THE desert of the soul is that place where consolation has dried up, the flowers of delightful prayer have wilted, and the oasis of God’s presence seems but a mirage. At these times, you may feel as though God no longer approves of you, that you are falling away, lost in the vast wilderness of human weakness. When you try to pray, the sands of distraction fill your eyes, and you may feel utterly lost, completely abandoned… helpless.
The place of God in my soul is blank. There is no God in me. When the pain of longing is so great—I just long & long for God… and then it is that I feel He does not want me—He is not there—God does not want me. —Mother Teresa, Come By My Light, Brian Kolodiejchuk, M.C.; pg. 2
How does one find peace and joy in this state? I tell you, there is a way, a path through this desert.
At these times, when the Sun seems obscured by the sand storms, lower your eyes, look down at your feet, for there you will find the next step.
If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.
How do you know you are abiding with God and God with you? If you keep His commandments. The way through the desert should never be judged by feelings or a sense of anointing. Feelings are phantoms which come and go. What is concrete? God’s will for your life—His commandments, the duty of the moment—that which is required of you according to your vocation as a mother, father, child, bishop, priest, nun, or single person.
My food is to do the will of the one who sent me… (John 4:34)
When you feel the rush of the Spirit, thank God for this grace. When you encounter His presence, bless Him. When your senses tingle with His anointing, praise Him. But when you feel nothing but the dryness of the desert, do not think the path has been pulled out from beneath you. It is as sure as ever:
If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love… I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do. (John 13:15; 15:10)
When you are washing the dishes, you are abiding in God, whether you feel a thing or not. This is the “yoke which is easy and burden which is light”. Why look for grandiose methods to be spiritually transformed when you have been given the most simple and sure road to holiness? The way of love…
For the love of God is this, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. (1 John 5:3)
THE WAY OF LOVE
This way through the desert is summed up in one sentence:
This is my commandment: love one another as I love you. (John15:12)
The greatest temptation we face in the desert is discouragement, which can lead to anger, bitterness, a hardened heart, and even to total despair. In this condition, we might even fulfill God’s commandments, but in a way that injures our neighbour through grumbling, complaining, impatience, and anger. No, we must always do these little things, the duty of the moment, with great love.
Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things… (1 Cor 13:4-7)
Without love, says St. Paul, I gain nothing. If you fail in this, you need only ask for the grace to turn your heart back again, with the firm resolve to love under all circumstances.
THE NARROW ROAD
The word to “abide” or “remain” in Jesus derives from the Greek, “hupomeno” which means to remain under or endure adversities, persecutions, or provocations with faith and patience. Yes, you must persevere on this path, the “narrow and difficult road.” It is such because it involves a battle with the world, the flesh, and the devil. It is “easy” because His commandments are not too great; it is “difficult” because of the resistance and temptation you will feel. Thus, you must become moment by moment like a little child, constantly humbling yourself before Him with all your failures and mis-steps. Here is strong faith: to trust in His mercy when you least deserve it.
This Desert Path can only be tread by the humble of heart… but God is near the humble and broken-hearted! (Psalm 34:19) So do not be afraid, even of your failure. Get up! Walk with me! I am near, Jesus says. I have walked this road of human frailty Myself, and will walk it again with you, My lamb.
Quiet your mind, ignore your emotions, and look at the present moment, asking, “What is my duty right now?” That is the next step on your journey deeper into God, a journey which, despite your emotions, leads to freedom and joy. Trust in His Word, not your emotions, and you will find peace:
If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. (John 15:10-11)
In reality, holiness consists of one thing only: complete loyalty to God’s will…. You are seeking for secret ways of belonging to God, but there is only one: making use of whatever he offers you…. The great and firm foundation of the spiritual life is the offering of ourselves to God and being subject to His will in all things…. God truly helps us however much we may feel we have lost His support. —Fr. Jean-Pierre de Caussade, Abandonment to Divine Providence
First published February 21st, 2008.
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