9 Tips for Spiritual Dry Spells

iStock 000002309744XSmall 9 Tips for Spiritual Dry SpellsIt 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:

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

come be my light 9 Tips for Spiritual Dry SpellsIf 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?

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46 Responses to “9 Tips for Spiritual Dry Spells”
  1. izhilzha says:

    What intrigues me about my spiritual life right now is that it doesn't feel like a typical dry spell–God's presence is very near me, He even speaks to me quite plainly (including in a dream, which was startling), but none of it seems to address any of the other issues in my life right now. I am a very practical person, and that is frustrating me.

    But I'm slowly coming to the conclusion that maybe I'm not asking the right questions. And maybe it really is as simple as needing to learn to accept His view of me, His love of me, without putting accomplishments or success in life goals in the way.

  2. Sara says:

    The most important thing I've ever been told in relationship to spiritual "dry spells" is to remember that our feelings are reactions to reality – not reality itself. So just because you don't feel God's love doesn't mean He doesn't love you. It's nice to know that God's love goes deeper than a warm fuzzy feeling. Look at a crucifix – there's nothing warm or fuzzy there, yet this is the epitome of God's love.

    It begs repeating – your blog is great Jen, thanks so much!

  3. Karyn says:

    Thank you for these tips. I wouldn't say I'm experiencing a dry spell, but I'm very new to the faith. Now, the initial "honeymoon" excitement is starting to wear off and I find myself thinking, okay what do I do now? I'm not feeling those electric charges all the time. I think your ideas will really help me to "stick with it". Thank you!

  4. Emily says:

    Thanks so much for this Jen!
    I seem to have spells like this at least once a year, and these are great ideas for pulling myself out of them.

  5. Sara says:

    This is a very timely post for me. I have been feeling very unmotivated in the spiritual life this summer. I know some of it is physical (pregnant with my 3rd baby in 3 years), but I recognize this dry spell is also a result of bad habits. Much of what you said are things that I (or the Holy Spirit) keep telling myself to do. I think I will go say my prayers now.

  6. NC Sue says:

    Each of these suggestions is excellent.

    Another thing I've learned to do when I'm feeling dry is to pipe in plenty of music. Singers such as John Michael Talbot and Brian Doerksen are among those whose music can draw me into a prayerful, praise-ful state.

    Long ago, there was a Beatles' song with the lyrics "You know that what you eat, you are". This applies every bit as much to our spiritual food. If I increase the amount of nourishing spiritual food (which for me includes music), my spirit responds.

  7. jrbaab says:

    Thanks Jen!

    This is a good post and good timing for me. I was wondering the other day, "What happenned? Where did I go wrong?" Just a month ago I had been in a spiritual fervor. Then something happenned and the train got derailed. I am beginning to come out of it. I think this might help. Prais God!!!

  8. MaryLouise says:

    Good list -
    Sticking with God when He seems far away.
    Not critizing oneself for ….
    those are two important helps.

    And since everyone is looking at blogs on the 7 Takes list I want to suggest a blog to go with this. It brought tears to my eyes and and it's about TRUST, the trusting and waiting that can be so hard when our spritual lives are dry.

    God Bless M

  9. Bethany Hudson says:

    Book rec: "The Story of a Soul" by St. Therese of Lisieux. This is my all-time favorite thing to reflect on when I'm having a spiritual dry spell. Oh, she is such an incredible saint!

  10. Amy says:

    I love this post! God spoke to me through an unexpected person last week around an issue with my daughter, and it's been a long long time since I felt Him that way. So I'm feeling very grateful and energized now, and remarkably at peace with the unfolding situation.

    But I know what a dry spell feels like. I love the other commenters suggestion of music. And also getting involved in a charity or cause. It can be a simple blog post and a donation, like I did last week, which seems small and simple but it really does matter. Or physically going out and working for some cause. Getting outside your own head can be hard but is always worth the effort.

  11. Drustee says:

    I am at present reaing Growth In Holiness, by Frederic William Faber, and find the book to be a gem in spiritual direction.

    It had been given to me many years ago by a good priest and dear friend, now retired, who was my spiritual director then (in fact the only one I've ever had). Now many years later and living on another continent I found myself really desiring a sound spiritual director to help me focus and order my Christian walk, and I prayed literaly that one should just walk into my life, like the last one had.

    Soon after, I was struggling with a decision I had to make, and was drawn to pick up this forgotten book off the shelf. Opened the chapter on 'human respect' and found a clear analysis of what I was fighting with. I hadn't been able to put my finger on it previously.

    Looking over the book I found it was just what I was looking for at this point in my life, when I just didn't seem to be making progress in the spiritual life.

    It's declared purpose is to be a compass/giude on the journey of souls in the wide wilderness found between the sweet consolations of the beginings of the Christian journey, and the great heights of sanctity reached by the saints. It is aimed at the spiritual 'middle class' in the way the books of St.Francis the Sales are, offering guidance for the ordinary daily struggle on the road of sanctification.

    I'm still reading it, but I think it fulfils its purpose admirably.

  12. The Burgess family says:

    I think that in addition to people ruling out physical contributors like tiredness and not taking care of yourself, physical things like depression from hormonal imbalances or thyroid conditions, etc. should also be addressed.

    And I assume your term of "spiritual director" is similar to protestants term "mentor"?

    Good thoughts, thanks for sharing!

  13. Nadja Magdalena says:

    Excellent post. I was baptized in 1996 after a long period of fervor and consolations, and have spent the time since then in aridity with only a few brief periods of feeling some kind of closeness to God. My faith has been more a matter of obedience to the Church and her doctrines than a personal relationship with Christ.

    Perhaps I need to look more closely at your list an see if there is something I am doing (or not doing)which may be causing a block. Then again, this may be the path I'm called to…

  14. CM says:

    This was definitely good timing for me. I have been there in the last month or so, so it's great to have some ideas to look at. I just went to confession tonight, so that was great, but there are several other things on this list that I have thought about doing as well. Maybe I should get on that!

    I would add (and maybe somebody said this) to remember to pray for someone else. Sometimes I get in a rut when I'm too focused on myself or what's going on in my world.

    My book suggestion would be Fulfillment of All Desire by Ralph Martin.

  15. Jasmine says:

    If I may add two:

    1. Make peace with it. Many people who progress spiritually feel few consolations. Religion isn't about feelings. Do not get caught up in needing good feelings.

    2. Recognize the difference between normal dry spells (which almost everyone experiences), the two major dark nights (which some people may never experience), and possible oppression (which again some people may never experience). If a 'dry spell' feels much more serious, very strange, or scary, go to a spiritual director and/or priest.

  16. Val says:

    I am very fond of "In the Presence of Our Lord" by Father Benedict Groeschel. The first time I read it I was moved to tears more than once, and any time I feel a need to refresh my spirituality a bit I pick it back up.

  17. BygracegoI says:

    I'm not Catholic so I'm not sure you want to post this. I'll leave it to you.

    My suggestion is worship. True worship, from your heart not just words from your mouth. He seeks true worshipers and He inhabits the praise of His people. I have gone through some crazy stuff and this has been the biggest help for me.

    Stay in His word and worship Him.

  18. Marcy K. says:

    Jennifer, thanks so much for this. You mentioned a personality profile in the article. A few years ago my spiritual director suggested a book called "Personality Plus: How to Understand Others by Understanding Yourself " by Florence Littauer. I love this book because it really helped me understand others, especially my son. It opened my eyes in so many ways and the book is just plain fun. There a also books for parents and couples from the same author. There is another book called "The Temperament God Gave You" by a couple named Bennett that is good too, and for a Catholic audience, but not as much fun to read.

  19. danielcox says:

    This post is such a "word in due season."

    I have to laugh, though, because I posted a similar list on my blog. Honest, I didn't see your list until 9:30ish PST. Must be the Holy Spirit at work or sumpthin….

  20. Anonymous says:

    Great post! Just one thing …The fisheaters link you have about confession is overall ok for that particular page of the site, but seeing the rest of the site it is very anti- Vatican II on a lot of things….

    http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/reviews/view.cfm?recnum=1915&repos=2&subrepos=0&searchid=494623

  21. monica_divineoffice.org says:

    We all, I think, have "dry spells" I'm not sure we all have a list but we all seek guidance. Thank you for these suggestions. God Bless!

    Liturgy of the Hours

  22. Kristen says:

    To your booklist I'd add Left to Tell, a spiritually inspiring story about a woman who suffered the Rwandan holocaust. She certainly persevered through what could have been perceived as abandonment by God. A great read.

  23. Marie says:

    Great post and not something you'll see just any place.

    I think it's good to point out that if the dry spell is a true "Dark Night of the Soul" the idea is that the consolations have been taken from you because you are ready to come closer to God. It is movement to him to stop feeling the warm fuzzies, not some kind of a test or a trial. John of the Cross said that you can even let the Eucharist itself come between you and God — let God himself come between you and God — and that this Dark Night is a grace God gives us to remove those obstacles, not a punishment or a "stage" that we get over, etc.

  24. Anonymous says:

    It's possible that the dry season is coming from fear… fear that too much will be asked of you if you let God in.
    I lurk here only… because I am divorced (annulled) and in a physical relationship with a very good man… who happens to be an atheist. I am being called back to Church, but I am not willing to follow my fickle heart and risk losing him… and then a year down the road, stop going to church anyway. It's not me attending Mass that would bother him; it's the me not wanting to be a pick-n-choose Catholic, and ending our physical relationship that would be a huge issue.
    Anyway, others may not have so much to lose, but I still think fear can be an issue.
    Marie

  25. Anonymous says:

    Couple of thoughts: One is I sometimes wonder if we over-analyze our spiritual life too much, which might not be good in any relationship. Analysis can too often be another focus on ME. Really, the focus ought always to be on God – the Beloved, as in any relationship. And the focus of THAT focus ought to be "Am I doing His will? Am I trying, above all, to please Him, to go where He leads me?" If I am doing his will, if I am trying to please him, and to go where he leads me, it seems irrelevant how I feel. I should just trust what he is trying to do in and with and for me. Second, I have long been painfully aware that today and in the past, MOST people in the World, even the holy, Christian or not, do not have ready access to books or spiritual directors or counsellors or even the sacraments. Many may not even have the time and freedom to ponder such things, and I suspect all they really have going for them is a dogged perseverance in trying to do God's will, no matter what. I don't think we in the modern, "north" and "west" really comprehend what it means to suffer, or be "dry" or to persevere blindly. So, my point: we have to always focus on God, and in perseverance in doing his will, especially in the normal duties and trials of ordinary life. Which comes down to one word in its fullest meaning: Love.

  26. V says:

    Here is my list for dry spells:
    1. Remember who you are. I am Veronica, which translated means True Image. I am made in the image of God. We all are. We are His children.

    2. Be still and KNOW that I am God. Are you too busy to even recognize him trying to get your attention.

    3. Maybe it takes more to fill you now. The best way to describe this is via chocolate truffles. They are filled with something inside, but sometimes there is a little bubble. If you have a great time of spiritual growth inside and you feel like you are growing closer and closer to God, then sometimes your capacity increases. Voila! you are now a larger truffle, you can't expect the same filling to fit, the air bubble is bigger now, you need MORE to feel "full" again. Then you grow, then you are a chocolate easter bunny, and you need to do MORE to get full again.

    Thanks for the list. God is so good.

  27. Anthony says:

    I recommend The Mystical Evolution in the Development and Vitality of the Church by Fr.John Arintero OP.
    It's about Deification which explains what St.Athanasius meant when he wrote that 'God became Man in order that Man might become God'.You will not want to sin and lose this dignity and treasure and would want to increase it by the grace of God through daily reception of the Holy Eucharist,prayer and the practice of virtues.We are meant to live the Life of Christ not our own which belongs to Christ anyway.We need to let Him 'prolong his incarnation in us' to complete His Mission the salvation and deification of souls.

  28. Anthony says:

    This is Anthony again regarding The Mystical Evolution recommendation,I inadvertently left out that once you really believe in your dignity as a deified soul by God's grace through baptism,you will go through any dry spell one day at a time as you know that God is dwelling in you.'He is closest when you feel He is not there'.

  29. Marino J. Dasmarinas says:

    Another book that will help is this one: Diary, Devine Mercy in My Soul by: Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska

  30. Peter and Nancy says:

    Sometimes it helps to look over the past 6-12 months and find out if there are any circumstances (friends in trouble, illness, unemployment) that are distorting my picture of who God is. Then I can remind myself of who I *know* God is, and who the Bible says he is, rather than how he *seems* to be in times of hardship . . .
    – Nancy

  31. Living A Liturgy says:

    I've been going through my own period like that and I recently started reading "St. Thérèse of Liciuex: Essential Writings" and many of her excerpts from "The Little Flower" and her letters to her Sister Céline were amazing. God really used her words to enliven me once again. :)

    Michelle

  32. MaryLouise says:

    Sorry, something came up, the blog I was refering to is
    http://www.aholyexperience.com Ann Voskamp. I recomend the post 'weather report; when locusts decend' as relevent to this topic.

  33. Katherine says:

    My husband and I were just discussing whether I'm just going through a spiritual dry spell or have postpartum depression. I don't know yet. I'm only 5 weeks postpartum so maybe it is just the baby blues effecting my spiritual life. Or maybe it is a combination. But thanks for the suggestions. I loved Mother Teresa's Secret Fire, BTW.

  34. Dani says:

    Sometimes the best thing do when you go through any dryspell (faith, life, work, friends, family) is to keep on keeping on. What I mean is just keep moving forward.

    I like what Sara said: our feelings are our reactions to reality and not reality itself.

    In almost every "spell" I've had in life, the person blocking the communication was me. But all spells lead to learning experiences, which is ultimately God's reminder of what he wants for you to learn.

    And the most important advice I have ever rec'd came at my first confession in May (I was baptised at the Easter Vigil). Fr. Victor asked me one simple question…."did you pray about it and turn to the gospal". I realized that I did everything but do that.

    Doesn't that seem so simple in retrospect to many spells? Pray about it. It doesn't have to be anything flashy or grandiose. Prayer seldom ever is…

  35. Jess says:

    Great post, I needed this. Things are in such an upheaval for us right now, because I have been traveling so much I haven't even been consistently attending one parish, just finding a parish wherever I am at. I miss my weekly classes and the constant contact with real, live practicing Catholics on a personal level. Anyway, I need to be making a point to include more time for God not just hoping to fit it in somewhere which is what I have been doing this last month and a half. Thanks again for the ideas!

  36. bobh says:

    you people are quite superstitious.

  37. Margrete says:

    Well put! I would like to add to #1, that sometimes you don’t know what’s blocking you from god. Perhaps you were seeking him the wrong way. In my search for the truth, i’ve spent hours upon hours on the internet just to get more confused. Sites like openheartpsychic or other “paranormal” and “occult” sites trying to tell me that humans posess some sort of power to tell the future etc. Only god can give us clarity and the more we move away from him the less we can hear his voice!

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