Understanding Spiritual Dryness As A Gift

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By Catherine O’Connell

My experience of spiritual dryness has been frequent. When this season of faith hits me, my prayers seem to be lost in a void, not heard by Jesus. I go to Mass out of sheer willpower. I’m lonely, not just because I feel distant from God but also because it seems like my friends have a supernatural connection with the Lord that I am incapable of. I feel not only dry, but cold and dark. 

Needless to say, I would much rather be on a retreat high. I’ve come to learn that this time of seeming separation is not in vain, and I have two analogies that have given me consolation and hope.

My family has a dog named Mozzie. He’s wicked smart. He knows that if he does something good, he’ll get a treat. However, this means that if I don’t have cheese or peanut butter he doesn’t see the point of listening. Especially if there’s a particularly tasty piece of trash.

The thing is, Mozzie isn’t capable of understanding that plastic bags aren’t good for him, even if they’re fun to eat. When he does what I ask, he does so for the reward. This isn’t to say he’s not affectionate or protective, but it’s clear to me that given the choice between my commands and the tasty trash, he’ll take the trash.

What does this have to do with spiritual dryness? A lot. As humans, we can do things that pets are incapable of. We can rationally learn that something is bad for us and choose not to partake in it, even if it’s super tempting. Things like cigarettes and french fries. We can even turn down things that are good - like sex or meat - for any number of reasons. There is very little I can do to communicate to Mozzie that eating a plastic bag may choke him.  However, there are a lot of ways for God to tell me that gossiping is choking my friendships. Moreover, I have the ability to understand Him and choose to change my behavior. 

All those warm and fuzzy feelings we get from the Lord are good things, and they’re real. But they’re kind of like treats. They may show how God feels for us, or simply that he exists. They help us to expect good things from the Lord. Unlike treats, those experiences are unearned, given by a Father who is crazy for His daughters. 

However, we still need to learn to act out of love for God and not so we can feel all warm and fuzzy. This is one of the purposes of spiritual dryness - by allowing more time to lapse between feelings, we are building up trust in the Lord instead of dependence on feelings.  

The most beautiful aspect of this however, is that it allows us to exercise our free will. Doing as God asks, without reward or feelings of pleasure, is how we learn to love. As Jesus said, it is easy to love those who love you. But to love those who hate you - to care about the people who have hurt you - is the most incredibly difficult, but perfectly human act. In withholding those wonderful feelings, God is respecting your free will. He is giving you the chance to love Him and serve him without reward so that your intentions are not bound by “yummy treats.” You can know that you serve the Lord because you love him, not because you are addicted to or dependant upon a retreat high. 

The main lesson here is that we experience spiritual dryness not because we are being punished or because we have less faith than the people around us. It is because the Lord is building a relationship with us - one founded on mutual trust and the choice of love. This puppy analogy is useful for explaining how spiritual dryness affects us individually. But God has bigger plans.

So, let’s talk about fire.

Have you ever built a fire? I mean a campfire, not a gas grill or a birthday candle. First, you need some kind of kindling. Then some dry sticks of varying sizes. You light the fire using only the kindling and the smallest sticks first, adding the larger ones as the fire grows. The actual logs are saved for last. 

Most importantly, if the kindling and the small sticks are wet, they won’t light. Dry wood is imperative for starting a fire.

 I think you can see where I’m going with this. 

It takes dry wood to start a fire, but how Jesus wished the world was already blazing. Those seasons of spiritual dryness are ways in which God can build a fire in us. It’s a gift of dry wood. 

But the fire is not for us. 

As much as I enjoy campfires, I don’t build them for myself. I build them for groups to feast on hotdogs and marshmallows, to tell stories. When you share your fire, your testimony of what God has done for you, you lose nothing. One tiny birthday candle could light 100 other candles and never lose its own flame. It only loses fuel. It is the wick that runs out, not the fire. 

And so the days of spiritual dryness turn into months or even years. Again, this is not done out of punishment, but love. It takes some pretty big logs to build a bonfire. The fire of God’s love is wonderful and unquenchable, but it needs fuel to burn. That fire in you burns not for yourself, but to guide every person you know to heaven. 

Your faith in God, despite the distance you feel, is one of the most powerful witnesses we have. Your continued service to the Lord and trust in His promises (even though they have yet to come to fruition) is itself a light to the people around you. A light to heaven. 

If you are on fire, you can help Jesus set the world ablaze.