The Spiritual Desert

It’s been a while since my last post, I think that sort of reflects my life. I’m finding that more and more I’m saying that to people and it’s almost becoming a mantra “It’s been a while…” since I last saw or talked to you, since I went to daily Mass, since I went to adoration, since I really poured my heart into prayer.
I suppose that’s as good a preface as any to reveal what’s been on my heart and in my life these past two years. See, I’ve slowly been falling into this pit of despair, every day of the past two years up until this past summer (2013), I was getting deeper and deeper into this depression every single day. I’m not going to lie, I did a lot of things I really regret doing, and even more things that didn’t feel like the real me.

(Side-note: We actually talked about that in my social psychology class at the beginning of the semester, how people say “I’m not really feeling like me today” or “I don’t usually act like that” —like, if you aren’t you, who are you? and what do you usually act like? —It was funny, but definitely something to think about, also that when we think about our past selves–even when we remember what we did yesterday, we’re actually using the part of our brain that thinks about other people not the part that thinks about ourselves. So we really are different people every day. Another reason to learn from the past but to not live in it. End Side-note)

Okay, sorry about that, back on track….I really did change though, I like to think of myself as enthusiastic, loving, kind, and personable. What I was acting like before this summer was not those things. I was irritable, angry, and clinging on to things in my past that I believed would make me happy.

I was also very much NOT living a very Catholic life, and I know that Jesus and Mary were hurting so much from seeing how I acted and lived (and I use that term incredibly loosely) every day.
In my despair, there were so many times where I longed for the peace that my faith and my devotion to Jesus through Mary brought me, I turned to so many many people and saints and it still just never stuck, and I had no idea why for a very long time.
A very obvious Saint that I turned to was Our Lady of Sorrows (to whom this blog is really dedicated, and my favorite name/representation of Mary, because I can unite my suffering with hers.)
She was a huge consolation for me, because on the days when I needed to just be consoled, Our Lady of Sorrows was there, and she held me like her life AND mine depended on it. I can’t even begin to say how incredible that was. I didn’t even really realize how incredible it was at the time. It was just one night of comfort where I finally felt some peace, among so many others where I was in despair, hurting, and angry.

Another Saint that I turned to is actually another Mary, and someone who is special to me because her feast day is my birthday: St. Mary Magdalene. The reason why I turned to her, and why she was special to me during this time of desolation in my life, is because she was close to Mother Mary and Jesus, especially during the crucifixion. She was at the cross, and was the first person Christ revealed himself to after the resurrection.
That is another reason why she is special to me, Christ revealed himself to her, before everyone else, in all of His gloriously resurrected self. And that’s what I longed for Christ to do in my life, to show me His glory and guide me out of the desert that I had been living in for the better part of two years.

I was in a spiritual desert, experiencing a “dark night of the soul” as so many Saint’s have experienced in their lifetimes.
I did not understand why I had been abandoned, because I had not been, Christ was with me every step of the way. Mary was walking by my side, holding me up when I couldn’t bear to go on, stretching out her arms for me to walk into her embrace.

…..But so often, I turned from them. In my anger, I let satan guide me away from Christ and Mary,  I listened to his lies that I had been abandoned by the people who loved me the most. I let him fuel my anger, cause ceaseless pain and heartbreak to rip my heart to shreds.
And as I felt I had been abandoned, he led me to abandon the ones I held most dear, or endlessly try and push them away in an attempt to punish myself, because I was not good enough. Never good enough. There was no reason I should burden anyone with what I was going through, because I wasn’t worth that. No one would want to help me, and no one would have helped me. I was alone. I was Nemo again. No one. I did not matter.
But even in my darkest nights, and all of the pain that I went through, I did not give up, I did not throw my life away like I was so tempted to all of the time. I did not, because I was not worth the pain that people would go through when I was gone. But also, because I could not bear to hurt the people I loved the most. It is my one consolation, that I had the strength to go on, to never give up.

This desert I was in, I imagine it to be very much like the three days after the crucifixion and before the resurrection that the disciples were in despair. Their best friend and mentor was dead, had been killed, and if they were found, discovered, they would be killed as well. So they gathered, in prayer, and in mourning, in Emmaus, and two disciples, while traveling, came across another traveler, and they talked, the disciples poured out their sorrows and laments to this stranger, they discussed many things about life, and then, when they came to Emmaus, and the stranger made as though he was going on, the two disciples invited him to dine with them in the upper room. Then, something amazing happened, suddenly, this man was no longer a stranger, for they recognized him during his prayers of thanksgiving for their meal, and in the breaking of the bread. Their friend was back. Jesus was resurrected. The joy they must have felt! He was alive, He was with them! They would mourn no longer! They were safe, and He was home. This is very much what happened to me. I was in despair, I had no one, and then all of a sudden, everything was okay. I was happy again, I wasn’t alone.

The thing with spiritual desolation, is that everyone experiences it at one point or another. Coming down from a retreat high, and feeling like nothing you do gets it back. Pouring your heart out to God through prayer, the mass, praise and worship, during Adoration of the blessed sacrament–and everyone around you looks so into it, and there are people crying sometimes and you’re wondering what the heck is wrong with you that you can’t feel ANYTHING.
Nothing. Nothing is wrong with you. You just have to persevere. God grants us these gifts of spiritual dryness, so that when we come out on the other side, we are so much better for it. We change, we learn to trust Him. He calms our fears, and reminds us that He loves us. I’m not saying it’s an easy thing to do, to trust God with and in everything. It’s a battle, and I know it, first-hand.
I was the intern for my youth group this summer, and it was the best thing I have ever experienced in my entire life, it affirmed my very SOUL and what I know I’m supposed to do with the rest of my life, but the journey of how I got to that point was incredibly rocky, as I have admitted. Two years ago, I started college, and it didn’t go well, I wasn’t a kid anymore, and I had responsibilities, I was living in a dorm, and I didn’t have my parents around to make sure I was doing what needed to get done. I was doing okay, right up until I found out that I wasn’t hired by a camp that I had been going to since I was seven years old. It was a shocking blow, I hadn’t expected it at all. And it hurt. I was so angry at God that He was taking this opportunity away from me, after placing the desire to work there in my heart. I knew that it was wrong to think He was cruel, because I knew He wasn’t, that He loved me and wanted the world for me, but I was too angry. That’s when the desolation began. I couldn’t understand why, I was going to mass, and daily mass, I prayed frequently, begging God to take away the pain and the anger, and to let me rest. I was desperate, and slowing spiraling down into a deeper and deeper despair. It wasn’t until that summer that I felt a reprieve when I chaperoned a group from my youth group that went to the Steubenville South Youth Conference. I was literally about a foot away from Jesus the Saturday of that conference. He was RIGHT THERE, and I knew that He loved me.
I started the school year, my second year of college, vowing that things would change. They didn’t. I had no idea why, I didn’t have any motivation, and I was more irritable and much less joyful. I was lost. The spiritual desolation was back and I had no idea what to do. I ended up applying to that camp again, I felt like I had a good shot, I had matured, and a fair amount of my older friends thought that I was ready. It was another shock when I wasn’t hired again. I hurt so badly in my heart, and I started questioning everything in my life. Especially the career choices I wanted to make–and what I was majoring in. I felt so lost, and I was definitely angry again. I blamed God for the pain I was going through, because He had given me these desires to serve Him, and He wasn’t letting me do it! I was angry, afraid, and confused.
I was still spiraling down, deeper, into this depression. No motivation, nothing. I decided, I wasn’t going to apply to that camp again. I said I needed to let go, but truthfully, it was because I didn’t think I could handle another rejection if I did.
It wasn’t until the start of this summer that the darkness went away. And I was definitely grateful, thankful, and joyful when it did. I came out the better for it. My faith was stronger, my confidence greater, and my love for God had grown exponentially.
I’m not going to deny that it was hard, it was. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life, keeping the strength to persevere up. There were many times that I just wanted to lay down and stop fighting, just give up. There were times that I did, and it was tough getting back up to keep going. I put a smile on through all of it though. My pride didn’t let me show anyone that I was suffering through so much pain. No one noticed that my smile wasn’t as big, that my laughter was a bit too forced, or that the light just wasn’t the same in my eyes. As I felt all of these things had changed, but no one noticed. And that hurt, even though I didn’t want them to know. It hurt that they couldn’t see. That I had no offers of support. That the only thing keeping that away was that I was too proud to ask for help. But, eventually, that dryness, the darkness ended. I was able to be myself again, I let myself ask for help. And the joy, the happiness, the laughter, the smiles, and the life came back to my eyes. And I felt God’s love for me.

My journey through this desert may be over, I may have found my way out, but that does not mean that I still do not face trials and tribulations still. There are good days, and bad days, but at least now, I have remembered how precious I am to God, and how loved and cherished I am, that I am no longer Nemo, I am Beloved again. Mary is by my side again, walking with me towards her Son once more. We walk together, her loving arms embracing me, wrapping me in her loving and protective mantle, whispering words of adoration and love, singing sweet lullabies into my ear. Stroking my hair and telling me that EVERYTHING is going to be fine. My journey is ongoing, but at least I know one thing that will always remind me that everything is going to be okay. I know that Jesus and Mary will never abandon me, and no matter how long and difficult of a desert I experience in the future, I will always hold onto one piece of truth that will always remain in my heart.

Jesus is resurrected, Jesus is here, Jesus is home.