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Spiritual Dryness: “I Don’t Feel Anything!”

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©Heidi Bratton Photography

One of the most comforting feelings that we can experience is a sensation of peace, or even joy, when we pray.  For many of us, this feeling was most pronounced at the time when we first made a decision to commit our lives to the Lord.  Unfortunately, equally as common is the feeling of dryness that most of us have experienced at least once since that time.  It is a sad reality that many people cease to pray once the good feelings disappear.  Others question themselves when they don’t experience warmth or joy, especially after receiving Jesus in Holy Communion.  Surely it must be a sign that our spirituality is lacking.  Maybe we should pray harder, longer and more often so that the good feelings will return.  In reality, this lack of feeling, known as aridity, is a normal part of our spiritual life and is something that has been experienced by numerous saints throughout the ages.  Learning how to deal with it can actually draw us closer to the Lord and improve our spirituality.

As human beings, we are often guided by our emotions.  We like to feel good and often pursue those activities that provide positive feelings.  While this tendency can guide us to engage in beneficial activities, it can also cause us to fall into sin.  As evidenced by the encounter between Eve and the serpent (Gen 3:1-6), sinful behavior is often caused by following those things that appear to be pleasurable.  If we want to avoid straying from the path of goodness, we must learn to question our feelings and rely on our faith as a guide.  While this can be difficult, mastering this technique will put us on the road to sanctity.

The season of Lent provides us with an excellent opportunity to identify our earthly pleasures and voluntarily forego them in order to focus on the things of Heaven.  We often turn to the “things of the world” for satisfaction.  Let’s face it…a big piece of cake, a delicious hamburger, some beer, wine, or a shopping spree can make us “feel good”, at least temporarily.  When we are sad, we often turn to these things to “cheer us up”.  While not inherently sinful, constantly relying on earthly pleasures for happiness can put us on the wrong path.  If we only pursue those things or activities that are pleasurable, there is a strong likelihood that we will fall into sin.  Why?  Because, at least initially, sin feels good!  If it didn’t, then it would be much easier to avoid.  If we wish to steer clear of trouble, we must discover a more objective means for making moral decisions.

By turning to the Church as a moral compass, we have a reliable guide for making decisions.  This guide is not based upon our feelings and is not subject to our emotional “ups and downs”.  Even though excessive drinking, illegally copying software or music, cohabitation, contraception, or missing Sunday Mass may “feel good”, the Church tells us that these actions are sinful and should be avoided.  While it may provide momentary satisfaction to “tell off” the incompetent store clerk or clueless coworker, the Church reminds us that we must “love thy neighbor”.  Learning to trust in the Church’s wisdom over our own feelings will ensure that we remain on the right path.      

Learning to question our feelings can also yield great results in our spiritual life.  The Lord often removes some or all of our good feelings (consolations) for a period of time.  We may be praying as much as before, but suddenly it no longer “feels good”.  During these periods of dryness, we may be tempted to cease praying because of the absence of enjoyment.  Before doing so, however, we should take a long, hard look at our motivation for praying.  Are we doing it to please God and to enter into a relationship with Him or are we doing it because it “feels good”?

While not as serious as ceasing to pray, many Catholics torment themselves for not “feeling anything” when they receive Jesus in the Eucharist.  When the expected feeling of euphoria is not experienced, they question their spirituality and seek ways to fix the problem.  In reality, it is actually quite normal to experience nothing out of the ordinary after receiving Holy Communion.  Although we may not enjoy the experience, this lack of feeling provides us with an opportunity to love Jesus unconditionally.  Similar to the love that we give to an infant or a parent suffering from advanced dementia, we are blessed with an opportunity to express love for Jesus while expecting nothing tangible in return.  In his Prayer After Communion, St. Padre Pio summed up his acceptance of this condition with the words, “Stay with me, Jesus.  I do not ask for divine consolations because I do not deserve them, but I only ask for the gift of Your presence.  Oh yes!  I ask this of You!”

It’s important that you don’t panic when you feel a sense of spiritual dryness.  The condition is usually temporary and enables us to gain better control over our actions.  Persevering in prayer, despite a lack of feeling, will help us to become more detached from our emotions and will lessen the chance of falling into sin.  Throughout the course of our lives, we can expect to go through many dry periods.  I find that it’s best to look at these dry periods as a gift, an opportunity to express our love for the Lord without receiving any consolations in return.  It’s easy to say “I love You, Jesus” when we get a warm feeling of peace in return.  However, if we truly love Him, we should be just as willing to express those sentiments when “we don’t feel anything”!

(© 2011 Gary Zimak)


Gary Zimak is the founder of Following The Truth Ministries (http://www.followingthetruth.com), a lay apostolate created to assist Catholics in learning more about their Faith. He is a regular guest on EWTN Radio’s “Son Rise Morning Show”, Ave Maria Radio’s “Catholic Connection with Teresa Tomeo” and appears frequently on several other Catholic radio programs.  In addition to writing for CatholicLane. Mr. Zimak hosts a daily program on BlogTalkRadio and posts frequently on his blog, Facebook and Twitter.  He is a member of Catholics United For The Faith and the Knights of Columbus and resides in New Jersey with his wife Eileen and twin daughters, Mary & Elizabeth.


  • Kathleen Woodman

    Thanks for writing this. Feelings are an easy trap to fall into.

    “If at times you don’t feel strong enough to follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ, say a few loving words to those who knew Him well during His life on earth. To Mary, first of all, for she it was who brought Him to us.” St. Josemaria Escriva

  • HomeschoolNfpDad

    I still need to read the article — no time just yet — but the title alone sparks this: the Law was created to sustain a person through spiritual dryness. The Law can be followed by the will driving the person to do what is right independent of any spiritual or emotional vacuums.

    That is why the letter of the Law is so important.

  • noelfitz

    This is another great article. It is consoling and encouraging.

    Aridity and dryness sound like archaic terms but what they represent can be trying and difficult.

    HCNFPD raises another issue, does morality come from the Law or from the Church, as this article says? This is a huge issue, what about conscience, the Bible and the natural law?

    This could lead to a detailed discussion on the source of morality.

    Also the article says “sin feels good”. So true, we are attracted to sin “sub specie boni”

  • HomeschoolNfpDad

    I did not intend to raise the issue about whether morality comes from the Law. I wanted to raise the issue that when spiritual and emotional guides are empty, the Law can always guide the will. The Law includes the Natural Law and the Divine Law and the Teaching of the Church in the context in which I discuss it. I should have been more specific.

    I think that the Law is a complete expression of morality, though morality does not come from the Law. Morality comes from God — as does the Law. When you are not spiritually dry, you very often can love God and love your neighbor — and do so effectively. But when your spiritual life feels empty, the will can take over. If the will is properly directed — or at least willing to look something up — then the Law can save you from lots of tough situations until the spiritual vacuum passes.

    The Law can also serve as a good check on your emotional highs as you attempt to follow God. In other words, if it feels good, but is contrary to the Law, you might want to check it over and see if it’s not simply the first step towards grave sin. In fact, getting into the habit of double-checking emotionally-led or spiritually-led habits can go a long way towards forming a proper conscience that can effectively lead the will.

    This is, of course, insufficient. Simply avoiding evil is only a first step along the road to heaven. Eventually, following the Law has to buttress an internal desire to do good, whether or not there is any reward, spiritual, emotional, or otherwise.

    Once this internal desire takes over, the Law remains, sharply defining the outer boundaries beyond which lies sin. But if this internal desire really expresses Love (and not just some false concoction we’ve denominated love), then your road to heaven will stay away from the boundaries anyway, rendering the Law somewhat moot.

  • noelfitz

    HSNFPD,

    thanks for your long post.

    I note you do not wish to discuss in detail the basis of morality.

    You define Law broadly.

    St Paul emphasized the Law free nature of our religion, so someone else might like to discuss the Law and morality here.

    But it was not the essential point of a very fine article on aridity.

  • Jackie

    Thank you very much for writing this. 🙂