Ignatian Discernment: Spiritual Desolation

The following are some notes I made from Fr. Thibodeaux's book on 
Ignatian discernment, called God's Voice Within.

Spiritual Desolation

4. Spiritual Desolation. I call desolation all the contrary of the third rule, such as darkness of soul, disturbance in it, movement to low and earthly things, disquiet from various agitations and temptations, moving to lack of confidence, without hope, without love, finding oneself totally slothful, tepid, sad and as if separated from one’s Creator and Lord. For just as consolation is contrary to desolation, in the same way the thoughts that come from consolation are contrary to the thoughts that come from desolation. ~ St. Ignatius, Spiritual Exercises #4

Short Summary: 

“Whereas consolation is letting God dream in me, desolation is allowing the false spirit to nightmare in me” ~ 30

I am in desolation when I am empty of:

  • faith, hope and love
  • the sense of God’s being close to me

and when I am filled with some combination of

  • “disquietude” (restlessness) and agitation
  • boredom and “tepidity” (apathy)
  • fear and worry
  • secrecy

Long Summary:


  • de sole = to be made alone, to be forsaken or abandoned.

disquiet from various agitations and temptations:

  • Disquiet = may well be the most revealing characteristic of the false spirit b/c it is the disquietude about the other characteristics that reveals its source.
  • Ignatius does NOT focus on agitations & temptations, but rather the disquiet from them.
  • Q. What is the extent to which negative movements with me disrupt my peace of mind?
  • If I set out to have NO negative moods, thoughts, or feelings, I’m setting myself up for failure. Agitations will come and go in life.
  • FOCUS = on my PERCEPTIONS & ATTITUDES towards negative moods, thoughts, and feelings.
    • STORY = A Native American legend tells of an elder explaining to his grandson that there are two wolves within him struggling for control of his actions. One wolf is the true spirit, and the other is the false spirit. The young grandson asks, “And which will win, Grandfather?” The old man says, “The one I feed.” This is precisely the point. I do not have a choice about having the two wolves within me. This side of heaven, I must deal with inner negativity. But I do have some choice in my attitude toward that negativity (22).

moving to lack of confidence:

  • More trust?
  • OR more doubts?

without hope:

  • More optimism and confidence in God’s providence for the future?
  • OR despair and worry?

without love:

  • greater love?
  • OR isolation, secrecy, passivity, aggressiveness?

totally slothful, tepid, sad:

  • Slothful (boredom) and tepid (apathy). The opposite of love is apathy, whereby I don’t care about the person enough to hate him.
  • Worse than feeling distant from God is a lack of desire to be close to Christ.
  • Q. Do you want God to be close?

as if separated from one’s Creator and Lord.

  • In desolation, I begin to question my entire relationship with God.
  • St. Therese of Lisieux once referred to herself as an abandoned toy of the child Jesus.
  • Mother Teresa of Calcutta endured very long stretches of prayer with no sense of the Father’s presence.


 Confusion: a subcategory

  • Confusion in and of itself is not a problem.
  • Confusion only becomes a desolating experience when we allow ourselves to be upset about not knowing – when our uncertainty or lack or knowledge leads to disturbance within us.
    • STORY = John Kavanaugh asked Mother Teresa to prayer for him to have clarity. She said, “I’ve never had clarity and certitude. I only have trust. I’ll pray that you trust” (25).

False Consolation: An Advanced Form of Desolation

  • false consolation = the experience of being drawn to feelings, thoughts and motivations that look good and holy at first (you think you are in consolation) but that ultimately lead to actions to which God is NOT calling that person, or NOT calling that person to at that time.
  • A good Christian might be in false consolation when he is attracted to something holy that happens to be:
    • the wrong mission for this particular reason
    • the right mission but the wrong timing
    • the right mission but with the wrong method, emphasis, or degree of involvement.
  • EXAMPLE = Jesus resisting to make bread in Matthew 4 (source = false spirit) VS. choosing to make bread in Matthew 14 (source = true spirit).
  • “Every day you have to say yes. Total surrender! To be where He wants you to be… If God wants you to be in a palace, alright… accept to be in the palace” ~ Mother Teresa

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: