'Lineman pulling rope' by Donie MacManus, DublinIn Desolation: Discern and…hang on!

This is Ignatius’ basic advice to those who are passing through a time of desolation. He encourages us to resist the temptation to abandon everything and indulge in a nostalgic pining for the good times. Ignatius learnt from experience that times of desolation can be extremely important as long as they are discerned. The basic question must be, Why am I in desolation? Where is it coming from?

If desolation comes from the bad spirit, it would not be a good idea to give in it to it. The bad spirit is probably attacking our weak spot: I am vain, or anxious, or jealous, or can easily get discouraged, and even a small incident can easily upset me. Trying to find out where the desolation is coming from and resisting it will help me know myself and my vulnerabilities better.

We may be also surprised to discover that desolation comes from the good spirit, from God himself. When things are going well and I am in consolation, it is easy to think that all this is due to my own efforts; then God withdraws his consolation, and I learn to be more humble, gratefully acknowledging consolation as a grace.

I can find that my desolation is after all my fault: I may be passing through a selfish moment, or resisting something God is asking of me. I may be taking prayer for granted, not preparing myself well: how can I expect my prayer to be consoling if my heart is not really open to God?

So Ignatius suggests we examine why we are feeling desolation, and open our heart even more, trusting that this dark time will pass. Even though I feel Him distant, I must remind myself that God is at my side even in the darker times.

Our spiritual life is often a struggle, a struggle that makes us stronger and more discerning. The big mistake would be to remain passive, and change the decisions we have taken when in consolation. This requires some inner strength, and for Ignatius it would be a great help to talk about our desolation to someone we trust. If we manage to talk about it, it somehow becomes less frightening.

Perhaps we would prefer to live always in consolation, but we discover that knowing how to behave in desolation can be an important way to understand how God is present in our lives.

From God’s word:

◦ ‘God is faithful, and will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.’ – 1 Corinthians 10:13

◦ ‘And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness ” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.’ – 2 Corinthians 12:9

◦ ‘Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.’ – James 1:12

◦ ‘When I was secure, I said, “I will never be shaken.” Lord, when you showed your favour, you made me stand like a strong mountain; when You hid your face, I was terrified. Lord, I called to you; I sought favour from my Lord. You turned my lament into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, so that I can sing to you and not be silent. Lord my God, I will praise you forever.’ – Psalm 29: 6-8, 11


  • Is it your experience that often it is in struggling with difficulties that we grow into mature persons? Does this help you face difficult times?
  • Can you recall times of desolation when you gave up prayer, changed your decisions? And others where you just hung on in the darkness?

More resources:

There are three principal causes why we find ourselves desolate. Listen to Timothy Gallagher discuss this point: 

A contemporary reading of St Ignatius’ Rules for the discernment of spirits http://www.bridgeportvocations.org/your-vocation/discernment-resources/ignatian-rules-for-discernment/

A contemplative audiovisual to support your reflection – A beautiful rendition of ‘Amazing Grace’: