Is dryness in prayer something we should worry about?
April 18, 2019
When prayer that has been consoling suddenly becomes dry, we tend to worry. What is wrong? Have we committed sin? Is God angry with us? Some people are tempted to give up prayer when dryness hits. Let’s explore the reasons your prayer might be dry and what you should do about it.
Dryness in prayer is sometimes due to sin. Have you committed serious sin? Have you been lax about avoiding venial sins? Is it months since you went to confession? Confessing your sins may bring back the sweetness of prayer. If you have fallen away, repentance can return you to the level of intimacy with God you experienced previously.
If you are not aware of having fallen, however, your dryness likely has other causes. The normal variations in our emotions can also cause dryness. Just as you do not always feel the love you have for your spouse and kids, you won’t always feel your love for God. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.
Likewise, your health affects your prayer time. If you are sick, stressed out or depressed, your prayer might feel empty. You might think you are wasting your time. Don’t give up! God is still there.
Finally, dryness in prayer sometimes indicates that God wants to lead you into a closer relationship with him. A mother caring for an infant cuddles him, feeds him on demand and lets him sleep beside her. As he grows, she moves him to a crib and starts to schedule his meals. She says “no” to him more often. The child reacts with tears and frustration, because he does not realize his mother is acting for his good.
God treats us similarly through our spiritual infancy. Sometimes he pours consolation on new converts or those recommitting themselves to Christ. It feels good and easy to follow God. Then a time comes when they need to grow up. God makes prayer harder for them, in order to strengthen their love for him. This dryness is purgative – that is, it purifies our relationship with God. It teaches us to seek God for himself alone, not for any good feelings he may give us.
Purgative dryness in prayer can occur at any stage in our relationship with God. Usually dryness comes and goes. In two special periods of the spiritual life, dryness can continue for months or years. These periods are known as the “passive dark nights.” In this dryness, God purifies us in order to bring our intimacy with him to a new level. Infused contemplation, supernatural prayer, begins with the first of these dry periods, which St. John of the Cross calls the passive night of the senses.
The passive night of the senses usually begins after we have been faithful to daily mental prayer for years. Those who are new to the life of prayer, or who have not yet surrendered completely to God and his will for their lives, should look for some other cause for their dryness.
There are many causes for dryness in prayer. If your prayer is dry, try not to be distressed. Most likely the dryness will pass after a short time. If it does not go away, and you can discern no area in which you have turned away from God, consult a priest or spiritual director. It is difficult for us to determine the source of prolonged dryness on our own. An objective and knowledgeable person will help you see what the source of your dryness is and advise you on how to respond. That advice should always include persevering in prayer.
Connie Rossini is a member of St. Peter Parish in Omaha. She is co-author of The Contemplative Rosary just released by EWTN Publishing and author of four other books on Catholic spirituality.