I whole heartedly appreciate our colleagues who consistently bring us encouraging words to give us spiritual enlightenment through their own missionary experiences from which we are learning a lot from what they share with us here in our blog.
I humbly would like to share my own experience in spirituality from my journey in trying to find where our Lord is but I have not found him face to face but I know in faith he is with me and all of us in doing the work that we do. Without God we would not have reached where we are through the intercession of our beloved founder, St. Daniel Comboni in whose steps we try to follow which is like moving in a bush full of thorns. These are from my notes of some retreats and workshops I attended and I humbly pray those who will read it may find something to learn to share with the people they work within our missionary life. It may benefit you as a person or help to learn to facilitate some talks with the parishioners or the young people we work and stay with. This is not a complete literature to rely on but it may make you think more to discover the will of God in you and me.
Spiritual dryness is said to be a state of being distressed, hopelessness, and unworthiness, unsatisfied, discouraged in our spiritual life and duties. This can occur to anyone and we find from actively participating in prayer life, we tend to realise we resist going for morning prayers or saying it personally, reading spiritual books, community prayers become a very big burden. And we find no reason for what it is that we face but there is no reason we can explain for our state. St. Paul calls them as thorns in his flesh and no matter how long or how short we are in our missionary vocation, they are sure to come like day and night, as they say no matter how long or short a night is, the day is sure to come.
Let us look at some but not exclusive Causes of spiritual dryness
- Sin that we refuse to admit and uncover, this can be consciously or unconsciously in our life. If we do not have enough time to meditate on our life and services, it will be very difficult to discover sins we committed but have not come to our mind at the time of confession. Some great thinker said a life without daily reflection is not worth living. Mathew 13:12 tells us in such moments to always aspire for more of what we need from God so that God will bless us more with his gracious gifts. The more we meditate on our life and try to find out our wrongs, and surrender our all to do the will of God, the more he will show us areas in our life that we need to be delivered from.
- Over-feeding and over straining to some people. This especially comes during retreats of either group or individual, Bible camps where we learn about the Bible and learn how to live it in our lives, Church festivities like Christmas, Lent, Easter, and Pentecost in which we always prepare to get the most in all that we wanted. After such moments, our Spiritual Fathers always encourage us to prepare for this spiritual dryness that can make us to drift away from our main focus on Jesus and our beloved Mother Mary.
- When we have been blessed with God’s word from what we read, may be when we find our prayer requests have been answered. We are in very good perfect life with the family and the rest of people in our life. In our Parishes, where we do our missionary work, we have very excellent work life with no challenges and other associates or team work we work with. If we do not constantly pray for guidance of God and ask him to let us prepare for the worst in our spiritual life, we may find we easily fall into a state of nothingness and despair.
- Taking unlimited amount of spiritual food for example people belonging to more than 3 weekly Bible studies, prayer group may suffer so much but personally with our missionary assignments where we are two or even one, it may be very difficult to have a constant spiritual nourishment and we may put our self in a deep spiritual nourishment once and it will take another very long time to have a similar nourishment and so we can be an easy target of spiritual dryness
- Over-feeding spiritually may damage our spiritual life and o spiritual dryness and so we are advised to take what is appropriate but consistently searching to get more, as they say we need to thirst for more and more in our life to discover the Lord.
- Disregard of our body just as joy affects heart and flesh. We must be conscious of our health, may be working for service or an income for the family but we need to know when we are tired and we can do more. It becomes challenging when we are to meet deadlines of what we do and we may be taken deep into work, thereby depriving our body of rest, a tired body cannot concentrate on prayers. That is why Jesus in his mission, when he did a wonderful work, performed miracles, he would tell his apostles to find some place to rest, he would be alone in a state of prayer and contemplation when he is preparing for a difficult task. I strongly believe if we give our bodies rest and give some time to enjoy the nature God has given us to help us like flowers, trees, water, animals and the rest for us to live better, our spiritual journey will be easy. Psalms 84:2 brings us how to thirst for the word of God and to be in his presence and in his temple. We can never have this yearning when our body and mind is so tired.
- A sick mind can be a cause of a sick body. We are different individuals who grew from different family backgrounds and so when we come to live together in a community, conflicts are bound to arise by all means. If we claim not to pay attention to diverging views and learn to tolerate to live with them, it will affect our mind which will never find it easy to concentrate on prayers. One of the spiritual writers put it that Jesus advises us to learn to live with Judases in our life because he knew Judas Iscariot was going to betray him but he tolerated and lived with him for three years. We may say we are not Jesus the divine to tolerate Judases but St. Daniel Comboni had the worst share of this as well when too much allegations were put on him; he does not pray, he does not use the money for the purposes it was meant to be and so on, he personally did not have peace of mind with the clerics he was with, no wonder why he died in the hands of the Lay people who were by his bed side at that time and so I believe conflicts are good but if we cannot resolve them amicably like followers of Jesus, it will affect out prayer life and so spiritual dryness is inevitable in our life. Jesus brings this out very well in the teaching about divorce Matthew 19:1-9 and there are always people who will contradict us in our work and what we teach but remembering how he handled them is the way out to live with people who are always controversial in our missionary work in our communities or where we work
- Loss of balance. Our conversion to follow Jesus Christ does not relieve us from observing the order of creation in which we are part. We have friends we need to meet, we have to attend to our natural body desires of intimacy in a spirit of chastity in religious or marriage life and we need to acknowledge that we are weak and immoral and we need to surrender these feelings to Jesus to work. We have our families that need our company, we need to have recreation as St. Francis of Sales put in his book Treatise on the Love of God and The Devout Life that what our body demands, we have to do it even if it means going to dance but it has to be in a way if Jesus comes to you right there, he should judge you rightly. King Solomon tells us to learn to regulate our body according to reason.
Lack of balance between work and rest in a long run leads to spiritual dryness as well explained in Genesis 2:2-3 where God rested after working. God, in his divine nature did this, what about us the mortal ones who are victims of sin all the times of our life in this world of sin? Many sins we commit I believe happen so when we are tired and exhausted from all that we do and so we are so irritated that we just say anything that comes to our mind without reflecting on what we are to say or have just said, we tend to pass our judgments emotionally (irrationally) rather than rationally something we may regret later.
Lessons to learn from spiritual dryness
Therefore spiritual dryness should not be taken as a calamity. In John 11:4 Jesus said the death of Lazarus was to bring the glory to God. Personally I have been through some hard moments of life challenges but later on I would thank God that it went that way, it has brought me so closer to him. Therefore;
- Through spiritual dryness, we can grow in our spiritual journey, we tend to surrender our all to God and say with our Beloved Mother Mary; Lord, let your will be done in this not mine, if it has come from you, make me strong enough to pass through this but do not remove it away from me. St. Augustine said “he who created you without yourself will not save you without yourself” and so we need to be fully present to overcome our spiritual dryness with prayer and fasting
- People who were very close to God experienced the same like our Lord Jesus wept in the garden of Gethsemane before he handed himself to be tortured and killed. His words Father, remove this from me, but let it be you not I would have it… when he was scourged, he beautifully said, my heart is ready or God, my heart is ready….and these are the very words we can learn to have in our most challenging moments in our life, Moses and Elijah also experienced spiritual dryness and when we read about them, we find our they were so humble to let the will of God be in their lives through the hard moments they were going through, we can always ask ourselves how often we allow the will of God to happen to us than defending our pride to explain why the other person is wrong and I am the one right. Jesus did not defend his heavenly Kingship when Pilate asked him….are you the king? He said it is you who said it…..why then should we find it very hard to accept that we are wrong and find all possible reasons to defend our actions??? The answer could simply be got from Herbert Cardinal Vaughan’s book Humility of Heart that is the Pride in us that we are better than others and we are so much self-centered in all our deeds. St. Thomas said acquired humility is in a certain sense the greatest good. From Job 4:2 we learn that God sends us some moments of dryness to prove our worth as his faithful followers and Psalms 22:15 tells us the path followed by the evil is always wide with no challenges and is smooth as compared to path leading to eternal happiness which is full of thorns and holes to walk on. Jesus said whoever wants to follow me must take his cross and follow him. To me this is not the wooden or metallic cross that we make but the challenges that we bear in our daily life as we keep our focus on him but keeping touch with the reality we live on ground.
- After every mountain, there is a valley and this is the journey to eternity and it is like watching a train or lorry fully loaded climbing a mountain with too much smoke and at a very slow speed and the driver keeps his speed because he knows there is a slopping side where all will be fine and when he reaches another mountain he prepares for that and this should be our journey in our work, always to be prepared for mountains and crosses in our life.
- Do not despair when spiritual dryness comes, your blessings are at hand, only if you persist and do not give up your focus on the Lord Jesus and live in a spirit of humility knowing all is from God to make you to know him better. Daniel and his friends preferred to be burnt in the heart of fire, they did not ask God to save them from the flame but said the will of God be done. At the end they triumphed in this with God sending his Angel to save them.
How to overcome spiritual dryness
- Try to live a life full of forgiveness and tolerance no matter how hard it may sound to be and how innocent you may be in all the challenges you are going through. Our Lord Jesus said …..father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing…the same word St. Maria Gorrett said to her murderer that God should forgive him but he should turn to learn to do good….it needs a real divine intervention to forgive as human beings. We can say I forgive you but I will not forget. Therefore forgiveness takes time and effort through prayer. Etty Huillesum said “inside me there is a very deep spring and in this spring is God. Sometimes I achieve it but more often it is covered by stones and sand, at that moment God is buried, must be unearthed again” and this is done only and only when we pray and learn to forgive.
- Confession and renewed assurance of forgiveness and this comes with the necessity of having a Spiritual Director who can guide us in all these challenges we go through and they always hold our hand in the journey which is full of thorns and holes. Whoever we have as our spiritual director is also a human being bound to err and when we witness this, it does not stop their role of being our spiritual directors to whom we can always run in case we are in turmoil of spiritual dryness.
- Make daily examination of consciousness and discover the imperfections. Accuse yourself to Jesus for the sins you have committed for each day, eliminate self-love and become like little children as Jesus says. Consider humility under the aspects of your relationship with God and your neighbor. Always ask yourself what did you do this day, how did you do it, what have you omitted to do. Always insist on spiritual directors. Great spiritual writers gave us two things: two things of which one must never complain, clothes or food, two prayers we should frequently repeat, my God, let me neither be curious nor talkative and two actions for which we must be always ready to have Holy Communion all the time and to die. Let us all have an effort to read the very excellent book written by St. Alphonsus Maria de Liguori Preparation for Death (free download from search catholicfreebooks click on the second option, it brings a very beautiful cathedral windows and pictures of saints, you can download as many books as you can) or any other author and it teaches us how to live a real committed life to go to heaven as we can die anytime anywhere. When death comes whether prepared or not how will it find you and me
- We need to live a life of responsibility and discipline in both private and public life at all times and in all places we go to. Always we need to ask ourselves what Jesus would like me to do. Spiritual writers tell us to live each day the way it comes and when we want to make resolutions, they should be made each day not for life, because we can control what we do at present not tomorrow which we are not sure whether we shall reach and also yesterday is gone and we leave it to the mercy of God. Therefore every day we need to live better as they say perfection is attained now at present when you are there doing all that you can.
- We depend too much on second hand sermons; learning from others is very good but not enough for our constant spiritual growth. We need to dig out firsthand information on spiritual food for ourselves through personal studies, reading spiritual books, attending personal and group retreats, making every encounter we make a moment of prayer and to learn to appreciate Jesus for all the wonders he does for us.
- All crosses and adversities will only serve to strengthen the spirit of the members who are faithful to this holy task and determined to put the mission on the road of certain prosperity, because the works of God have always been at the foot of Calvary and must be like Jesus Christ went through the process of passion and death in order to reach the Resurrection. (St. Daniel Comboni message MDC 238) and Having been made sharers in the passion of Jesus Christ, we have a greater desire than ever to sacrifice our life for Christ and for his mission (St. Daniel Comboni message MDC 69) with these beautiful words from our founder, let us learn to discover Jesus from all the spiritual dryness we shall always get and be ready to fulfill our part in the sacrifice for the kingdom of God for which we are striving to do our part.
Matters of spirituality are never exhaustively discussed and are never easily understood but I hope with these few, it can lead us to read more and search more from different sources on how well we can do all this in our life. With our work, sometimes we may not have sufficient time to pray but learning to pray where we work, communicating to God in our work may help us to pray.
Disagreements are always there and when they come, let them lead us to pray more through the intersession of our Beloved Mother Mary, St. Daniel Comboni and our patron saints.
With these few words, let us keep the candle burning in our words and deeds while asking God to be with us all the time of our lives. And by asking the lord to make us live a committed Lay Missionary life with love and dedication to the most Sacred Heart of Jesus and Immaculate heart of Mary and to strive for something that is worth and very important to live as Comboni family to reach to all in words and actions as we live in peace and harmony. St. Julian of Norwich said the greatest honour we can give the Almighty God is to live gladly because of the knowledge of his love. Love is our Lord’s meaning and we have to do everything for love, God made us, God keeps us and so we need to turn to him all the time of our life.
To God be the Glory
Comboni Lay Missionary. Uganda