Dark Night of the Soul?


I’m not sure if I’m depressed or if this is one of those “dark night of the soul” things. It might be a little of both because I’m going through a rough time in my life right now. In either case, I’m having a really hard time praying lately. It’s even more difficult when things get really bad/sad and I know I have to pray even harder. It’s like no matter how hard I try to concentrate on my rosaries they feel like empty words like nobody is listening. Any tips on how to jump-start myself out of this? It’s really very frustrating. Help…


Personally for myself, I am happier not giving experiences a formal noun that has a very strict definition in theology…but then I have a spiritual director and this is a really big help on the spiritual way. When things get tough and the going get’s rough, I find refuge in Faith. Nothing I can feel or think can alter the Truths of Faith. For example, because you are finding the rosary difficult going does not mean that Our Lady is any the less present to your prayers, or that your prayer is less…in fact, it could be ‘more’ by the simple fact that one perseveres in the face of difficulties. It is easy to keep going when all is rosy…but it takes ‘true mettle’ to keep going when things are not rosy at all. I know that it is a very difficult time indeed, very difficult and to talk to The Lord or Our Lady and the saints can be helpful - to spend a minute or two prior to your rosary speaking about your difficulties and in your own words. We need to remember that prayer is all about relationship…be gentle with yourself - Jesus is! The temptation can be to worry and prod at your poor soul because of its tepidity or whatever…it is not the fault of your poor soul if you have been faithful to prayer and to your spiritual life. Feelings can often be connected to hormones, brain firings - all sorts of physical and other matters which we can have little knowledge of, nor control over.
But this may not be of much help to you at all as to bringing ‘good feelings’ back into your rosary.
Have you mentioned it to Father in Confession if you do not have a director? The Confessional can also be the place of receiving spiritual advice.


just heard Fr. Groeschel say about Mother Teresa that she had written in her journal, when she was experiencing this darkness, she simply picked up her rosary and ran the beads through her hands because she could not pray, so she just held it. After a while she was able to recite the prayers, even though they seemed to have no meaning, she could not concentrate on the mysteries etc, she just said the prayers any way. In this way, gradually the dark moment passed. But only for a time. She experienced this darkness for years, but kept praying as she could even when it seemed for many years not one was listening.


Great advice!:thumbsup: Prayer is all about relationship. Mother Teresa prayed as she could, not as she could not.


Dear Eli4n4,

Sounds like you may be experiencing the dark night of sense. I blogged on this topic recently; you might find helpful info here:

When I’m Found in the Desert Place

Inability to pray may be a sign of being called to contemplation. Fr. Thomas Dubay explains:

A person can recognize the beginnings of infused prayer when three signs are found together (one or another by itself is not enough - it could be due to something on a merely natural plane):

  1. One experiences a disinclination to meditate discursively, an inability to profit from active reflecting. This disinclination and inability are not due to laxity, but rather to being drawn toward God in a simple, idealess way. Even though distractions may abound, the Lord is infusing a dark longing for himself. This yearning is usually dry, delicate, and brief.
  1. An inner perception of emptiness replaces the ideas and pleasures of former discursive thinking. The person is giving up worldly pleasures and is not yet purified sufficiently to enjoy God with any depth. Hence, there is a lack of comfort and closeness. The Lord seems distant and finite things do not satisfy.
  1. There is a marked earnestness in serving God better. This sign shows that the first two do no proceed from mediocrity, but from a new and better form of prayer.

Source: Seeking Spiritual Direction: How to Grow the Divine Life Within
by Thomas Dubay, S.M. p. 185


You could try the other forms of prayer too, litanies, short prayers or invocations, practicing the presence of God, meditation without words, lectio divina etc–not saying abandon the rosary or anything.


Dear Eli -
Thank you for this post. I’ve been in the same place for a long time. Mine is a combination of prayer laziness, lack of doing something about it and making TV or whatever the distraction - the easy out - and depression. But even in Church whether at Mass or alone, I find it hard to pray. Frustrating is too kind a word, since I keep thinking / beating myself up that God is expecting more of me than the effort I’m putting in.

I agree with the many replies given - perhaps find another prayer, even if temporarily - be it shorter or easier to say - a preferred litany, a chaplet instead of rosary - or quick/short prayers that you can say regularly daily - without need of prayer book. But start your day (as I do) making the sign of the Cross upon waking, and saying the Morning Offering - even if sleepy-eyed. You tell Our Lord that everything you do that day you offer to Him - I guess it makes the actions of your entire day a prayer to Him.
Good luck and God help us both in this endeavor!


Just a warning . . . Sometimes it is best to just keep praying and doing what we are dong, without getting into the mystical theology of it all. As an experienced spiritual guide, formation director for religious and trained in mystical theology, I can vouche that Mystical Theology can be very dangerous if it is not applied by someone who is well versed in it.

I don’t mean dangerous as in sinful or diabolical, but dangerous to the emotional life of the individual. There are times when it is easy to confuse the emtional state of one’s mind with the spiritual state of one’s soul, because the same language is often used to describe two very different experiences, yet sometimes overlapping.

What Mother Teresa experienced was a Dark Night of the Soul, but never a state of depression. In fact, one of the qualities that she maintained throughout her years of struggle was her joy. The same happened to Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross and other saints.

If one reads Mother’s private writings one sees that she is completely consumed with love to the point that she volunteers to live in darkness for all eternity if this is Christ’s will for the salvation of souls. What she struggled with was the inability to find the words to pray, not with the ability to pray. Her prayer reached another level, the level of desire. She desired what Christ desired.

At this level the soul becomes unified with the Divine and wishes nothing other than what the Divine wishes. The struggle ceases and peace overtakes the person. The individual is at peace in darkness and without consolations. The individual learns to live in darkness knowing that he is surrounded by light. The key word here is knowlege. You simply know.

This is not a moral darkness or an emotional darkness. It is a form of blindness, such as what we experience when a bright light is shined into our eyes, like a flash of a camera. We cannot see God, because we are within his light. Therefore, one’s inner peace and silence is never disturbed.

Such a spiritual experience cannot be produced by the individual. It can only be produced by grace. It is a process through which God purifies the soul by stripping it of all consolations found in the spiritual life so that the soul exists purely through faith, love and trust.

At its onset, the individual does not understand and feels abandoned by God. Yet continues to be moved toward God. The movement toward God is proven through the perfection of charity. The deeper the person enters into the darkness the greater one’s charity toward God and neighbor, until the person reaches a point where he accepts what God gives and willingly surrenders what God takes.

As I said at the beginning, it is best not to enter into an anlysis of this type of experience without the assistance of an expert in the mystical life. Most priests are not experts in the mystical life. Mystical theology is not part of the ordinary curriculum in seminaries. It is a specialized area of study in theology.

Religious, such as friars, monks and nuns (not sisters), are usually well trained in the mystical life. It is required before they make solemn vows. They usually have five to eight years of training in the mystical life, because life in orders is oriented toward the union of the soul with God or as Vatican II called it, the Perfection of Charity (Perfectae Caritatis).

There are some lay persons who are also trained in this area and make very good spritual directors. One of them was Catherine of Siena and Francis of Assisi. Both were lay men (though Francis eventually became a Brother), both were well versed in the mystical life. Both had infused mysticisim. But there are others such as Fr. Dubey and Thomas Merton, Doctors of Mystical Theology or St. Bonaventure for those who prefer the classics. Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross had both formal training and infused contemplation.


JR :slight_smile:


…as I said in a previous post, I find it best to avoid labels or tags, nouns, that have strict theological definitions as these definitions can present complexities. Certainly it is absolutely beneficial to have a spiritual director and leave such determinations up to him or her…although for myself and my own director, I do not need these nouns shared with me, although at times they have been. They would be helpful to Father, however, to determine how one is to be directed…

Sometimes it is best to just keep praying and doing what we are dong, without getting into the mystical theology of it all.

:thumbsup: …good advice and if the going gets rough lean on Faith and what Faith (and one’s director if one has one)
tells one and it is as simple as that…


The seven “D’s” quite simply and concisely explained i.e. Dryness, depression, darkness, disbelief, doubt, despair, desolation … the article is from “America” the National Daily Catholic Weekly…

(portion only of overall article - not a lengthy article) :…"…The “seven D’s,” however, are distinct, and Christian spiritual masters have long used specific terms to refer to distinct experiences. One may experience dryness without depression (for example, during a retreat when one suspects that the period of dryness in prayer is temporary). One may encounter darkness without** disbelief** (as did St. Thérèse of Lisieux, who continued to believe despite spiritual aridity near the end of her life). Experiences can overlap, too. Darkness can lead to occasional doubt, as in the case of Mother Teresa. And depression can lead, as even atheists and agnostics know, to despair…"…

The problem with nouns of description such as the above (and including “The Dark Night”) can be is that in using them, there can be a mistaken presumption that a common definition is shared…and if this is actually realized, very often it can lead to differences of opinions about what the expression actually does mean and involve…


=BarbaraTherese;4199140]The seven “D’s” quite simply and concisely explained i.e. Dryness, depression, darkness, disbelief, doubt, despair, desolation … the article is from “America” the National Daily Catholic Weekly…

The problem with nouns of description such as the above (and including “The Dark Night”) can be is that in using them, there can be a mistaken presumption that a common definition is shared…and if this is actually realized, very often it can lead to differences of opinions about what the expression actually does mean and involve

This is why I’m saying that the lay person should leave mystical theology to the mystical theologian. Even priests who serve as confessors and spiritual directors don’t go there unless they are experts in that area. They limit their reflections and comments to observable behaviours and leave the mystical to the experts. A confessor or spiritual director who suspects that something mystical is happening in the life of a soul, will usually refer that person to an expert, if he or she is not one himself.

Sometimes the laity is a little too bold.

JR :slight_smile:


I tend to agree with you and I learnt much in my early days here on CAF about particular nouns…and the differences and misunderstandings that can arise from using them and really useless almost arguments that can be the results.
My best pal is a Carmelite prioress and now professed Carmelite for over 55 years…she is my expert in the ‘mystical arena’ and we usually exchange emails regularly each week, speak on the phone. My visits to her are rather rare nowadays as we live on the opposite sides of town, although I do get to the guest house now and then for a retreat and we then usually spend a couple of hours together. Across the road from Carmel here is the Passionist Monastery and more experts on the mystical. Not that I have much call on them at all thank goodness…I dread truly having to share with my psychiatrist anything ‘out of the ordinary’.:smiley: …although of course the mystical is not necessarily out of the ordinary type matters.
In the main though I prefer not to wear “tags” or particular nouns - not even spiritual ones. As I said, probably absolutely helpful to one’s director to be well versed in such things as then he knows how to direct one/refer one on if it is not his/her area of expertise.

Faith is my constant!


I could question myself however for the most part it’s life stress right now. Want to find a niche again. On and off job hunt for 3 years since an almost 10 yrs job closed and became a ‘dislocated worker’, new catch phrase for when they send your job overseas & to cheaper parts in the US.


During the many years that I did retreat ministry, which was mostly with college students and religious, as well as formation of religious, and my own use of spiritual direction, I have found that the labels are for the benefit of the director more than the directee.

These labels help the director understand where someone is along the spiritual path. Of equal importance is understanding what these labels mean. Calling an experience a Dark Night of the Soul witout really knowing what a Dark Night of the Soul is, is not very helpful. How can one offer guidance and support to another if you don’t really know what the experience is about?

When I go to spiritual direction I’m more interested in what I leave with than what it’s called.

JR :slight_smile:


This sounds like a very specific situation that can affect a person’s sense of stability. Often when our stability is compromised it can take a toll on our spiritual life. One has to develop a strong sense of trust in God and a strong awareness of God’s love or one can easily begin to feel very abandoned in such situations.

JR :slight_smile:


I don’t feel abandoned, but I am frustrated with where I live. :smiley: I of course made the choice to move here, I also know it’s times like this that build our faith. All I need to do is remember the decade I couldn’t see out of one eye void a blob. The only difference, my finances weren’t affected the first time. Need to remember to put ALL my trust in God. Another lesson I still seem to have not quite mastered yet… when I cast my cares on the Lord, let them go.


right now with the economic roller coaster our country is going through as well as the upcoming presidential election and high gas prices, i think many of us are having a dark night of the soul. sometimes, my dark nights last years.
i recently became a Catholic and i know sometimes if i am too tired or too distracted to pray the rosary, i will hold the rosary in my hand wheh i go to sleep. i might say a little prayer, but it does give me security. sometimes i look at the 1962 roman missal and read some of the instructions or prayers.
that gives me peace to just to thumb through the pages.

nothing has gone right in my life for a long time and i am at a crucial point right now and ready to relocate to a new community. so that is a lot of stress. it is kind of like i can’t believe where i have been in my life, but i know i have to make a change because i can’t continue the way it has been.

i feel peace going to the adoration chapel - i just have to take the time to go there. i hope to get involved in the catholic church in the new community i am moving too.

i notice that i haven’t been sleeping well, only 3 or 4 hours a night, but
i think it is because i have so much on my mind right now.

it is harder when you live alone also.


…and of course, it is not necessary to understand what The Dark Night actually is to endure it/go through it…


I’m a revert Catholic as of last year, was gone just about 20 yrs. That’s still hard to believe. What’s worse is I was an anti for a time. Took a night of a lot of tears battling with all my false assumptions against Catholicism. Yes, Catholic, me again… I feel for all the ant sites. I’m glad to be home but need to stop feeling so out of place. I know that will happen with time.


From what I understand of the “Dark Night” it only happens to the spiritually mature and people often confuse depression, feelings of not being able to pray or difficulty in prayer and other such things with this phenomenom. I have also heard that to label yourself as going through a “Dark Night” is dangerous both spiritually and psychologically. What most people consider a “Dark Night” could simply be a dry spell in prayer, depression, a reaction to a difficult life situation, or an excuse for apathy in advancing the spiritual life. Perhaps JR could speak more on this.

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