I no longer have a concept of who, what and where God is. I used to know what he was capable of, what he would and would not do, and what pleased and displeased him. I knew that he loved me and that he was beautiful, loving and forgiving. But I’ve come to realize that I really can’t know any of it. I no longer have a road map for traveling through my life. All I can say is, “I just don’t know.” I no longer feel comfortable praying. I miss that very much. I feel lost without my idealized concept of God, but I can’t put my faith in it again no matter how I try to fool myself. I’ve tried to build a new image of God through reading books and magazines, but I feel I cannot trust those images. I want to know God personally. I have not found God inside of myself, perhaps because I don’t know where to look or I don’t trust myself to know.
Be grateful for your loss. Now, you are ready to experience God. To understand that you can’t know is the beginning of faith. This is the first step on a genuinely spiritual path, a path only found without a road map. If you cannot trust yourself, put your trust in something greater (the power of love, for example). If there is a spiritual teacher you trust, ask for guidance. He or she also can help determine whether psychological issues are at hand. Do not rely on books or magazines. Authors can tell of their lives, thus pointing to a path that has served them. It may or may not serve you. Sometimes, our attraction to such things is the unhealthy ego’s way of staying stuck but gaining a new vocabulary with which to discuss troubles. Talking (or reading) does not dismantle a neurotic ego and feed a healthy one. A studied devotion to awareness, in tandem with a disciplined commitment to new thoughts and behaviors, can.
The notion that God is inside was popularized to help people who suffered from low self-esteem. Sadly, it has produced inflated egos rather than the humble, loving egos that result from accepting that, just as God cannot be contained in heaven, God cannot be contained within. True mystics live in awareness that God is everywhere. This understanding cannot enter the ego and transform it until a person has transited—and synthesized—desolate, dark nights and arrived home in the self, available to love all that is within oneself and the world. This journey begins where you are now, in the desert.
But is the demon you are facing desolation or a dark night? In his book Care of Mind, Care of Spirit: A Psychiatrist Explores Spiritual Direction, Catholic spiritual director and psychiatrist Gerald G. May explains that desolation is “a period of feeling very down about prayer and the spiritual life. This is seen as coming from God. … The dark night is a deep and ongoing process of unknowing that involves the loss of habitual experience.”
Many popular self-help books confuse desolations and dark nights with emotional or clinical depression. Depression is disrespected in our culture, so people find it appealing to believe they are in the dark night. It is rarely so. If it were true, the world would be filled with humble people consistently loving what is (or truly trying to). It is important, during desolations and dark nights, not to attempt to force a spiritual experience through ritual, fasting or other acts. Instead, let go (even of your concept that God has a gender) and let a new realization of God arise. You are in my prayers.