The fifth: In time of desolation never to make a change; but to be firm and constant in the resolutions and determination in which one was the day preceding such desolation, or in the determination in which he was in the preceding consolation. Because, as in consolation it is rather the good spirit who guides and counsels us, so in desolation it is the bad, with whose counsels we cannot take a course to decide rightly. — St. Ignatius of Loyola
Last year, a woman I know went through a stretch of difficult challenges and was feeling increasingly jaded, discouraged and depleted. She was experiencing what Ignatius calls desolation, which undercuts your resolve to press on in the good you have already committed to, clouding your vision so that what once looked hopeful and possible — in spite of life’s inescapable challenges — now appears hopeless, useless, meaningless.
“Suddenly,” she said, “the issues I had with my husband, my children and my job seemed to magnify out of proportion; they went, almost overnight, from being normal reasons for patience and love to being causes of anger and resentment.” She added, “I could really sympathize with people just do this 180 in marriage, suddenly turning what were once seen as normal differences that require faithfulness into scathing judgments and irresolvable reasons for divorce.”
She also said, “Looking back, among other things, I realized that I had stopped praying during the time the challenges ramped up. It juts happened, I didn’t have a good reason for it. But that was a huge mistake, since without prayer I lost my center of gravity and source of strength.” It was a girlfriend of hers, who is a devout Evangelical, who called her on it and invited her to join her prayer group. Which she did, and, she said, “I noticed almost immediately the return of a sense of hopefulness, and the resolve to set my hands back on the plow and stop looking back.”
I have found over the years that the majority of bad decisions I have made were made in the midst of “desolation” – when I was in a state of confusion, fear, depression or anxiety. It’s so incredibly tempting to shift course when darkness comes, because when you find yourself in a state of desolation there arises deep within an almost compulsive need to break free from its grip, to seek immediate relief by running from the problem. In that frame of mind you easily succumb to the fantasy that everything will be better if you just change direction. In the words of Big Sean,
But the grass ain’t always greener on the other side,
It’s green where you water it
Ignatius’ counsel is clear: do not to change course on well-discerned decisions you have already made until the storms of confusion pass and you have a restored sense of peace and clarity within which you can think clearly. A healthy human spirit in sync with the Holy Spirit produces a sense of inner freedom and peace, while an unhealthy human spirit in sync with an Evil spirit conjures a sense of inner compulsiveness, confusion and turmoil.
So many bad decisions can be avoided by simply keeping firm to this Rule.
I thought of all this when I heard Phillip Phillips’ song Home the other day. The refrain captures the spirit of Rule Five wonderfully. The last lines remind us that in the midst of our desolation, when we feel lost and ‘homeless,’ we need to seek out those safe spaces (or people) in our lives that are our “homes,” where peace, trust, hope and all the 12 fruits of the Spirit abide. There we can think aright and can become aware of the fact that God never ever leaves us alone. Indeed, He who descended into hell makes even the darkest places in our life, Home.
Settle down, it’ll all be clear
Don’t pay no mind to the demons
They fill you with fear
The trouble—it might drag you down
If you get lost, you can always be found
Just know you’re not alone
‘Cause I’m gonna make this place your home
Here’s the song: