The spiritual master has great advice for those struggling in prayer.
As anyone who has tried to develop a prayer life knows, dryness inevitably sets in. It can be an upsetting change of events and many who experience dryness simply stop praying.
The good news is that dryness in prayer doesn’t have to signal the end of all things. Most (if not all) of the saints experienced a similar struggle in their prayer lives, when they were tempted to quit.
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To help overcome such an obstacle in our lives, it’s best to look to these saints and learn from them. In particular, St. Francis de Sales, a spiritual master of the 16th century, wrote an invaluable guide to personal prayer in his Introduction to the Devout Life. He wrote it specifically geared to laypeople, and it contains a wealth of spiritual insight. Below is a brief selection from his book that concerns the topic of dryness.
1. Vocally tell God about your dryness
Should it happen sometimes, my child, that you have no taste for or consolation in your meditation, I entreat you not to be troubled, but seek relief in vocal prayer, bemoan yourself to our Lord, confess your unworthiness, implore His Aid, kiss His Image, if it be beside you, and say in the words of Jacob, “I will not let Thee go, except Thou bless me”; or with the Canaanitish woman, “Yes, Lord, I am as a dog before Thee, but the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their master’s table.”
2. Read a spiritual book
Or you can take a book, and read attentively till such time as your mind is calmed and quickened.
3. Perform a bodily gesture of prayer
[S]ometimes you may find help from external actions, such as prostrating yourself folding your hands upon your breast, [or] kissing your Crucifix.
4. Persevere with faith and continue praying regardless of any feeling
But if, after all this, you are still unrelieved, do not be disturbed at your dryness, however great it be, but continue striving after a devout attitude in God’s Sight. What numbers of courtiers appear a hundred times at court without any hope of a word from their king, but merely to pay their homage and be seen of him. Just so, my child, we ought to enter upon mental prayer purely to fulfill our duty and testify our loyalty … we must not quit it, but on the contrary we must remain calmly and devoutly before Him, and He is certain to accept our patient waiting, and give heed to our assiduity and perseverance; so that another time He will impart to us His consolations, and let us taste all the sweetness of holy meditation. But even were it not so, let us, my child, be satisfied with the privilege of being in His Presence and seen of Him.