Finding Joy in Desolation

“Lord, how long will I call for help and you not listen?  I cry out to you, ‘Violence!’ but you don’t deliver us.  Why do you show me injustice and look at anguish so that devastation and violence are before me?  There is strife, and conflict abounds.  (Habakkuk 1:2-3, CEB)

Pastor-2The prophet speaks powerfully into times of conflict, injustice, and violence.  He speaks to individuals and to communities, whether the conflict is real or metaphorical.  The prophet speaks to each one of us at some time in our lives, when we feel assaulted or far from God or when we cry out for the world in which we live.  “How long, O Lord?”

This is a bold lament where the prophet dares to challenge God and expect that God will respond.  He says later in this passage that he will take up his place on a high watch post and wait for God to respond.  He cries out and expects and waits for God.  He believes that an answer will come, because he has had the experience before.  Ignatius of Loyola wrote about the rhythm of “consolation” and “desolation” that characterizes the spiritual life.  In consolation we are drawn closer to God, while in desolation we find it more difficult to feel God’s presence.  In times of desolation, however, we are sustained by those times when we felt the movement of the Spirit more clearly.  It is balance we seek as we live in a broken world moving toward the perfection of God in eternity.

I recently had the chance to speak to a dear friend of mine who is a student of Ignatius and his spiritual disciplines.  My friend outlined this spiritual balance for me and helped me to understand better how the things in our lives move us between these two extremes of consolation and desolation.  We find ourselves at one with God and far from God, almost at the same time it seems.  We live our lives as best we can and yet we face challenges, defeats, fears, and brokenness.  What helps us to achieve the balance we need is what ultimately grows out of our desolation built on our memories of consolation.

For me, at this time in my life, the response I feel is joy; that is why I preached on the topic of joy this past Sunday.  Certainly, I have felt moments of closeness to God in my life; I have enjoyed wonderful days of consolation.  Today, however, I find that desolation is a more apt description of how I feel.  Overwhelmed, fearful, exhausted – all these are words I would use to describe my desolation.  What saves me is the memory of consolation; that memory inspires great joy in my heart of hearts.  I am joyful because I remember that God is here and will remain here through whatever lies ahead.  My joy precedes my consolation simply because I know that I can trust God to hold me up, no matter what happens.  I believe that is why the prophet can cry out with such confidence.  He has been here before and he remembers how God responded in the past.

Whatever your desolation may be today, surely you have a memory of consolation that convinces you to seek God, to stand at the watch post and wait for God to respond.  Because we have felt consolation, because we have felt the presence of God – at least once, even for a moment – we are drawn to continue to seek God forever.  Perhaps what draws us is not something we can articulate clearly.  It may be that the darkness overwhelms our vision or maybe the seeming silence from God is drowned out by the pursuing hounds of our busy-ness, the clanging noise of our conflict, or just the dull thud of our frustration.  Habakkuk advises us to be patient.  Even when we cannot see a clear path out of our current desolation there is consolation on the horizon, there is joy in the confident expectation.  We will discover what God has in mind and what we are supposed to do next.

What if we would just place ourselves at a “watch post”, a quiet room, a special oasis, a place of worship, or a quiet place inside ourselves – and demand that God make a clear way for us.  “Here I am, God!  I will keep watch and see what you will say to me!”

Seeking joy in the balance,
Pastor Don