Last month I spoke about making Easter a special time for new spiritual practices, somewhat akin to Lent, but with a joyful spin. I have been going about my merry way, trying to make this happen, but an old, familiar bug has resurfaced to thwart my progress: spiritual darkness.
I am thinking that this phenomenon is somewhat familiar to everyone: one minute you are fine, the next, you feel easily overwhelmed and discouraged. The usual spiritual consolations are suddenly lacking. Everything down to my physical demeanor feels different, heavier. I am more prone to irritability and despair.
This week I am feeling a bit better. There are certain things that I am learning I need to do in order to work my way out of this morass. Indeed, the person who came to mind when I put this list together is Our Blessed Mother, under the title of Our Lady Star of the Sea. She is the patron saint of mariners, as one would expect, but she is also the patron of all who are experiencing difficulty navigating the difficult waters of life. I certainly think that what I have described above fits into that category.
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Here are the five ways that I personally find helpful to navigate a time of spiritual darkness. I would LOVE to have you add yours to these in the comments below!
- Try not to wallow. I can be a wallow-er. It is very easy to do, to fall into this pit of feeling sorry for oneself when things are going in a decidedly NOT so smooth direction. I need to physically tell myself to stop wallowing, because it is actually making me feel worse. And really, why would I want to feel worse when things are already so challenging? “Tiffany, stop wallowing!” There, see. Sometimes you have to talk to yourself, but the results are worth it.
- Get up and do something even when you do not want to. This one is related to the not wallowing. Distraction can be a powerful thing in such situations. I will use the opportunity to clean out a cupboard, or wrote a message to a friend that I have been meaning to get to. When I force my mind away from the darkness at hand for a spell, it helps it to not seem so overwhelming and consuming.
- Go to confession. I cannot emphasize this strongly enough, and this is coming from a person who makes it seem like a Herculean effort to actually ATTEND the sacrament, rather than just talk about it. I will think to myself: “Well, I just went not that long ago.” Or: “Do I really need to add yet another thing to my already busy and stressful schedule?” Trust me on this one based upon life experience: GO. There is always something on our hearts to relieve ourselves of, and the results are nothing short of miraculous.
- Pray for somebody else. This suggestion factors into the distraction strategy as well, but it is also about more than that. I know that when I fall into one of these dark places, I tend to think about myself and my troubles quite a bit. When I think about the other people in my life who need help as well, it gives me a sense of purpose to be there for them. When I pray for them, I am no longer thinking about how overwhelmed I feel. A sense of mission is a powerful antidote to despair.
- Allow yourself to recharge in whatever way works for you. For introverts, this means quiet time alone. I am indeed an introvert, and to recharge I enjoy uninterrupted time to myself: online shopping, reading, cleaning, listening to music, whatever it is that I am in the mood for at that moment. Setting aside time for this can really refresh one’s soul, and consequently, you feel stronger and more able to handle the things that come your way. If you are an extrovert, you may want to attend a fun social gathering, or whatever it is that feeds your emotions in a positive way.
What are the ways in which YOU deal with spiritual struggles? Do you have any suggestions to add to this list? I would love to hear them!
Copyright 2016 Tiffany Walsh
About the Author
Tiffany Walsh is a wife and mother, a native western New Yorker, and a college librarian. She is a cradle Catholic who rekindled her childhood faith as a graduate student via her love of books, and is the author of Exploring the Catholic Classics, part of the Stay Connected Journals for Catholic Women series. She enjoys writing about faith, crafting, dance, fitness and wellness. Visit her blog at Life of a Catholic Librarian.