Ignatian Discernment: Responding to Desolation

My notes from the book, God's Voice Within - The Ignatian Way to 
Discover God's Will by Mark E. Thibodeaux, SJ

8 helpful responses to desolation:


  1. Name it
  2. Make no unnecessary changes
  3. Rely on your support network
  4. Consider logistical or moral causes
  5. Be aware of the false angel of light
  6. Be firm with the false spirit
  7. Be gentle with yourself
  8. Have faith that God is at work in your desolation

Each Point Explained:

1. Name the Desolation

  • To name something out loud is to have authority over it (cf. Gen 2, Mt 16, Luke 1, Mark 1, Mark 5).
  • In psychology, too, we learn that giving a name to an experience can liberate us.
  • Naming it in blunt and unambiguous terms reveals its smallness before the mighty love and mercy of God.
  • Be ready to name things in the midst of a potentially desolating experience.

2. Avoid Making Changes or Important Decisions

Fifth rule. The fifth: in time of desolation never make a change, but be firm and constant in the proposals and determination in which one was the day preceding such desolation, or in the determination in which one was in the preceding consolation. Because as in consolation the Good Spirit guides and counsels us more, so in desolation the bad spirit, with whose counsels we cannot find the way to a right decision. (318)

  • A person loses objectivity when in desolation & allows less significant concerns to distract him from the love of Christ, which is ultimately the objective of every prayer time.
  • Tip = If in those desolate moments of my life I can succeed in the first directive, to name it as desolation, then my next conclusion should be to draw no more conclusions without careful consideration and counsel from those who have an objective point of view.

3. Rely on Your Support Network

  • This response goes precisely against the false lover in Rule 13.
  • We need good & wise mentors.
  • We need spiritual directors.
  • We need companions.
  • We need the Church – a spiritual refuge for battle-weary souls.
  • TIP for mentor & spiritual director = If I think something is not important enough to discuss, I tell him anyway and let him decide whether or not we need to discuss it any further. There is nothing to lose by telling him about it and everything to lose by keeping it a secret.

Without the food & without the light I wither. Without the bread and without the Bible I wander. Without the Sacrament of life and the book of life, I perish ~ Thomas A Kempis

4. Consider Potential Logistical, Moral, or Psychological Problems

Ninth Rule. The ninth: there are three principal causes for which we find ourselves desolate. The first is because we are tepid, slothful or negligent in our spiritual exercises, and so through our faults spiritual consolation withdraws from us. The second, to try us and see how much we are and how much we extend ourselves in His service and praise without so much payment of consolation and increased graces. The third, to give us true recognition and understanding so that we may interiorly feel that it is not ours to attain or maintain increased devotion, intense love, tears or any spiritual consolation, but that all is the gift and grace of God our Lord, and so that we may not build a nest in something belonging to another, raising our mind in some pride or vainglory, attributing to ourselves the devotion or the other parts of the spiritual consolation. (322)

Logistical Problems = when, where, or how long I pray might be the appropriate thing to discuss with a spiritual director. Also consider what resources, with whom, and what prayer style. God is always the one that does the heavy lifting in our prayer time. Cautionary note: Ignatius warned sternly against making big changes in desolation.

  • When: Am I praying at the best time of day? If I’m throwing God the scraps of my time and energy – then my prayer life will suffer.

Moral Problems = sins of commission & omission.

Psychological Problems = “we must deal with spiritual spiritually and pyschological problems psychologically” ~ Fr William Huete


5. Be Aware of the False “Angel of Light”

The sixth: When the enemy of human nature has been perceived and known by his serpent’s tail and the bad end to which he leads on, it helps the person who was tempted by him, to look immediately at the course of the good thoughts which he brought him at their beginning, and how little by little he aimed at making him descend from the spiritual sweetness and joy in which he was, so far as to bring him to his depraved intention; in order that with this experience, known and noted, the person may be able to guard for the future against his usual deceits. ~ SE 2nd week Rule 6

Tip = Review the past.

Tip = Prepare for the future.

We can learn that, when in desolation, we will be tempted to do things that seem “good and holy” but that do not withstand the Ignatian tests:

  • Am I drawn to make a change while in desolation?
  • Am I drawn to secrecy?

Job in the Old Testament = a hero of desolation

  • Job’s friends are the false angels tempting him to do incorrect “holy” actions.
  • Job accuses and scolds God and God commends Job!

Q. How do I guard against this false angel of light? 

  • Do not take any holy attractions at face value.
  • Test them using Ignatius’ insights.
  • Will this action lead to greater faith, hope and love in me?
  • Am I making a crucial change during desolation?
  • Am I transparent in confession, with my spiritual director, mentors and companions, or would I hesitate to tell them about this attraction?
  • Am I attracted to this right now b/c it would be a means of escaping an uncomfortable situation?

6. Be Firm with the False Spirit & Work Diligently

The sixth: although in desolation we should not change our first proposals, it is very advantageous to change ourselves intensely against the desolation itself,  as by insisting more upon prayer, meditation, upon much examination, and upon extending ourselves in some suitable way of doing penance.  ~ SE 1st week Rule 6

The evil spirit often behaves like a spoiled child. If a person is firm with children, children give up petulant ways of acting. But if a person shows indulgence or weakness in any way, children are merciless in trying to get what they want, stomping their feet in defiance or wheedling their way into favour. So our tactics must include firmness in dealing with the evil spirit in our lives ~ SE 1st week Rule 12 David Fleming’s contemporary metaphor

Thirteenth Annotation. The thirteenth: It is likewise to be remarked that, as, in the time of consolation, it is easy and not irksome to be in contemplation the full hour, so it is very hard in the time of desolation to fill it out. For this reason, the person who is exercising himself, in order to act against the desolation and conquer the temptations, ought always to stay somewhat more than the full hour; so as to accustom himself not only to resist the adversary, but even to overthrow him.

Desolation tempts me to remain interiorly passive and let disquietude, confusion, anger, and fear get the best of me.

We must treat the false spirit as a spoiled child.

Agere contra = literally, to “act against,” the choice to do the opposite of what I am tempted to do in desolation.

  • Add a few extra minutes to pray when I want to stop early.
  • Avoid a radical change like doubling time – could be false spirit.

7. Be Gentle, Patient, and Encouraging to Yourself

The seventh: let one who is in desolation consider how the Lord has left him in trial in his natural powers, so that he may resist the various agitations and temptations of the enemy; since he can resist with divine help, which always remains with him, though he does not clearly feel it; for the Lord has taken away from him His great fervor, abundant love and intense grace, leaving him, however sufficient grace for eternal salvation. (320)

Towards the false spirit = be firm & disciplined.

Towards yourself = be gentle, patient and encouraging.

  • Why? b/c harsh self-treatment in desolation does NOT lead to greater faith, hope and love. Usually it’s hope in particular that suffers during desolation.
  • “Since he can resist…”


  • say the things a good mother would say to a wounded child.
  • Consider that desolation will soon pass (Job only spent 1% of life in desolation).
  • Don’t make bold moves, be patient, be low-profile.
  • Remember that God is all-loving and all-powerful, he will NOT send me any challenge that I cannot handle.

8. Have faith that God will make good use of this desolation

  • Desolation is a great opportunity to receive the more difficult graces that can come only through a bit of suffering.
  • God allows desolation for 3 difficult graces: repentance, fortitude, humility.
  • Remember that God transformed the worst evil into the greatest means of salvation.
  • Welcome and utilize desolation for God’s greater glory. It’s the ultimate practical joke that God and I play on the false spirit.


  1. Thank you for your excellent comments. May God’s will be done always and everywhere!

    Ad maiorem Dei gloriam!

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: