This devotional was written by Audrey Assad. Audrey Assad is an independent singer, musician, and songwriter whose musical influences range from Paul Simon and the Carpenters to Feist and Jack White. More often than not she has her nose in a book—usually something by Tolstoy, C.S. Lewis, Pope John Paul II, or Madeline L’Engle.
Have you ever gone for months, or even years, without hearing God’s voice? I have. And I have seen dear, faithful friends and believers, other women who desire intimacy with God, do the same. It can be incredibly frustrating, painful, and discouraging, as I know from experience.
Not even six months ago, I was pouring out my vexation about this to my spiritual director. I am twenty-eight, and I have been a fully invested Christian woman for nine years, raised in a Christian home for my whole life, and I still struggle with discipline in prayer on a daily basis. I have trouble desiring to spend time with God, which looks and sounds even more ridiculous than ever as I type it out on my laptop. It feels like I don’t hear from Him as often as I used to. If you asked me to list all the things I believe about God’s goodness and faithfulness, the list would be long, indeed. I have walked through mountains and valleys with Him in the last nine years that have proven His faithfulness to me over and over. Yet even still, I fight a gruesome, silent battle with spiritual drought.
It turns out, I am not the only Christian who struggles now in this way, nor have I been the first. I, like many others before me, have “left my first love” again and again, times without number. It is no coincidence that my favorite hymn says, “Prone to wander … prone to leave the God I love.” (- from Come Thou Fount Of Every Blessing.) Sometimes daily, I vacillate on a see-saw between spiritual ardor and blasé. I always thought I would be long past that by now. I thought the “further up and further in” I traveled into God’s heart, the less I would struggle with seemingly simple things like ‘desiring God.‘ I thought that roller-coaster type of wavelength between those mountains and the valleys was just for teenagers. Yet here I am, a twenty-eight year old woman, and still going up, and down, and up, and down again. So what’s the story?
Ignatius of Loyola addresses many of these things in his “Spiritual Exercises”, which was composed between 1522-1524 A.D., and I have taken great comfort in his words on this particular subject. He terms the times of great passion for God ‘consolation’ and times of apathy ‘desolation.’ Here are his comments on the two, which are opposites of each other;
I call it consolation when some interior movement in the soul is caused, through which the soul comes to be inflamed with love of its Creator and Lord; and when it can in consequence love no created thing on the face of the earth in itself, but in the Creator of them all.
Likewise, when it sheds tears that move to love of its Lord, whether out of sorrow for one’s sins, or for the Passion of Christ our Lord, or because of other things directly connected with His service and praise.
Finally, I call consolation every increase of hope, faith and charity, and all interior joy which calls and attracts to heavenly things and to the salvation of one’s soul, quieting it and giving it peace in its Creator and Lord.
I call desolation all the contrary of the third rule, such as darkness of soul, disturbance in it, movement to things low and earthly, the unquiet of different agitations and temptations, moving to want of confidence, without hope, without love, when one finds oneself all lazy, tepid, sad, and as if separated from his Creator and Lord. Because, as consolation is contrary to desolation, in the same way the thoughts which come from consolation are contrary to the thoughts which come from desolation.”
It comforts me that a long-standing Christian can so precisely and accurately describe the two things I waffle between. That means it’s common. As sad as that is, at least I know I am not alone in the battle. That is both a comfort and an asset—I know I can tap the wisdom of others for inspiration and help, be they here on earth or long-since gone, like Ignatius. One of the most important things I can take from his treatment of consolation and desolation is the following list, where he points out that the reasons for our times of desolation are usually mixed.
The ninth: There are three principal reasons why we find ourselves desolate.
The first is, because of our being tepid, lazy or negligent in our spiritual exercises; and so through our faults, spiritual consolation withdraws from us.
…to give us true acquaintance and knowledge, that we may interiorly feel that it is not ours to get or keep great devotion, intense love, tears, or any other spiritual consolation, but that all is the gift and grace of God our Lord, and that we may not build a nest in a thing not ours, raising our intellect into some pride or vainglory, attributing to us devotion or the other things of the spiritual consolation.”
If you are struggling to hear God’s voice, this should wildly comfort you! Yes, feelings of apathy or true spiritual drought may be a direct result of our own laziness—but there is also something of God’s goodness in it. For our own good, for the good of our souls, He desires us to know our own need. It’s really not hard to internalize things like passionate prayer incorrectly—being human, it’s all too easy to start feeling proud of our love for God, when it is God who first loves us, each and every single day…when we cannot take credit for our intimacy with Him—it is His domain, His choice and constancy.
What this means to me is that, regardless of whether my seasons of spiritual drought arise from my neglect of prayer or the Word, God wants to teach me something so precious in the desert: dependence. I need God.
I wrote this song this year to express my need, and to remind myself that God is patient with me. And there’s some mysterious reality that, even when I am slow to pray and quick to forget Him, He is still leading me. “Salvation belongs to our God.” Amen.