During the process of content analysis, the identified categories were inductively structured and condensed to five main topics (see Fig. 1). These five main topics have a horizonal (others) and vertical (God) relational dimension and are presented as having either intrinsic or extrinsic aspects. These will be described with specific anchor code examples. To identify the interviewees we quote, we have used B for a brother and S for a sister, followed by the number of the interview within the group and then the line number(s) in the transcript. All these statements were responses to the topic of the interviewees’ phases of spiritual dryness regardless of their length, including both short phases and long states.
In Fig. 1, a light gray background with black text represents a foremost extrinsic cause, while a dark gray background with white text is a rather intrinsic cause; a darker gray background with white text is a mixture of both.
Loss of relationship with God
Here, God is not perceived anymore; the person feels the loss of an already experienced closeness of God or lowers their expectation of God’s closeness. The person is disappointed by God and perceives a distance from God. This topic refers to the vertical dimension.
No perception of God
One brother stated in a rather frustrated tone that he was convinced that there was a “personal God. But I [snorting] also have to say that I don’t feel Him very much” (B1, 141–142). Another brother stated, “Yes, I don’t feel anything. Yes. I do know that, too. I don’t feel anything” (B3, 394). This perception was justified and compared to the long-term relationship of two married persons when “you may not feel anything anymore, too, it’s much more a living side by side, right, and I don’t think that’s critical now” (B3, 396–400).
One sister stated that she did not have a general feeling that she was not wanted by God, but nevertheless she felt that God was not speaking to her anymore: “That was only once at these retreats, where I really —yes, where is He, is He no longer speaking to me?” (S4, 286–288).
Loss of an already experienced closeness of God
This topic was mentioned by a religious brother who used the paired metaphors deficiency/fullness, dark night/bright day, and valley/mountain highs to describe his relationship with God. Once he had experiences God’s closeness, but now he was living in the absence of God: “Because, by suffering this deficiency, I long for the fullness—[corrects himself] I know that I long for the fullness. In suffering this deficiency, I do know that I am yearning for abundance. So, I couldn’t suffer from the night if I didn’t know the light” (B16, 537–540). And further: “I wasn’t in this deep valley, yet, yes, of course I was! Yes, the deep valley didn’t seem so deep to me, because I knew it was, so to say—I suffer from it, because I know the heights” (B16, 542–544).
This loss can be attributed also to one’s own lack of effort, as one sister suspected: “I always have the feeling, yes, God is there, He is always there, and I am so far away from Him, and I don’t bother enough, although I often find it difficult to really sit down for meditation or something, but I don’t bother enough to keep this relationship right” (S9, 249–252).
The interviewees had different ways of perceiving this situation. Whereas the brother was watching his situation from a quite distant inner place, the sister was struggling with herself regarding the relationship. But both talked about a relationship they had had in the past.
No expectation of God’s closeness/indifference
In several cases, it seemed that the brother or sister had downgraded their expectation of being close to God because they actually did not perceive such a closeness. “Yes, I have to say that I am not so concerned that God has an answer for me. So, I do not expect God to give me a special—that I will have a special feeling that He is particularly close to me” (B1, 185–188). By comparing other persons’ (better) experiences with his own, this brother withdrew himself emotionally: “There are gifted people who have the—who make the experience, yes, so, I interpret it like, ‘God is especially close to me in this or that situation.’ I don’t have this- So, I don’t have the urge for that” (B1, 188–191).
A similar reaction was found in another brother, who simply avoided dealing with the fact that his relationship with God seemed to be difficult, and thus he distanced himself from such feelings: “I don’t put myself under pressure to always feel something. I don’t think that’s possible” (B3, 394–396). The statement of another brother pointed in a similar direction: “So I say, I have no expectation [pause] of this God that He should somehow do this or that.” (B9, 169–171).
In terms of unanswered prayers (as communication), a religious sister said that she did not expect any answers because to her prayer was first of all being with God. This was a rather cognitive approach that might hide that she nevertheless expected closeness in her prayer life: “No answers to prayers I have not made a contract for this, I have to state quite succinctly, because I don’t expect to get an answer to a concrete prayer, because it is for me Prayer is first of all being in front of God” (S5, 229–232).
Disappointed by God
Frustration and disappointment were important topics justifying the interviewees’ difficult or even broken relationship with God. In an annoyed tone, one brother said: “There is also a dear God who soured on me—who hangs me, yes.. .. And that’s what I ask myself: Where is the good God?” (B1, 146–147). A brother stated that his disappointment resulted in an active emotional withdrawal: “I felt disappointed with Him and I didn’t care. And where I didn’t really put much value on him. .. , yes, where he let me down” (B2, 199–203). In a similar way, a sister blamed God because He had turned away from her, not she: “But that was—I did not leave” (S14, 229).
A brother referred to his struggles and disappointment in God due to a difficult life situation: “And during that time, so, I was not only physically bad but also emotionally, because I also have argued with God and. .. I moved away from Him” (B2, 185–190). A sister also struggled with God because of a difficult life situation: “I had a period of struggle with God before I went to the monastery because my friend studied theology, and I found that God offended me, and then I went into a duel, but I lost” (S3, 207–210). She was frustrated after fighting with God without success.
Another sister talked about the frustration of not knowing what God expected of her and described the difficult situation: “‘What should it be, God, now?’ Then again, ‘What do you want from us?’” (S12, 350).
Alienation from God
A brother stated that spiritual dryness is a matter of alienation from God: “I associate drought with alienation” (B16, 338), while another used the term distance to describe it: “That’s kind of—God somehow seems a bit distant” (B3, 368).
These perceptions have an impact on a person’s sense of meaning in life and on their decision to live in a religious community, particularly when their relationship (“connection”) to God is called into question: “Then, when I was in the Order, there was a phase where I might also be afraid—that my whole existence in God, in the Order, is called into question, because I somehow feel that I have no connection to God at all. That’s where I fought” (S3, 210–215). In some situations, a sister was aware that God was no longer the focus of her prayer life and that she had lost her relationship with God: “All that concerns me is a spin, a self-talk with myself, even in prayer, I sometimes notice: ‘Stop, stop, you’re not in relationship’” (S13, 344–346).
Being disappointed in God can also result in feelings of distance, and one of the statements cited above is also an example of this category: “And during this time, so, I was not only physically bad but also emotionally, where I also had a strange quarrel with God and. .. I moved away from Him, but somehow, I could not get away from Him, and during this time, in this hopelessness, in this time of disorientation, I also felt this dryness, but, but somehow, I was unable to completely detach myself from Him” (B2, 181–190).
Fighting with God/longing for God
During these times of darkness, some persons may distance themselves from God while others are still fighting to get back in a close relationship: “And then, of course, I had to fight in my prayer life and say, ‘God, I don’t feel you anymore, show me another way, I want to be free’” (S2, 128–132). Another sister referred to this fighting as a process of liberation to come closer to God again: “So, I have what I call today this struggle with God, this not feeling with God, this struggle for liberation: ‘Give me liberation from having to remain in this darkness for so long [sigh], let me go,’ etc.” (S2, 139–143).
One sister clearly stated a constant longing to be reunited with God, even in her difficult times: “Well, I wouldn’t see this as coercion—but as longing rather than coercion. Really as a deep longing to reunite and, yes.” (S9, 193–196). This constant and unsatisfied longing for God’s closeness was also addressed by another sister: “In this search—it can have a dryness. .. that I say, where do I keep searching, how do I get to Him now. I mean it’s my turn, but why am I still searching? Then why am I still trying to find out something new about Him when I—when He is always there. Why am I trying to get to Him more clearly, through pictures, through a written word?” (S6, 522–528).
Loss of orientation
When persons lose their orientation in life, their function in a specific role, phases of spiritual dryness and struggles with God may be a consequence. The underlying subcategories here refer to a loss of spiritual orientation, self-doubt, uncertainty, and a need to reorient contradictory or changing images of God, sadness about the shrinking of the community, and loss of a life dream. The underlying triggers are intrinsic and also involve reactions to external processes. Interactions between the horizontal and the vertical planes can appear.
Loss of spiritual orientation
Times of despair and loss of orientation in life can be triggers of spiritual dryness, as one brother stated: “And in this time, in this hopelessness, in this time of disorientation, I also felt this dryness” (B2, 181–193). Or: “Yes, these phases are there, sitting in this deep valley and thinking, ‘Oh, why should I orient myself to all this?’ And also to experience how one does not orient. And then come back. Yes, it is painful” (B16, 355–358). A sister described her lack of clear orientation in this way: “And that was such a shaky time, where the question was, is this my way now, isn’t it my way?” (S14, 181–183).
One brother identified the cause as his less focused lifestyle: “Well, I already know phases where you think, ‘Now I have to arrange and sort something again,’ that I’m a bit confused, so messy, so, not so focused on something, yes” (B8,278–281).
One sister missed a former duty that had given her orientation and meaning: “And I had a task over four years, it was really hard, and I had to realize that this is not mine. It was a very difficult time for me in this dispute” (S12, 323–325).
Another sister stated that the loss of her spiritual home in the community was part of the problem: “And since then I have fought and wrestled a little bit to find my way here again, also to find my spiritual home here again” (S9, 131–133).
Perceptions of self-doubt and self-devaluation
Loss of spiritual orientation could happen for various reasons, including self-doubt, uncertainty, and the subsequent need to reorient. This was addressed by a sister when she stated: “One of the worst reasons for such an experience of drought, of doubt, of no more knowledge: what else should I do now? This being in question and the question: Who am I really now, and is it really all like that? Those self-doubts that came back” (S6, 418–421).
Self-condemnation or devaluation of herself was a trigger in another sister: “Such self-conviction and thus confirmation of these inner devastating voices. And then I have the impression that it is difficult for me to remain in a tension of openness” (S13, 297–300).
One brother stated that his spiritual orientation was “broken” and thus his inspiration in life was gone: “My theology was broken—the conventional one—and it has not inspired me anymore” (B11, 91).
Contradictory or changing images of God
A significant struggle in the life of a devoted religious person can be the experience that their old views of God are not valid anymore: “I’m also sitting in this phase now, ‘God, now show us, now give me—it must—this can’t be. I need a different image of God’” (S2, 155–157).
One sister classified her current view of God as a result of her strict religious education in her youth but said it needed to be changed: “But the rigor has gone with us, the strict God, and he sees everything, and we have had a very strict upbringing and a lot of prayer and church. And in this I entered in my monastery, I already had—I also loved God, and in that time I felt very much, ‘No, I must have a good God.’ I had scruples, it can be said. And I had to fight inside” (S2, 117–122).
One sister experienced that her view of God had to be changed because God was more different than she had expected: “And then I started thinking, then I thought, and then all sorts of doubts and thinking came. I wanted to think of God. .. in any case, I suddenly became so clear, a God that one can think—there is no such thing, he is not a God” (S9, 137–142).
Sadness about the shrinking of the community
The shrinking of religious orders was for several a matter of frustration resulting in insecurity and doubts about their meaning and purpose in a changing world. One brother said: “Namely, this search for the right way, but also the inside of a great sadness that can arise, no doubt through this dryness in the religious world and through this shrinking process” (B6, 358–361). Or, as stated by a sister: “I was often sad that we are getting old and getting smaller and there are no more young ones or there are only a few” (S8, 350–351).
One sister also noted that the reduction in numbers is aggravated by the fact that several of the remaining younger sisters were leaving, and this impacted the future of their community and their order in general: “Or even this whole question, the future of our religious community, some women are leaving again, that was a deep crisis I slipped into. Not just me, but many of us” (S12, 345–347). Here, an interaction between the horizontal and the vertical planes appears: one’s own spiritual orientation falters when the community dwindles.
Loss of one’s life dream
For this inductively generated topic, two statements were found. One brother hoped to have a specific attractive assignment abroad but became severely sick overseas and had to return: “Now this dream has been fulfilled, but after five years it was nothing but a dream” (B2, 183–184). This was a reason to fight with God who had interrupted his life dream.
A statement of a sister addressed the knowledge that she could not become a mother and pass life on, which caused some struggle: “I also had a phase like that, it was difficult because I was in my mid-thirties, suddenly I couldn’t see a pregnant woman and go on living. She had life in her where she lived on afterwards and I didn’t have that” (S10, 501–507).
Loss of depth
This topic addresses intrinsic processes that distract persons from religious practice because they are caught up in everyday business. The discipline is lost, the religious practices became boring routine, and they finally tend to escape from God.
Remain on the surface
Spiritual dryness was seen by one brother as the result of his own superficiality: “I’ve never seen it as an emptiness or a loss. But that could be related to the fact that I tend to go into superficiality and not really become aware of what I’m missing” (B7, 126–129). He became particularly aware of this after a retreat where the differences between time-out and routine days became evident: “Sometimes I notice it when I come back from a retreat or something like that, that I suddenly feel again something that was not noticed before, where I might have had an imbalance without feeling or not feeling it as a time of emptiness, but when I suddenly realize, ‘Oops, you’ve been on the surface for a while now. It’s good that you are coming back down now’” (B7, 129–135).
Distraction from God through everyday business/no time for God
Distraction from God or lack of time for God because of the demands of everyday life was addressed by several persons: “There is so much clutter that concerns me every day, and I’m busy with all this stuff, and then I don’t necessarily ask, yes, no, where it comes from and where it goes” (B1, 214–219). Or: “I then worked so much, was thinking what—to make decisions and so on. And I have forgotten to make time for God” (S1, 195–197).
Even the congregational prayer times become a distracting duty when one is absorbed by too much routine work: “So, sometimes we come close to prayer, maybe you should be there earlier, because you come out of work and are a little aroused inside by all sorts of things”(B8, 386–390). Or: “Well, either times when, I say, so many storms in from the outside that it is really difficult to really be there, even in quiet times or in prayer times, and that the head is already busy with ten thousand other things.” (B9, 152–156).
During such times, one sister said that it was not God who was not present but she who was absent with all the extra duties; then God had to remind her that He was “still there”: “No, God has never left me. It was rather the opposite, that I eluded [God] myself. For example, when I’m so superactive again, I whiz around for a long time, then He has to knock really hard and say, ‘Hello, I’m still there’” (S1, 185–190).
One sister clearly recognized that all these activities are nothing more than a tendency to not confront God, to escape from God: “The other is flight. I know that very well, this going into work activities” (S12, 458–459). This insight may nevertheless cause feelings of guilt, too, which in turn aggravates a phase of spiritual dryness: “Or, I let myself be driven by my work and say, ‘Don’t have time,’ because the other activities go along much better until the guilt comes back” (S9, 118–128).
Loss of discipline/negligence
Some experienced a lack of motivation or discipline to participate in the community and in congregational prayer life: “But that takes, yes, it takes discipline. This does not work by itself, I always have to pull myself together” (B8, 326–327), particularly when others are lazy, too: “And you suddenly find yourself in a fraternity, where only a few guys appear to pray together, then I think it will be difficult” (B14, 227–229).
A sister described a strong loss of motivation: “Occasionally, I didn’t feel like working in there or looking for anything” (S3, 197–199), but she did not relate this lack of motivation to a phase of spiritual dryness: “I have phases of weariness and stuff like that. I wouldn’t see that as spiritual dryness now” (S3, 204–205). This view was shared by another sister, who differentiated between the two states: “Well, let me put it this way, if dry time means no motivation, that happens—so everyone has no motivation at times, that’s the way it is” (S5, 200–201).
Even in these phases with low motivation or loss of discipline, one sister noticed that God was still present but that she was neglecting Him and that this affected their relationship: “Then I always have the feeling that, yes, God is there, He is always there, and I am so far away from Him, and I do not make an effort, although it is often difficult for me to really sit down for meditation, but I’m not trying hard enough to keep this relationship going” (S9, 249–252).
The congregational prayer life is often seen as boring and thus not ‘fruitful’ for the relationship with God: “Sometimes I sit there in the Liturgy of the Hours and think, ‘Oh, that’s all horrible, how the brothers pray like that—and I’m actually just praying in the same way” (B10, 163–166). Or: “Yes, of course. So, that’s not always so alive, it definitely is not. So, dryness in that sense is already there” (B13, 171–172).
The term ‘dryness’ was also used to refer to the daily religious ‘routine’ practices: “But if this and that is sung every day, and every service has to be sung—sometimes I no longer sing along because that’s too much for me. And that’s too dry for me” (S8, 185–187).
Escape from God
Several of the above-mentioned behaviors could be interpreted as a way to avoid God, as an act of self-withdrawal and escape. Several sisters clearly stated this: “No, God has never left me. It was rather the opposite, that I eluded [God] myself” (S1, 185–186); “And then I have the feeling that I quickly check off and flee into other things, yes, really, flee” (S9, 260–261); “The other is flight. I know that very well, this going into work activities.” (S12, 458–459); “Oh, God, yes, you can still [Internet] surf a bit, google a bit, can read something nice [laughs], a kind of evasion” (S13, 263–264).
Difficulties with the religious community
Although the religious community and community life were described as beneficial and the structures as helpful in the interviews, several also mentioned difficulties with their community. Important causes of anger, pain, and spiritual dryness (expressed in many specific statements) was conflict, or even mobbing (bullying), within the religious community, no emotional resonance in the community, or difficulties with the expectations of others. This category refers to external triggers and has a clear horizontal direction.
Conflicts in the community/mobbing
Conflicts were reported quite often by both brothers and sisters, and in most cases the emotional pain and frustration was still present: “There were situations where I said, ‘Now it’s enough, now I’m going.’. .. I have experienced this more often because sometimes I have really experienced brothers who were anything but fraternal” (B5, 203–209). A sister interpreted patronizing by others as spiritual abuse: “When people or sisters talk to me and then put me down, uh, sometimes I think, ‘Well, that’s already on the verge of spiritual abuse’” (S2, 183–185). She felt that she was driven into the role of a “victim,” which caused her emotional pain: “Then I lived somewhere, where I was always shouted at by a nun, then I was the victim” (S2, 356–358). Another sister mentioned a specific person who constantly annoyed her, causing emotional disturbance she was unable to deal with: “I still had periods where I—and that is really often the case—that it was difficult in the Convention then, and a fellow sister annoyed me so much, and I know that’s my trigger point, but I couldn’t turn it off, and every day, even if she just took a breath, and I—inwardly I thought, Oh, no.” (S3, 238–242).
Another sister attributed her phases of spiritual dryness to the community: “This feeling, yes, the dryness, the futility of my life, is actually, strangely, never from God but from the external circumstances, I would like to say. So, rather, people who have hurt me, who have deeply pushed me, the external circumstances” (S4, 281–283). Another sister mentioned her inability to deal with such situations: “When it comes to spiritual dryness, there are situations where I do not know where it is—where I am in a situation where my hands are mostly humanly bound. So it’s often in the dryness, for me at least, because it’s about me being in an interpersonal situation where I no longer know how to proceed” (S6, 358–365).
Conflicts within their community made some think about leaving the community: “But really serious was this great conflict that I had with this brother. I thought, ‘Well, now I’m really going’” (B10, 322–324). Some conflicts were so dramatic that suicidal thoughts arose: “There was a fellow brother who drove me into a suicide attempt, who bullied me to such an extent that I, so, really stood at the window” (B16, 599–600).
No resonance with the community
Even among others who may share the same values and religious attitudes, persons may feel lonely, misunderstood, or without emotional support: “Where you might feel a little bit like having no resonance, feeling misunderstood, or maybe not being the right people in the Convention, and you feel single, on your own” (B7, 117–120). Or: “And the hardest thing for me was that the other sister always reacted as if she didn’t know what I was talking about. ‘Why, everything’s fine,’ and I thought I was in the wrong movie. That totally finished me off” (S3, 225–228).
The inability to understand the situation or feelings of others is of course two-sided, and their own attitudes and behaviors could be the cause of their feeling unable to meet the expectations of others, as one sister said: “.. . a non-understanding of the others, so that I cannot understand the others.. .. I got the job from you [the other sisters], I can’t do it better. And where human jealousy plays along like this, which I experience very strongly, or where there are expectations that I cannot meet, cannot fulfill” (S6, 301–305).
One sister clearly attributed the cause of her phases of spiritual dryness to such experiences of different attitudes, perspectives, and expectations: “And that was actually such a reason for this—this dryness that I sometimes couldn’t understand why others see it differently. And that they don’t believe me, or that they don’t trust my life experiences” (S6, 412–415).
Such experiences might cause brothers and sisters to reconsider whether their decision to live in the community was in fact right or whether they had to significantly change things in their life: “The triggers [of spiritual dryness] are usually interpersonal conflicts. And they tend to lead me to say, ‘How I want to live doesn’t work here in this community’ (B10, 223–226). Or: “Especially when you feel, ‘Oops, this is where priorities shift. What really is the core of a religious life?’” (B14, 219–221). Or: “If you have such a low period and you think, ‘No, well, now I’m done with the task here and with the community, that’s enough for me now!’. .. yes, then, another place, other people” (B3, 338–341).
Finally, one sister described feeling completely alone and that no one would come to her aid: “Sometimes I feel that way, when you’re at the bottom, you think, ‘Where are the people who are with you now? I need someone now, but there is no one there.’ So, this experience, you live in a community with like-minded people, but there is no one there. Nobody just notices how badly you are doing” (S12, 430–432).
Emotional loneliness even when among others as a trigger of spiritual dryness may also change a person, as stated by one brother: “The dryness itself, I have always experienced it in these phases, where I felt a bit lonely and abandoned.. .. Maybe that’s why I’ve gotten a little more serious. I don’t know. But I resist being a joyless person. So, I certainly am not” (B5, 150–154).
A consequence of lacking resonance with or trust in others living in the community might also be that the relation to God becomes dry, as suggested by a sister: “And I have, yes, if I don’t have more trust in people, I also lose confidence in God a little bit, that’s just the way it is. And then I have this dryness” (S2, 259–260).
Difficulties with the expectations of others
One sister stated that a cause of her spiritual dryness was that she could not deal with the expectations of others, which also caused jealousy because she felt unable to fulfill the expectations of others: “Where one perceives that—the non-understanding of others, so that I cannot understand the others. Why are you now—I got the job from you [the other sisters], I can’t do it better. And where jealousy plays along like this, which I experience very strongly. Or where there are expectations that I cannot meet, cannot fulfill” (S6, 301–305). Finally, she felt betrayed by the others: “Where I said, ‘Why are you asking me to do this now?’ And I was unable to reach the others and also partially—maybe even, I just say now with a somewhat strong term—have felt betrayed” (S6, 392–394).
Intrinsic factors: Overload, uncertainty, depression
This topic combines several motifs that could be related (in part) to depressive states of emotional exhaustion or personal uncertainty. These were regarded either as causes of spiritual dryness or as accompanying perceptions and feelings (side effects). This category was generated in the second phase of the study; interestingly, most of these statements are from religious sisters. This topic has an intrinsic aspect that might of course be further triggered by external causes.
Stress and work demands can be, as stated above, causes of spiritual dryness, particularly when the person’s own spiritual resources fall short: “There are certainly times like this in everyday life when it is so stressful and the demands of work and so on become so overwhelming, then the prayer life also—then this becomes shorter or then also fails, and then there is, ‘Yes, what’s the point here, and it doesn’t bring anything, and why did I go to the monastery in the first place, just so that I would work 13, 14 hours a day, what’s the point of that?’ That’s always there” (S4, 263–270). This cause of spiritual dryness was clearly attributed to the work stress, not to God: “This feeling, yes, the dryness, the futility of my life, is actually, strangely, never from God, but from the external circumstances, I would like to say.. .. Overloaded with work” (S4, 281–288).
Lacking self-care abilities seems to be one of the problems: “.. . that one no longer takes care of oneself, that one finds nothing that is important for oneself, but expends oneself completely and then gets into such a time. Because you haven’t paid attention to yourself anymore” (S6, 380–383).
Specific personality structures may facilitate experiences of spiritual dryness, particularly self-doubt and uncertainty. This was stated by one sister: “I think that was one of the worst reasons for such an experience of dryness, of doubt, of no longer knowing: ‘What else should I do now?’. .. These self-doubts, which then just came back” (S6, 418–421). Or: “Perhaps I have often not been self-sufficient enough and have always thought that I have to look at what others say or do, and that was certainly a mistake, because I then let myself be unsettled by others. And I’ve been working on it for years, I have to say. And—I’ve struggled for years” (S7, 208–213).
Even severe doubts about the person’s own faith and thus religious life were prevalent: “These are sometimes moments when I think, ‘Is this really all true? Or is our Christian faith a fantasy?’ So sometimes it’s like cracks, where I think it’s maybe not true” (S13, 317–319).
One sister recognized that spiritual dryness might be a state of depression: “Later, I had another phase, it was like such a dead desert, it didn’t matter. I felt like I was in a depression.. .. I knew that this was a depression, that’s still the feeling for me to this day.. .. It all came together, and it was like the desert. Dry earth, there was nothing going on. And that has gone on for years” (S3, 171–180).
Others were less clear about such states but described similar things: “So, especially this spring, when it takes a lot of strength to get me up, ‘So I have to do that,’ or where I push everything back that is personal. Yes, I had such a phase now in the spring, exactly. It was all so dull. And then confirmed, then it turns inward, oh, woe” (S13, 308–312).
Another sister uses the metaphor of ‘night’ (referring to John of the Cross’s ‘Dark Night of the Soul) to describe it: “So when the talk of night is, yes, it was not just night, but it was just black and dark, and of the feeling that was before, of everything was megasuper—there was nothing left.. .. That was really the feeling of total cutoff. And of—yes, somehow, there was nothing left” (S14, 132–139).
Depressive states might also be related to feelings of inner emptiness, which may cause or aggravate phases of spiritual dryness. One sister said: “And that probably led me to a void, to an inner struggle, to an inner ‘Where are you?’” (S2, 132–134). Or: “Dryness is for me such a lethargy, such a, yes, nothing happens inside anymore, so it doesn’t go inward, it doesn’t go outside, it’s like stagnation, it’s such a stop, and a lot of things don’t tell me anything anymore” (S13, 257–260).
One brother stated that during these times of inner emptiness even participation in congregational prayer times is difficult: “So. .. an effect in a time when there is rather emptiness is also so that choral prayer and prayer times and similar things are difficult” (B9, 187–189).
The opposite might also be true, when a person perceives that something is missing, that the void needs to be filled with something positive. A specific symptom could be “inner restlessness”: “Yes, [it] is the case with me that—I am driven by such an inner restlessness. I can no longer just sit there quietly for meditation. I then have such a restlessness and, yes, go out into nature and say, ‘Dear God, you are there too,’ and—or let me drift away from my work and say, ‘Don’t have time,’ because the other things are much better for me, until the feelings of guilt come back (S9, 118–123). And further: “Then I just go, that’s my experience, then I run, then I run away, then I’m driven by a restlessness and then I run to work or run, yes” (S9, 155–157).