Lent is late this year. I haven’t decided if I like that better or if I prefer for Lent to be early. Sometimes I feel that I need a breath after those pesky “New Year’s Resolutions” to be healthy and lose weight, get organized, blah blah blah. This year’s resolution was not to eat french fries anymore. That lasted three days. The next update in version of “Me.2017” was not to be late. That was made on my way to pick up the kids at school, already 20 minutes behind myself, and stopping to drive through and get french fries to deal with the stress of being late.
In Ohio, I always wanted Lent to be early. The reason was that the lack of sunshine and dreary and ever-changing weather (snow, rain, ice, wind, ice, snow, wind, rain, clouds…) felt like several months of desolation to me. I never understood what that meant until my friend, Jane, explained to me in spiritual direction that the soul goes through periods of consolation and desolation. Anyone who is familiar with St. Theresa of Calcutta’s (Mother Theresa) spiritual journey, would remember the big news after her death were letters discovered about her experiencing the “Dark Night of the Soul”. Because the press seethes on anything to disprove the existence of Our God, they were all over this concept, but alas, missed the greater point. Souls experience great consolations (or comforts and joys you could say) when you first come to God or come back to Him, and at various times throughout our lives.
It seems to me that if there has been a lesson for me to learn in a difficult situation, I tend to feel a stillness on the responding side of my prayer. This isn’t quite the same situation as a dark night. I think many times we have something to learn in a situation, and perhaps God is like our third grade teacher; he asks a question; we struggle to find the answer…we raise our hand “Oh! Oh! Pick me!”, and when we guessed wrong, instead of getting the accurate answer, we got a half-smile and a moment of silence, followed by a scan of the room for a student who may be able to get it “right”. I don’t believe for one moment that God abandons us to move to someone “getting it right”, because we are all tainted with original sin, and not one of us is without blemish. Just the opposite. It’s as if we were His ONLY student. And He waits. He waits until we ponder, think, and really try to understand the situation and its possible answers, or even perhaps lets us fall a few times like a parent with a toddler learning to walk. When we finally come to a resolution “on our own”, much like a parent trying NOT to tie the shoe for the five-year old who has been trying to make the knot for the past 30 minutes, He patiently waits. When we finally “get it”, maybe by several months or even years of trial and error, perhaps we can imagine His smile, knowing eyes, and nod of the head that the third grade teacher had sometimes when someone finally shouted the correct response to the question.
Desolation, on the other hand, is a different story. It could be a period of years of praying without the warm and fuzzy feelings we get from consolation. Desolation feels black, empty and lonely. It is hard to imagine and seems almost cruel to some who may not understand the huge gifts that come from a period of desolation. Having been through a few short periods of this myself, let me try to simply give life situations that could be comparable.
When my dad was trying to teach me to ride a two-wheeler bike, at some point, he had to let go of keeping me upright. If he never let go, I would never get the feel for the balance on my own. Desolation is like that. Where we have tremendous faith, it is the Gold medal trials for demonstrative faith on our end, in other words, it isn’t about what God is giving ME, for once. As humans, this is tough, but REAL and TRUE love, is total abandonment of oneself. If this is true for Our relationship with the Entity who is the Source of All Love, Love Itself, INFINITE LOVE, how much more should we be prepared to abandon ourselves to that? Give EVERYTHING. Receive NOTHING. That is some big-time stuff.
When mother’s have a baby, they literally surrender their bodies for the love and life of the infant that grows in them. They understand that in the end, a LIFE will be present, and perhaps some day, reciprocal in that love. What does that mean? It means, they abandon their own physical self for the utmost sense of love and in total darkness about what that may mean for them and their physical self, all in the name of love. This is the same kind of abandonment that we are asked of by our God in the moments of desolation in our lives; to keep on giving, without receiving. What could be a truer test of real love than that?
My last example is also a nod to someone truly special in my life. My sister, Su-su. Suse has a gift for ministry to the dying. I don’t know where it was born, or where it will end, but I know that she has surpassed her feelings of consolation many times to be by the bedside of someone who is leaving this life to go to the next. The most beautiful thing of all, is that she draws other to the Lord in this special way. She gathers the loved ones of those who are passing, and invites them to pray together. She has sat by the bedside of so many friends and family members over the years, rubbing their feet, speaking her sweet words of hope, faith and love, and ministering to any faculties that remain in their physical self. Even some, perhaps, who passed without her having the chance to be by their side, she sought out the opportunity to draw others to faith through the misunderstood tragedy of death. She turned death into life for many, without hope of consolation herself. Again, true love.
If you enter a zone of dryness in prayer, here is my challenge to you; can you receive it as a gift of trust? Can you offer your spirit and console God Almighty with your love and praise, no matter what is in it for you? Can you see it as an opportunity to grow new roots from the soil that is resting in your soul? If you can, you will be entering into the members-only club of TRUE LOVE. Think on that this Valentine’s Day.