“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access [by faith] to this grace in which we stand, and we boast in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we even boast of our afflictions, knowing that affliction produces endurance, and endurance, proven character, and proven character, hope, and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the holy Spirit that has been given to us.”--Romans 5:1-5
Many of us are taught from a young age that Jesus loves us, stands with us, and listens to our prayers. This reality is easy to accept intellectually but hard to know in one’s heart. As one matures through adolescence and adulthood, troubles seem to build and anxieties can begin to overwhelm. Despite our faith and love in Christ, a deafening silence and perceived sense of loneliness can invade one’s spiritual life. This can occur in a myriad of situations, but I have noticed it is especially common when people experience some sort of transition in their life. By its very nature, dramatic change disrupts routines and occupies the mind with a million more questions than on more “typical” days. Being worried and focused on other aspects of life makes it harder to see and know Jesus in these day-to-day moments. In addition, world events like natural disasters or instances of social or political upheaval can push many members of the faithful into periods of doubt and questioning. The key to getting through these “gray” moments in our spiritual life is through perseverance in the face of doubt, questions, and anxiety. One must dive deep into the moments of grayness in order to come to a better realization of who Jesus is and what true love and faith looks like.
Before I continue, however, I want to say that this perseverance is not a perfect problem solver. Instead, taking one step at a time in the spiritual life despite a gray cloud or pall that seems to be hovering over you can be the means to continuing your faith and deepening your relationship with Christ. It is not a quick fix that will make you feel better in a day or two. Rather, perseverance is a method of faith development that looks different for each person. The key to all of this is consistency.
Many saints experienced periods of spiritual drought, doubting, and dark nights of the soul (a term coined by St. John of the Cross). Most famously, St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta experienced decades of “hunger for God,” and “the terrible feeling of being ‘unwanted’ by Him.” St. Teresa arguably saw some of the ugliest facets of human life and society, and any person who was ministering to the poorest of the poor would feel some form of burnout and depression. Many Christians today experience these same emotions in their own faith journeys, and instead of giving up and letting go, one must do the counter-intuitive action and cling to Christ more. Although I understand that this sounds cliché, bringing one’s raw questions, emotions, fears, and doubts to Jesus—whether at Mass, Adoration, or even in the car—can help one come to resolutions. Prayer is defined in the Catechism as “the raising of one's mind and heart to God,” and since our hearts are all unique, our prayers to Jesus in “grey” moments look different (CCC 2559). You must find a form of prayer that helps you draw as close to Christ as possible. This prayer can be Adoration with journaling, a Rosary with meditation, talking with friends or a spiritual mentor, or even venting to God aloud when you are home alone. The most crucial part of these moments is that you are praying and talking to God.
Lastly, these hard times are normal in the spiritual life. Countless saints have experienced them, and thousands of Catholics are in the midst of them every day. When one enters into these dark nights, one must cling to Christ in the hope that comes from afflictions as St. Paul says in his Letter to the Romans. As St. John of the Cross also says, trust that “in the dark night of the soul, bright flows the river of God.”