Jenny Gregg
Director of Discipleship
August 2015

How to Survive a Spiritual Drought

If you have been a follower of Jesus for any length of time, you've probably felt the ups and downs on your spiritual journey. I’m talking about the spiritual highs (when you feel extremely close to and loved by God), and the lows (when God seems like just a word on the page).

I've felt pretty dry spiritually for the last few days. For my morning devotion times, I found myself listlessly trying to read passages of scripture, listening to worship songs, flipping through devotional books, and trying to pray with even more gusto. I found myself unable to sustain times of silence, because my mind has a will of its own. I found myself getting frustrated and trying harder.

Fortunately, I know from past experience about these dry times, or what Ignatius of Loyola calls “times of desolation”. According to Ignatius, there is usually one of three reasons for these dry spells:

  1. We have been lukewarm or lazy about practicing spiritual disciplines—those activities which bring us closer to God and help us to grow more Christ-like.
  2. God may be testing our worth and seeing how we do when the wonderful generous feelings of “consolation”, and the gracious sense of His presence, are withdrawn from us.
  3. God may want us to grasp that the times of consolation—the spiritual highs—are not conjured or maintained by us. He wants us to get that “it is not within our power to acquire or retain great devotion, ardent love, tears, or any other spiritual consolation, but that all of this is a gift and a grace of God our Lord.” And He doesn’t want us to pat ourselves on the back for our great spiritual life.

In C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters , a senior demon mentors his nephew Wormwood on how to derail the spiritual progress of Wormwood’s “patient”. As Screwtape describes the method God (“the Enemy”) uses of being very obvious to the Christian and then seeming to withdraw and hide, he likens us to a child learning to walk. God sometimes lets go so we can learn to walk on our own. Screwtape concludes:

“Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.”

Our Response to Spiritual Drought

Remembering that times of dryness are to be expected is key. Ignatius’ checklist reminds us to examine ourselves and see if we’re doing anything to cause the desolation. Finally, we remind ourselves who God is and who we are. We rest in His presence whether we sense that presence or not. We accept that the wonderful times of experiencing God’s presence are a gift from Him—He owes us nothing.