I interact with my faith differently today than I did as a kid. Over the years, there have been many Masses after which I found myself sitting in a pew and left feeling unaltered, unfazed. In recent months, following my graduation from college, my faith — like almost every aspect of my life — has felt different.
Our faith should enkindle a relationship with God, but, as I’ve learned, that doesn’t mean it will always be gratifying. It means there will be struggles. There will even be times when it is hard to love, times when God feels distant.
Going to a Catholic college, I never really felt disconnected from my faith on campus. Instead, post-grad life is where keeping my faith alive has felt difficult. There are moments where I feel both distanced from God and family and friends. And at times, there feels like there’s an all-out battle going on inside.
As a child, my faith seemed so passionate. Now I go to church, and often, I don’t feel anything. This lack of emotion leaves me wondering how alive my faith really is.
There are times when I want to moan with the Psalmist:
“Why, LORD, do you stand afar and pay no heed in times of trouble?” (Psalm 10:1).
Luckily, this sense of spiritual dryness, this lack of perceptible divine consolation, is not a condition I must face alone. It is one which many saints and mystics have struggled with. It is one of the many trials that come with living the faith.
Theologian Thomas à Kempis, writing around the early 1400s, observed that the gratification of spiritual consolation is not a constant element of a faith-filled life, not even for those with a heightened and genuine sense of piety.
“When consolation is taken away,” writes Kempis in “The Imitation of Christ,” “do not at once despair but wait humbly and patiently for the heavenly visit, since God can restore to you more abundant solace.”
The gist of his point is that the best response on our part is to display patience and perseverance in such periods of dryness. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. What does this perseverance look like? I think to better understand that, we need to remember what is at the center of our faith: a loving relationship. God calls each of us to love him.
God’s love for us precedes and exceeds any love we could ever offer back to him. Nevertheless, he invites us to partake in his divine love. He asks us to respond in a similar fashion.
For me, and I think for many people nowadays, the concept of love is a bit warped. Pop culture promotes love only as an emotion and so seldom as a virtue. As a result, the act of loving another is associated with an emotive experience.
This is often the case in my own preconception of love in general. I hang out with the people whose company I find pleasant, and I show affection for those around me who bring me joy. In other words, I get something out of it. These relationships offer some level of satisfaction.
However, that’s not what real love is all about. It’s not so much an emotion as it is supposed to be the desire for what is best for another. Love is a movement of willpower that desires the good of another and prompts one to action to see that the other receives the good that is their due.
For example, I’ll take the time to help my parents with various projects because I recognize the good that will bring about for them. And I’ll do it even when I’m tired or disinterested. Nevertheless, it’s important to put in the effort.
As Jesus showed us — by his life, death, and Resurrection — love is not all about self-satisfaction. Rather, it has in it an element of self-denial.
Still, there are those moments when Christ feels far away, when I wonder where the image of God is, where his presence can be felt.
Yet, faith is meant to grow. Love grows deeper over time, and I can grow in faith over time: by knowing God more and more and thereby adoring him with increasing ardor. I believe I’m being called to love God in himself, for who he is, and not just for what I can get from him.
I’ve taken this idea and “run” with it, so to speak, even though some days it doesn’t feel like my heart is in it. It has meant going to Mass and the Sacraments when I feel drowsy and tired, kind of like pitching in to help a friend even though you feel drained. But love is devotion. It means repeatedly returning to the service of the one you love, to do good to the beloved.
This means coming to Jesus first and foremost because he is God, because he is all-good and deserves what imperfect love I am capable of offering. God knows when we’re trying, and his love is always there encouraging us.
We can come to a better knowledge of God in many ways. I enjoy spending time in nature, at a park for instance, admiring the Creator’s handiwork. Spending time in community is a good way to recognize the divine image in a fellow human being. But most especially, spending time with Jesus by receiving Communion or praying before the Eucharist is an intimate interaction with God.
I’ve found that it can be easy to slip into discontentment when experiencing spiritual dryness. But there is, to some degree, a peace that resides in the struggles themselves. To persevere — to continually reform the interior life, to continually convert our attentions and desires back to Christ — is what God desires to see on our part.
We already have his love. It is our turn to reciprocate. Loving God is not found necessarily in emotion but in devotion — in our dedication to Jesus.
I’ve found that spiritual dryness can be one of the most daunting trials of faith. Yet, even amid the anxiety and sorrow that sometimes accompanies this, I’ve also found God is generous in little surprises throughout my day. God is, to us, rather simple in a way, and he’s calling us into that simplicity.
If we persevere in the love of God upon which faith is built, we may find some peace here on earth. Rest assured, it will lead to the most sublime peace in the life to come.