A faith slump can happen to anyone. Prayer isn’t working or we don’t feel motivated. When we do make it to Mass, we struggle to focus or we don’t feel God any more near to us than when we went in. God seems distant, or we may wonder if God is even there at all.
I have had more than a few slumps in my faith myself, both before and after I entered religious life and became a priest. Here are a few tips I have picked up along the way.
For one, resist the urge to blame yourself. Lots of things can do harm, temporary or lasting, to our faith lives. My faith has been challenged by things like hypocrisy among leaders of the church, or a sense that my experience as a single young adult was not valued at my parish, or I simply didn’t fit.
It is not a faith or character weakness on our part to struggle with the oftentimes stark difference between the reality of the church in front of us and what Jesus calls us to. Go gentle with yourself and remember that God will faithfully be present to us whether we feel it or not.
Turning inward, while prayer may not be the only way out of a faith slump, how we spend our time in conversation with God is critical. On this, one of my biggest helps over the years has been simply appreciating that our approach to prayer may change over the years, certainly between the major stages of life. This is normal.
Looking up new ways of praying is always a worthwhile exercise. You might try, for example, an Ignatian Examen (reviewing the day reflectively with an eye toward God’s action) or “lectio divina” (reading Scripture prayerfully, listening for God’s voice speaking to you).
Bearing in mind that prayer is about being in relationship with God, what our prayer life may need most is a retreat. A retreat in Catholic terms is time set apart for reflection, prayer and resting with God. Some retreats may be guided or there will be an option to meet with a spiritual director. Look around your region and see if there are any Catholic retreat centers near you.
As much as a slump in our faith may seem to be an internal matter, I have found that it is best not to approach it this way alone. Getting out of a faith slump often means directing our hearts and minds outside of ourselves.
Matthew 25 lays out this point for us well: The hungry and thirsty, the stranger, the imprisoned — how we treat these least in our midst is how we treat Christ himself.
To jumpstart our faith, we need to encounter Christ and spend time with him, in the gift of the Eucharist, yes, but also in the eucharistic life the Blessed Sacrament calls us to. The solidarity and self-gift we receive in Christ must be shared.
Service to those with whom Christ has so closely identified may take a variety of forms and there is no need to necessarily reinvent the wheel. Wherever we are, there tends to be those already doing the work.
Yours or another local parish may have organized a regular food pantry that requires assistance. The diocese may have a prison ministry that needs volunteers to spend a few minutes on the phone with a returning citizen or to write letters to those still incarcerated.
To whomever we minister, we will meet Christ, and faith in him and his kingdom of perfect peace, justice and love can only increase.
(Father Stuart Wilson-Smith is a priest of the Paulist Fathers and associate pastor of Old St. Mary’s Church in Chicago. Father Stu is currently writing a book on Catholicism and mental health, and as a songwriter has released an album on the same theme, “It’s Not Just You, It’s Everybody,” available on all major digital platforms.)