Consolations and Desolations

Recently at Grace, I talked about a spiritual practice called the Examen, a reflective prayer built around two polar sensations: consolations and desolations. St. Ignatius of Loyola developed the prayer in the 1500s, and it has become a staple practice for people who love connecting with God through some of the more contemplative streams of worship and prayer.

The Examen is a powerful prayer that has the potential to immediately strengthen your faith and awareness of God. I hope you will try it.

Consolations are experiences that connect us to life. They invigorate our souls and inspire and awaken us to purpose, joy, and life. Desolations, on the other hand, are experiences that disconnect us from life. As the name implies, desolations bring an empty, barren feeling into our hearts.

In the prayer of Examen (often prayed at the end of a day or experience or event) the pray-er focuses his or her heart on Jesus, quickly prays to offload any troubling weights or burdens that might be distracting them, and then they pray: “God, what brought me life today? What was I most grateful for today? What were my consolations?” And then they wait. Invariably, they will remember it. They will recognize the moments, the settings, the words, or the people that brought life to their soul.

After touching this awareness, the next question gets posed: “God, what disconnected me from life today? What am I least grateful for today? What were my desolations?” Then again the pray-er waits until they remember, “Ah, yes, those were the moments that drained the life from my soul.”

The reason this is such a powerful prayer is that moments of consolation are little signposts that lead us toward God’s will for our lives. Jesus said that He came to bring “life…to the full” (John 10:10). So, generally, the events that “life” us will more closely align with Jesus’ will than the events that do the opposite.

Try it. Start taking a few minutes (the Examen is typically a brief prayer) to get in touch with your consolations and desolations. When are you the most alive, the most truly you? When and where are you not? Don’t worry about getting too wrapped up in your emotions or possibly getting deceived by the longings of your heart. That won’t happen. When we come to God, asking the Holy Spirit to speak and reveal His will, we won’t get tricked or ignored.

The more we practice the prayer of Examen the more sensitive our consciences get. The more we desire to do what is good and pleasing to God, and the more we long to be life-giving agents for others. The Examen not only shows us God’s path to help us be more personally alive, but it also inspires us to be people who help others start touching true life too.

God’s will for you and me is for us to do more of the things that bring gratitude into our lives. In 1 Thessalonians 5:18 the Apostle Paul wrote, “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” This does not simply mean that we Christians are supposed to try to generate a little gratitude despite what is happening around us. It means that God’s will is for us to be grateful–to do and experience more of the things that awaken true gratitude within us.

Go for it. Try the Examen and see where it takes you. And if you are interested in learning a little more about this prayer, you can listen to my recent talk at Grace Church through our website or by clicking here.

Know you are loved!


5 thoughts on “Consolations and Desolations

  1. Well done Chris. It is one of the simplest & greatest ways of staying connected to Christ, realizing our blessings, and keeping us grateful for family & friends.

    Love you dear friend.

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