Dryness: When God Seems Far Away

Boots The interior life is just like anything else that you begin with excitement and enthusiasm: the excitement and enthusiasm wear off, and you end up with dryness. You don’t want to sit down and pray; when you do, it seems meaningless and pointless and boring and no fun. That’s the bad news. The good news is that the dryness will come and go.

There are two reasons for this, one human and one divine.

The human reason is what Uncle Screwtape called “the law of undulation”. In any human endeavour, your energy levels go up and down. When you’re feeling energetic, the activity is easy; at other times, you just don’t have as much energy for it. And then, if you’ve got some reason to be tired or sick or exhausted, it’s just so much worse. It’s the same thing that applies to housework, say. Prayer is a human activity, and subject to all of the same circumstances as any other human activity.

The divine reason is that prayer isn’t wholly a human activity; God plays a role, too. Sometimes He makes His presence felt; that’s called “consolation,” and it’s delightful when it happens.

Now, the interior life is about learning to love God with all your mind, soul, heart and strength, i.e., more than anything else, and then to love all other things in due proportion. And here’s the thing: the consolation God grants is not God. It is heady, delightful, intoxicating, and so we naturally want more of it; and it is all too easy to learn to love consolation more than God who grants it. We must learn to love God with our wills rather than with our feelings.

And so God grants us dryness, times when we can choose to love Him even though our feelings rebel. In short, as annoying as it is, dryness is a good thing.

(You might have heard of the Dark Night of the Soul and the Dark Night of the Senses. I’m talking about something much more basic, something that you’ll almost certainly experience on a regular basis. All I have to say about the Dark Nights is that I don’t understand them well enough to say anything worth listening to.)

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  • Maggie Goff

    You certainly described it all very well. I have a hard time putting it into words. Thank you.

  • Allison Grace

    I read about prayer much more than I actually pray. Time to make a little change; thanks for writing.

    • Will Duquette

      I probably think about prayer more than I pray well. It’s *always* time to make a little change. :-)

  • Sir Mark

    There is a hurdle that I can’t seem to jump over. If my kids will not talk to me for months, maybe years on end, most folks would say that they are not very good kids. If my wife will not speak to me for months, maybe years on end, folks would say that she is not a very good wife. Yet when God will not give me the smallest consolation, i am supposed to believe it is so that I can choose to love Him. Well, I am weary of the dryness. It is not your fault, Will, but all I read are words.

    • Will Duquette

      There’s dryness and there’s dryness. I’m talking about a normal kind of dryness that occurs in every kind of human endeavor, and comes and goes. I would understand what the Sts. Teresa of Avila and Calcutta went through as something beyond this; and as I noted, something I don’t understand.

      How what you’re going through corresponds to either of these things, I can’t say. I’m no spiritual director; I’m just sharing my experience. Given that this is something that you’re having trouble with, all I can suggest is to find a qualified spiritual director and have a chat with him or her.

      Sometimes God brings us consolation through other people; and so I will pray for you.

  • Roderick Alvernaz

    St. Teresa of Avila is perhaps one of the best saints known for her own struggles with a dryness in prayer -a desert experience- lasting a period of years! But we have a contemporary of our own in Mother Angelica (not yet a saint). And who brings into the present an understanding of current distractions when she said: “Perhaps the greatest interior suffering is the kind that strikes us when we thirst for God and then find ourselves deprived of the awareness of His presence.”