift-giver. Is God good because of the good things He gives us or because He Himself, without any influence from us, is Good?
We praise and love Him because of Who He Is and not by what He gives (CCC 2639).
Simply be still and know He is God (Psalm 46:10).
Pray for Conversion
“If dryness is due to the lack of roots, because the Word has fallen on rocky soil, the battle requires conversion” (CCC 2731).
While periods of dryness purify and transform us, like a surgeon puts his patient under anesthesia before he operates, know that you will awake anew and be consoled.
Pope Francis talks about how a Christian is someone who remembers (The Joy of the Gospel, 13).
So as to avoid the temptation of throwing ourselves a pity party when things are not as bright as they once were, remember the times of consolation and God’s faithfulness. Combat the temptation to turn inward on self and instead turn outward to the Lord. The Passion was necessary for us to have a Resurrection. Be not afraid to sit with Jesus in the tomb and await the glory that is to come.