Well, that’s some consolation!

Ever hear someone say, “I need to pray about that”?  The implication is that the person needs some time to consider or discern God’s will.

But what does that look like?

Recently I came upon some old spiritual tools for decision making and spiritual discernment.  The key words are “consolation” and “desolation.”  In simplest terms, consolation refers to the felt presence of God in the soul, while desolation refers to the opposite – God’s absence.

I think it’s fair to say that these words – especially “consolation” – have taken on all new meanings, but I think it would be good for our spiritual lives to recover something of the ancient meanings.  The words mean more than “I feel good” and “I feel bad.”

In case you’re interested it was St. Ignatius of Loyola who first explored this approach to knowing God’s will for our lives.

Consolation is not the prize you receive if you fail to win the grand prize. Consolation is a spiritual condition in which we find our hearts lifted.  The word refers to a kind of inner peace and joy.  I once heard an older person say, “Grandchildren are the consolation of old age.”  I like that. I’m looking forward to a little of that consolation myself.

Desolation is very different.  Ignatius called it a “darkness of the soul, a torment of the spirit.”

When we are asked to make a decision of some sort, the idea is that we quiet ourselves enough to notice what’s happening within.  Do we feel a serenity of spirit about whatever it is?

Or does the decision take us in another direction entirely, draining us of energy, crowding out what’s most important to us?

I know that someone is bound to say in response to all of this that “prayer and Bible reading” would be the best way to make good, God-honoring decisions.  And you won’t be surprised to know that I agree with that.  But what I am offering here, I hope, is a way to go deeper, to be more attentive, to open ourselves to the presence of God in our lives.

In the last year or so I have had to face some of the biggest, most distressing decisions of my life.  Each time, I’m happy to report, I have come to a place of peace and acceptance about one direction or another, and though I didn’t have the language of “consolation” and “desolation” at the time, that’s exactly what I was doing.  I had used an ancient spiritual tool.

I hope this is useful to you.

About Doug

I have been a writer ever since fifth grade when I won second prize in a “prose and poetry” contest. I am also a Presbyterian pastor, and for several years toward the end of my career I lived and worked in Zürich, Switzerland. I am now retired and live just north of Holland, Michigan, along the lake.


One Response to Well, that’s some consolation!

  1. Georgia Hamilton December 14, 2012 at 12:09 pm #

    Dear Doug,

    Phyllis Martillaro put me onto your blog site and I’m so grateful! I’ve read the African blogs along with others up to this one about decision making. I have a decision to make soon (not earth-shattering by any means! We are all faced with decision-making every day and your thoughts suggest listening as being as important as reading for discernment–thank you!

    I have thought of you and your family so often. We were in FL last Christmas and I thought about trying to visit but didn’t get any farther than that. I have a niece in Pompano Beach and we weren’t too far from Fort–next time we’ll make the trip.

    With wistfulness about times past and blessings for the future,