I picked a random number with the help of Random.org, and the winner from the giveaway from earlier this week is Theosis, who said that her favorite 7 Quick Takes post from last week was Rebecca’s. Theosis, email me with the subject “giveaway winner” so that I can get you your prizes. And a heartfelt thank you to all who participated! I hope you enjoyed it!
Last week I mentioned in quick take #7 that I was feeling extremely stressed because of a lack of “introvert time.” I made that a high priority this week, and I feel so much better mentally! In fact, seeing what a drastic difference that made to both my mental and spiritual health is what inspired me to write the spiritual dry spells post. For some reason I’m still feeling unusually fatigued physically (no, I’m not expecting — for once!), but I feel much, much better other than that.
Also, y’all were right: Our Kidsave child Rita likes introvert time as much as I do, and seemed relieved to have some period in the day where we can all just do our own things.
My husband told me this story last night that had me laughing so hard I was crying, so I just had to share: A good friend of his frequently travels to our area, and every time he stays in the same hotel, often in the same room. This week he was in a room that was similar to his usual one except the configuration was switched around — e.g. the closet was on the opposite wall, bathroom door in a different place, etc.
“Bob” (NOT HIS REAL NAME, you’ll see why I emphasize that in a moment) had been taking a hard nap in this hotel room and decided to get up and take a shower. He turned on the TV and got sucked into a show, deciding that he wanted to quickly squeeze in the shower during commercials so he didn’t miss anything. Still bleary-eyed from sleep, he backed up to the bathroom door as the segment of the program wound to an end. The first commercial began and he darted backwards into the bathroom, stumbling a bit as he slid past the open door.
Only it wasn’t the bathroom. It was the hallway. In his sleepy state he grabbed at the closing door, but missed.
It was The Click Heard ‘Round the World when the hotel door shut behind him. And there he was, in a hotel hallway, without a stitch of clothing on — no towel, no nothing. He scanned the hall for mats, wall hangings, dirty napkins on room service trays, ANYTHING to use to cover himself, but couldn’t find anything. He desperately tried to think of what to do, the fact that he was completely naked in a public place serving as a slight distraction to his thought process.
He ducked into an empty stairwell and spotted a trash can on another floor. After waiting until the coast was clear he pulled out the trash bag to use as a sort of makeshift man-skirt, and then ran down to the front desk to ask the clerk for another key to his room. Evidently she immediately handed it over with no questions asked; I can’t decide if that makes sense or not.
Anyway, a little story to ponder next time you think you’re having a bad day.
If you’re looking for a birthday present for the child of someone on whom you’d like to exact some kind of revenge, I recommend a Yada Yada. (Well, as a Christian I can’t recommend that you buy annoying toys for children to get back at their parents, but I will just note that the toy would be perfect for such use, should an unscrupulous person choose to do so.)
I bought my son one of these at Target as a thank-you gift for acting less like a rabid monkey than his sisters while I was shopping, and I’ve rued that decision ever since. The toy allows you to record a five-second voice clip and then play it back, and this has become my son’s new primary mode of communication. He can no longer speak to us directly, only answering questions after recording them through the Yada Yada.
I don’t expect this toy will be in our house for much longer, however, since he’s now using it for backtalk. Yesterday afternoon I told him to stop throwing food at the table. He got down from his chair, ran off to the hallway, then came back and proudly held up the Yada Yada which announced in his voice, “I will NOT stop throwing food!” I yanked it from his hand, and when I put it down on a high shelf I accidentally hit the remix button so that it sounded like a trash-talking chipmunk said “IwillNOTstopthrowingfood!” That toy’s days are numbered.
Over the past few weeks I’ve fallen off my Saint Diet in a big way. It started because I often found myself at events where the only food available was junk food, but after the first couple days of “cheating” my cravings came back with a vengeance (I recounted my saga of simple carb addiction here). Back when I wasn’t eating any processed foods, I didn’t miss them; I could walk by plates of M&M-laden cookies or cups overflowing with milkshake and shrug. Now it’s at the point where I’m about to start lunging at bags of Cheetos in the grocery store, caressing them as I cry, “You…complete…me!”
A “mini new year” is coming up on August 15, so I’m going to recommit to my diet then, if not before.
Speaking of food, I am baffled by Colombian cuisine. Rita doesn’t like pizza! Or pasta! Or cheeseburgers! Or onion rings! Or PBJ’s! And she’d never seen shrimp! And had never heard of chicken nuggets!
The chicken nuggets story was kind of amusing: I presented her with a plate of dinosaur-shaped nuggets that the kids like, and she looked up at me with this hilariously innocent, baffled expression. Evidently in Colombia they have this odd cultural tradition where they eat food that is recognizable in its original form. “It’s chicken,” I told her in Spanish as I motioned to the dino nugget. She poked at it skeptically as I tried to explain why here in the U.S. we like to take fresh food, pulverize it to death, add about 50 ingredients, shape it to look like something entirely different, throw in some sugar and MSG and call it a meal.
Some of you have asked how Rita gets along with the neighbor girls, who are about the same age. They were actually gone for the first few weeks she was here and only returned a few days ago. I wish I could tell you that they all bonded wonderfully and are all now BFF’s, but unfortunately it’s been a little tense because of the language barrier. The neighbor kids often end up chatting and playing by themselves while Rita withdraws to be by herself, and I’ve had to put a fair amount of effort into smoothing over those types of situations since the neighbor kids are back to being here four to eight hours per day.
(By the way, as I said on Twitter, with all of them and my kids and my babysitter and her daughter, we sometimes have more than 10 people just casually hanging out over here — doesn’t God know I’m an introvert?!)
Can you believe that it’s already time for Rita to leave?! She goes back to Colombia on Tuesday.
She leaves on the feast of St. John Vianney, and my husband and I have found a lot of comfort in doing a novena in Vianney’s honor to ask for his prayers and for God to give us the grace to emulate his character. It’s going to be hard without her, not just because I’ll miss her but because it’s made daily life easier in many ways to have her here. No word yet on a “forever family” for her. Please keep praying!
I look forward to reading your posts!
The ride home from the airport after we picked up our Kidsave child Rita was a little tense. We quickly found out that when they said in her bio that she speaks some English, by “some” they meant “not a single word.” A Colombian social worker named Maria was with us as well, and she didn’t speak much English either.
“Is hot too where you live?” I asked in broken Spanish.
They barely managed to nod and smile. They had arrived a day late after getting stuck in Atlanta overnight, and were too exhausted to strain for conversation topics. Rita was so tense and stressed by her strange new surroundings that she’d developed a bad headache. In the forty-minute drive back to our house we made some other efforts at chitchat, but it was hard work. Our group consisted of a suburban American family from Texas, a young career woman from the bustling city of Bogota, an orphaned child from rural Colombia, and we were all tired. It was pretty quiet for most of the ride home, the main sound being the air conditioner straining to beat the sweltering heat.
Then Maria started to say something, hesitating to make sure she chose the right words. “I hate to trouble you,” she said apologetically, “but it’s very important that Rita and I go to Mass on Sunday.”
When I told her that we are Catholic too, everything changed.
In one moment we went from having nothing in common to having everything in common. We’d all read the same Bible passages at Mass the weekend before, so we talked about that for a while. Then the subject of the rosary came up, and we shared tips about how to make praying the rosary a daily habit (something we all wanted to do but hadn’t managed to accomplish yet). That led into a long discussion in which we gushed about Pope Benedict, which then got us talking about Pope John Paul II. While we were talking about our parish priests someone brought up the subject of Confession, and Rita mentioned that she was sure to go to Confession before she came on this trip. When the subject of Mary came up we were talking over one another, Maria and I both getting choked up while recounting stories of how God has used his mother to draw us closer to himself. Maria shared touching stories about how it helps her work with orphaned children to let them know that they not only have a heavenly Father, but that God gave them Mary to be their spiritual mother as well.
Over the next couple of days things were predictably awkward as we all got settled into the new routine, but our Catholic faith served as the anchor that held us all together. They immediately gushed over our painted tile of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and Maria noted that a friend of hers had the same Christ the Teacher icon that hangs on our wall (mine written by my long-lost cousin the monk). A little segment about St. John Vianney came on the EWTN-Spanish channel, and Rita was uncharacteristically talkative as she told us all about how his life has inspired her, impressing me by knowing off the top of her head that his feast day is August 4. I had given Rita a disposable camera, and later we’d see that the first picture she took was of our framed print of this beautiful photo of Pope John Paul II which hangs in the hall outside her bedroom door.
When we went to Mass, the unity we felt was palpable.
As we walked into the sanctuary (pictured above), we all dipped our hands in the holy water and crossed ourselves without even thinking about it. We slid into the pews and Rita smiled as she pointed out a nun sitting in front of us. Maria pulled Rita close and pointed to the red candle over the tabernacle at the front of the sanctuary, whispering that Christ is here too.
The service started, and I saw Rita’s body relax as she fell into the familiar rhythm of the Mass. Though she wasn’t able to understand a word of our pastor’s homily, she could read God’s Word along with us in the Spanish-language Bible translations provided in the missalette; and the central reason we were there, the Eucharist, surpassed any language or cultural barriers. We moved as one — Rita, Maria, our family, and everyone else in the building — as we crossed ourselves at the beginning of Mass, traced the sign of the cross across our foreheads, lips and hearts before hearing the Gospel, knelt as God was made present, stood to say the Our Father, then knelt again before receiving Communion, our external conformity of movement symbolic of the inner conformity of belief. Though I’d known all along that technically Rita and Maria are our sisters in Christ, watching how seamlessly they fit into the congregation at the Mass made me see what a true filial bond we really have.
After the Mass Rita and Maria took a stroll around the sanctuary, familiarizing themselves with the church. I sat in a pew for a moment and watched them move from place to place, chatting about the Stations of the Cross and our statues of beloved saints Faustina and Martin de Porres, stopping for a moment to pray in front of the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Rita began to move around the church as if it were her own living room, smiling freely, all the tension gone from her body.
I’ve read stacks and stacks of books with high-minded treatises on Catholicism and the Church as the mystical Body of Christ, but it wasn’t until that moment that I really got just what a gift Jesus gave us when he established a Church. I got it because, seeing Rita at Mass that day, I saw what a gift it was for her.
She’d arrived here an orphan without a home, tired and weary from a tumultuous journey and a more tumultuous life, blown to and fro by every kind of human inconsistency, finding herself living in a foreign land in a new house, surrounded by strangers. And yet through the Church we were united immediately as a family, not only in the core beliefs about God and life but even in our surface-level expressions of faith like blessing ourselves with holy water or praying the rosary or lighting candles to symbolize prayers. As I sat there in the pew that day and watched Rita walk through our sanctuary, seeing her rest in the soothing familiarity of her surroundings, my heart swelled as I realized that through his Church God had given her not just a family, but a home.
It seems like a lot of people I know are going through spiritual dry spells lately, feeling apathetic about their relationship with God and/or feeling like God’s voice is silent during a difficult time. In case it’s helpful to anyone, I thought I’d post a list of some practical tips I’ve heard on the subject that I learned during my own times of spiritual dryness:
1. Make sure you’re not doing anything to block out God’s voice
As I’ve talked about before, my conversion started in a spiritual dry spell; I didn’t feel God’s presence in my life at all. It all changed for me after I read the C.S. Lewis quote that I discussed in this post, in which he pointed out that asking God to dwell in a heart filled with darkness would be like asking the sun to reflect off of a dusty mirror.
Though it’s not as simple as cutting out sin = feeling great spiritual consolation (since, as we’ll talk about in #9, God sometimes has a purpose behind letting us experience spiritual dry spells), there are some cases, like me at the beginning of my conversion, where it’s mostly just an issue of the filth of sin blocking out God’s light. I’ve found that it’s easy for me to slide into “little” daily sins like gossip, envy, uncharity and especially pride, and when I do, I’m often left feeling distant from God until I make a serious effort to amend my ways.
2. Keep praying (no, seriously, keep praying)
I know that when I’m feeling distant from God, the first thing to go is my prayer life. “Why bother?” I’ll even catch myself thinking sometimes. It’s during these times that it’s most important to remember that prayer is not all about what we get out of it, that God is worthy of our praise and worship even if we don’t get nice experiences or emotions in return. Also, the only hope for getting out of a spiritual dry spell is increased communication with God, not decreased. A prayer through gritted teeth saying, “I feel abandoned, I feel like I’m talking to myself when I pray,” is better than no prayer at all.
Along these lines, my spiritual director once pointed out that a spiritual dry spell is not the time to start subtracting spiritual practices that you once felt called to do. For example, if a few months ago during a period of closeness to God you felt strongly led to pray a Psalm every morning, don’t stop doing it just because you’re experiencing a spiritual dry spell. Wait until you’ve regained the peace of the Holy Spirit to abandon things you once felt called to do.
3. Receive the sacraments
If you’re Catholic, increase the frequency with which you receive the sacraments of the Eucharist and Confession. As with prayer, it’s tempting to slack off on going to Mass or Confession if it doesn’t lead to an emotional experience, but the sacraments are channels of grace regardless of how we feel when we receive them. If you need some good motivation, here’s an article about the power of the Eucharist, and here’s some great info about Confession. (If anyone’s interested, here are my own thoughts on receiving the Eucharist and confessing my sins to a priest.)
4. Read inspiring spiritual books
I never cease to be amazed at what a boon it is to my spiritual life to always have a good, inspiring book going (in addition to the Bible, which I think of more as prayer than as light reading). A while back I noticed that I’d drifted into feeling lukewarm about my faith, and then I remembered that I’d been steeping myself in only secular reading material for the past few months. I found a good book that challenged me to live my faith more fully, and found that it alone reignited much of my lost zeal. I still read many secular books, but I try to always have an inspiring book about the faith going as well, and it works wonders for keeping me energized. If you’re looking for some specific recommendations, all of the following books are all excellent:
- Mother Teresa’s Secret Fire
- In the Shadow of His Wings
- Come Be My Light
- He Leadeth Me
- Finding God’s Will for You
- 10 Prayers God Always Says Yes To
If you have some book recommendations, please let us know in the comments!
5. Make sure there’s not a physical cause
As I talked about back here, I once went to my spiritual director to get advice about my slack prayer habits, and her surprising response was to tell me to get more sleep. After a lot of prayer and thought, I realized that not taking care of myself physically can have seriously negative repercussions in my spiritual life.
Though we always have free will to turn to God no matter what the circumstances (as I was recently reminded), I’ve found that if I’m staying up too late, constantly eating junk food, not exercising, pushing myself too hard, etc., I’m far more tempted to turn away from God than when I’m feeling good physically — and this alone can lead to spiritual dry spells. Again, there’s not always a direct cause-and-effect relationship to your physical wellbeing and your spiritual life, but if you’re in a spiritual dry spell it’s worth at least taking a look at what’s going on physically to see if there are any contributing factors in that department.
6. Make sure you’re recharging your batteries
This is similar to the above, but it’s so important yet so often overlooked that I think it’s worth addressing as a separate point. A few years ago I took a Birkman personality inventory where I learned about the critical importance of understanding how you recharge your batteries, i.e. knowing what activities give you energy vs. what activities drain your energy.
I cannot overstate the impact this had on my life. I learned that I am an introvert, which means not that I don’t like people (in fact one of my great pleasures in getting together with friends and meeting new people), but that the way I recharge my batteries is by having quiet time alone or just with my husband — and when I don’t get that time I end up in a state of psychological distress. Once I understood the high importance of making sure that I got regular introvert time to recharge my batteries, not only did my ability to deal with daily life increase, but my spiritual life improved significantly as well since I found myself spending much more time in a peaceful, calm state of mind.
All that is to say: especially if you’re experiencing a spiritual dry spell, spend some time reflecting on how you recharge your batteries, and then make sure you’re carving out time for those activities. Introverts who aren’t getting any down time or extroverts who are constantly cooped up in the house are going to have a hard time functioning, let alone deepening their relationships with God.
7. Find a spiritual director
I’ve found it invaluable to meet regularly with a trained spiritual director to help me grow in my faith, especially when I’m experiencing times of spiritual dryness. Spiritual directors can help you work through questions like, “Am I doing something to block out God’s voice?”, “What could be the purpose for God’s silence in my life right now?”, “How can I keep praying when I feel so unmotivated?”, etc. Here’s a post about how to find a spiritual director.
8. Consider counseling
If you think you might have serious unresolved issues in your life that are impacting your relationship with God, you may want to consider finding a Christian counselor to help you gain peace in those areas of your life. For example, I once heard someone who had an abusive father say that she had a major block relating to God as Father because of her experiences growing up, and it really helped her relationship with God to resolve that issue through counseling. Here’s a site for finding Christian counselors, and here’s one for finding Catholic counselors. Also, I’ve heard rave reviews of the Pastoral Solutions Institute’s telecounseling service, which offers Christian counseling over the phone.
9. Research the Christian understanding of spiritual dry spells
If you’ve done all of the above and nothing is better, it may simply be that God is withholding spiritual consolation from you for a reason. I once posted a great email I received addressing why God allows us to have spiritual dry spells, which I highly recommend reading. Also, in addition to reading the thoughts of great historical Christian thinkers who experienced spiritual darkness like John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila, you may also find inspiration in reading up on the life of Mother Theresa. She once wrote in a letter:
[I have] this terrible sense of loss, this untold darkness, this loneliness, this continual longing for God, which gives me that pain deep down in my heart. Darkness is such that I really do not see, neither with my mind nor with my reason. The place of God in my soul is blank. There is no God in me. When the pain of longing is so great I just long and long for God and then it is that I feel He does not want me, He is not there…Sometimes I just hear my own heart cry out ‘My God’ and nothing else comes. The torture and pain I can’t explain.
If you’re experiencing something like this, take comfort in knowing that you’re not alone; some of the greatest saints in history, including our own Mother Teresa, went through terribly difficult periods in their faith. One of the books I mentioned above, Come Be My Light, specifically address how Mother Teresa overcame her own darkness and might be a source of inspiration for anyone experiencing something similar.
Again, I’m not a theologian, spiritual director or pastor — this is just a list of practical tips I’ve collected in my own research and reading on the subject over the past few years. Anyone else have any good tips?