Practices From the Inside Out: Spiritual Life in Desperate Times

Practices From the Inside Out: Spiritual Life in Desperate Times January 12, 2019

Spiritual Life in Desperate Times

I believe each one of us, sooner or later, experiences our own desperate times.

Many of us bear the weight of responsibilities or expectations other people place on us, or we take on ourselves. We are afraid of disappointing people, including ourselves. The struggle of carrying these burdens can lead us into desperate times.

Some of us deal with intense physical and emotional pain. There may be loved ones we miss. We may lose hope we will ever experience relief or healing again, even for a moment.

The burdens of school or work or our families or other people we know may cause us to despair.

We may look at the world around us, the suffering and confusion and unfairness, and feel there is no hope.

Sometimes it feels like things are falling apart all around us. Everything we value and hold dear seems to be under attack.

We are not looking for people or things to give us false hope. Our desperate times do not disappear when we look away from them. It is not a matter of distracting ourselves or medicating ourselves to feel better.

How can we look desperate times straight in the eye and do something to help make them less desperate?

Can we find hope in the midst of despair and share that hope with other people?

What causes us to experience desperation? Do desperate times have lessons to teach us or even gifts for us?

Some of us may know despair which grows out of our experience of spiritual life. We may have been disappointed or betrayed or abused by people who came to us through spiritual life. It may be nearly impossible for us to recognize spiritual life as a potential source of hope.

Finding Spiritual Life in Desperate Times

I know people who seem to give the impression spiritual life is all about blissful comfort and joy.

My experience of spiritual life is different. Spiritual life touches our most excruciating pain and unforgettable despair.

Spiritual life finds and fills us in our most challenging, painful moments. When loss or abandonment breaks our hearts, when illness or injury torments our bodies, when we cannot understand.

We live our lives with pain. Sacred depth embraces us when we suffer in the death of those closest to us, of those who have inspired us. Spiritual life keeps us breathing when we are not certain we can continue.

Spiritual life fills us in the face of injustice, of fear, of despair, of physical and emotional pain. Whether it is our own pain which makes us want to surrender or we share the pain of people around the world.

We experience pain as an enemy, something we work hard to avoid at all costs. No one wants to do anything painful. We struggle against pain and despair and how they affect us. When we are in pain, all we want is for it to stop so we can feel better again.

Spiritual life does not take our desperate times away. It is not a drug which numbs us to our desperation.

If anything, spiritual life focuses my desperate times and helps me experience them more clearly. Spiritual life is not a bandage or a medication, but a companion who helps me live through desperate times. Not a panacea which takes our despair away, but a supportive presence who helps us continue.

It can be a challenge for us to recognize spiritual life in desperate times, often because we are reluctant to look.

Contemplative Spiritual Life in Desperate Times

My desperate times often grow as I am unable to meet my own expectations. I experience despair because I see myself as unable to make a difference I feel I should be able to make.

Contemplative spiritual life is, for me, grounded in my understanding and experience of a loving sacred presence. Spiritual life is with us regardless of whether we meet our own expectations or those of others.

There is no list of what we need to think or ways we need to behave. Spiritual life is all around us in the world and within us. We do not need to pass any tests or exceed any expectations.

I experience spiritual life as living with someone who loves me and wants what is best for me. Like any complex relationship there are times when things can be challenging. Sometimes I forget and sometimes I wonder whether there is any reason to go on. I get distracted and fall back into old habits.

Contemplation gives me opportunities to take time, breathe deeply, and spend time with spiritual life. Sometimes contemplative spiritual life finds me through specific practices. Other times I remember spiritual life by staying in bed or listening to rain on the window.

Loving Sacred Presence in Desperate Times

Spiritual life is not a magic spell to turn our despair into joy like flipping a switch. An expectation spiritual life takes our desperate times away is often one more step toward desperation.

Our desperate times will not become celebration in a flash of lightning or the blink of an eye. Spiritual life is not only about making us feel better.

Some of the ways we experience despair are not because our expectations are unrealistic. There are things we are drawn to do which will help us and other people.

Spiritual life guides us as we discern what we are being drawn to do and what is excess baggage. We take time to reflect and consider, to listen to sacred stillness. Our contemplation gives spiritual life opportunities to shape how we understand our lives.

We may be living in desperate times. Spiritual life will not make our desperation evaporate or disappear. Its loving sacred presence shows us how our despair can be transformed into everyday joy.

Spiritual life shapes us in desperate times.

How can spiritual life begin transforming our desperate times today?

Where will we find spiritual life in desperate times this week?

[Image by uriolat]

Greg Richardson is a spiritual life mentor and coach in Southern California. He is a recovering attorney and a lay Oblate with New Camaldoli Hermitage near Big Sur, California. Greg’s website is, and his email address is

"As Jesus's parables of the Samaritan, the mustard plant and the yeast in the baking ..."

Spiritual Direction: Where Are We Looking ..."
"Memory is a precious resource. Remembering is a vital aid in the process of an ..."

Practices From the Inside Out: Taking ..."

Monastic Strategies: The Wisdom of a ..."

Browse Our Archives