A Guide to Ignatian Discernment: Desolation, A Quite Unwelcome Place to Be

Desolation is a tricky subject to write about. At least, I think it is. After all, sometimes the spiritual desolation I feel is hard to describe to another person, especially if I’m trying to reason out why it is plaguing me. Spiritual desolation has come into my life when things are going epicly wrong, and that is somewhat easy to explain. But it has also come into my life when things are going well, and that is much harder to put into words. Sometimes, I can see it coming, and sometimes I can not. Regardless, its occasional presence is unavoidable.

When desolation comes, it is often easy for me to not examine its cause but instead give into the feelings it creates. It can make me distance myself from others. It can make me give up on the things I enjoy. It can make me feel bored and lazy and detached. When desolation comes, it is often easy for me to jump right into trying to solve it myself by making big changes to see if I can manufacture the consolation I desire. 

Ignatius understood the pitfalls that we, as human beings, can fall into when desolation comes. He understood them because he fell into the same ones himself time and time again. So, in his rules for discernment, he paid careful attention to desolation. In particular, in rule 9, Ignatius offered us some reasons for why we feel desolation. He was clear to note that God doesn’t create desolation, but God also allows us to experience it for a few key reasons:

  1. We are being lazy or negligent in developing our relationship with God; 
  2. We have forgotten how to love and praise God in the absence of consolation;
  3. We have forgotten that we need God and the grace God offers us;

In thinking about the best way to reflect on this rule and how I’ve battled with it in my own life, I decided to share a prayer I wrote during my most recent battle with desolation. I hope it helps you whenever you find yourself battling your own spiritual desolation. I hope it helps you remember that consolation is always just around the corner. I hope it helps you feel less alone.

This Unwelcome Place

By Gretchen Crowder


I find myself

in an unexpected,

and quite unwelcome

place these days.


It feels lonely here,

and quiet…

so very quiet.

I feel a bit tired

and this lack

of something

has become

all I can see.

(Click here for full prayer).

Go Deeper:


Photo by Atharva Tulsi on unsplash.com 


Gretchen Crowder has served as a campus minister and Ignatian educator for the Jesuit Dallas community for the last fifteen years and counting. She is also a freelance writer and speaker. She has a B.S. in mathematics and a M.Ed. from the University of Notre Dame as well as an M.T.S. from the University of Dallas. She resides in Dallas, TX with her husband, three boys, and an ever-growing number of pets.

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