What to Do When the Well Runs Dry (Part II of II)
…a reader asks: Dear Father John, there was a time early in my prayer life that I experienced what I think is known as consolations. I have continued to grow in virtue and holiness (if I even know what that means) but my prayer life seems like it doesn’t match my life of virtue. I have listened to Dan Burke’s webinar on the three ways and I am grateful to say that I don’t struggle with habitual sin at all. But, I feel like my prayer life is shallow. If I have moved beyond the purgative stage, where I am doesn’t feel anything like a contemplative life. I have practiced meditation for a few years according to your book The Better Part (which is fantastic by the way) but frankly I feel like the well is drying up. I don’t even know how to explain it but I just feel like my prayer life is stuck. What can I do?
In part I, we looked at why the well can run dry and why, when we’ve been faithful to prayer and to living the Christian life, we can sometimes feel surprised and confused by this. Today, we’ll talk about what we can do about this aridity or dryness.
What To Do?
So what are you supposed to do? Four things:
- First, I would recommend doing some spiritual reading about this kind of prayer, this prayer of simplicity. For example, I can recommend chapters 3-5 of Fr. Thomas Dubay’s book, Fire Within, or Fr. Thomas Green’s When the Well Runs Dry.
- Second, you may find it quite helpful to discuss what is happening in your prayer with a spiritual director, or if you don’t have a spiritual director, with someone who has experienced more advanced prayer. You might be able to find someone like this at a local convent or monastery, or a good Catholic retreat center.
- Third, persevere in your prayer. Continue to spend time alone with the Lord, the one who loves you. Don’t feel as if you have to be “busy” during that time. If the more familiar method of “the Four C’s” seems dry and empty, don’t fret. Simply stay in the presence of the Lord, allowing yourself to yearn for him, to long for him, to feel his absence. Perhaps repeat in your heart a favorite line from one of the Psalms (e.g. Psalm 63:2, “O God, you are my God, it is you I seek! For you my body yearns; for you my soul thirsts, in a land parched, lifeless, and without water”), allowing that to lift the unutterable sentiments of your soul up towards God. Some days you may find it easier to pray as you used to pray, and that’s okay. But when that seems forced and empty, accept it as a gift from God, who is leading you to deeper intimacy and a more ineffable experience of his goodness.
- Finally, continue to be proactive in showing your love for God during the normal activities of your day. You may not feel his presence the way you used to, but you can still decide to go out of yourself in order to serve those around you, loving your neighbor as Christ has loved you. And the more you do that, the more you will shape your heart after Christ’s own heart, and that is the best preparation of all for greater intimacy in prayer.
Art for this post on what to do when the well runs dry: The Woman of Samaria at the Well, James Tissot, between 1886-1894, PD-US author’s life plus 100 years or less, Wikimedia Commons.