Difficulties in Prayer
Every human being was created by God for union with him. Moving toward perfect union with God is what the spiritual life is all about. Sometimes the process feels great - energizing, peaceful, and immensely rewarding. But at other times, things don't go so well. People sometimes describe these bad times in one or more of the following ways:
- "My spiritual fire is burning low."
- "I'm just not getting anything out of Mass/prayer."
- "God seems far away from me/unconcerned about me."
- "I feel empty/alone/abandoned when I try to pray."
Believe it or not, this is a normal part of the spiritual life. Even the most saintly and holy people, people like Bl. Teresa of Calcutta and St. John Paul II, go through periods where they feel like this. Sometimes these periods last many years.
St. John of the Cross (1542-1591), who is called the "Doctor of Mystical Theology" and recognized as perhaps the most influential spiritual theologian of all time, called it "the dark night of the soul."The great spiritual writers of Catholic history attest to this experience.
Why does God allow this to happen to us?
According to the great spiritual writers, it's usually because God is trying to show us how dependent we are on rewards and consolations to follow him and live as he wants us to. For some people, these rewards and consolations might be praise or attention from others. For other people, they might be the good feelings which usually result from doing a good deed or being close to God.
Rewards, consolations, and good feelings are not bad in and of themselves. But they are not the purpose of human life: God is! Our ultimate goal is God alone, union with him, knowledge of him, and face-to-face vision of him. This is exactly what heaven is.
So, if we are following God for the sake of anything other than love of him alone, he may for a time remove the other things that we are attached to in order to purify our desires and teach us to love, hope in, and have faith in him alone. Our experience of the removal of these rewards and consolations can be very painful; but it is a pain that is meant to lead us closer to God.
When we experience dryness or lack of consolation in our spiritual life, or feel that we are "not getting anything out of it," we will usually be tempted to pray less often, stop worshiping at Mass, and turn our attention to other things (human relationships, entertainment, pleasure, etc.) to help us feel better. But these other things, while they can help for a little while, ultimately cannot satisfy us, because we were made for more - for eternal life in union with the perfect God who is Creator, Lord, and Master of all of existence.
We need to resist this urge to do less and instead humbly and patiently admit our weakness and problems to God. If we ask for his help, he will give us the strength to do more for him, no matter how little we may want to or how bad we may feel when we try.