One arena of spiritual experience that the classic ministry of spiritual direction often speaks to is the loss of the felt experience of God. I’ve continued to appreciate the wise counsel of Abbé de Tourville here:
“Consolations and sensible desire are only means for training the will and forming permanent habits. As soon as the will is fixed, consolations and sensible enthusiasm become mere luxuries and we can wait for them with the more patience.” (Abbé Henri de Tourville. Letters of Direction. Harrisburg: Morehouse Publishing, 1939, 2001, p. 81.)
This perspective on the loss of God’s felt comfort and felt presence is a very foreign one among most Christians today. We tend to design gatherings to maximize dramatic experience. Abbé Henri suggests that God gives spiritual pleasure and felt motivation primarily to help us develop godly rhythms and intentions (what he calls “a fixed will”). When these grow steady, God may withdraw these consolations so that we trust and offer ourselves to Him without the felt reward of them.
A simple contemporary illustration of this comes as we compare the quality of love of a honeymoon couple and that of a couple still happily married 25 years later. (We just had our 24th anniversary, so I just can’t speak yet from experience!) Honeymoon love is often full of many wonderful romantic feelings, but may be mostly untested. After 25 years of growing in love, there will have been many moments when love has been offered without any apparent inspiration and without the help of a felt reward.
The writer goes on to say:
“Do not be distressed by lack of fervour and consolations. These will come in their own time and their own way. Our Lord wants you to become mature, and maturity needs these periods of obscurity, of disillusionment and boredom. Maturity comes when we have at last realized that we must love our Lord simply and freely in spite of our own…unworthiness and of the unworthiness of nearly everything around us. Then a new a lasting Incarnation of our Lord takes place in our souls, as it were. He begins to live a new life within us in the very midst of the misery of the world.” (p. 85-86.)
As God seeks to deepen and mature our love for Him, He may remove felt zeal and devotion at times. Maturity learns now to live not always getting what we want, when we want it and how we want it. Maturity learns to wait. Maturity is patient. Maturity is less naïve and easily deceived. Mature believers learn to live faithfully even when “they don’t feel like it.”
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