“The consolation of the Holy Spirit” is a phrase I have heard from time to time and I had imagined that it as the comfort of the Holy Spirit. But today I read a brief essay by Ruth Haley Barton who has written about solitude, silence, and the rhythms of sacred living.
She writes in Dicipleship Journal that consolation is “a deep sense of life-giving connection with God, with others, and with whom God created one to be. It is the sense that in some deep way all is right with the world, that we are free to be given over to God to love even in pain and crisis.” The opposite of consolation, she says, is desolation, the loss of a sense of God’s presence. “We feel out of touch with God, with others, and with whom God made us to be”, feeling “off-center, full of turmoil and confusion, and maybe even in rebellion.”
Barton says that these two experiences in relationship to God- consolation and desolation – can help us with our decision making process. In addition to considering the biblical counsel on the subject, prayerfulness about choices that we are contemplating, and consulting with godly friends, we can look to how the options contribute to or diminish our sense of connection to God.
She suggests that, in efforts at decision making, one can try this exercise. In choosing between two alternatives, pick one option and imagine you’ve already set your mind on it. Walk around with that choice for two or three days in your mind and notice the presence of consolation or desolation. Do you feel in tune with God and who you are in Him? Then, switch options and walk around with the other choice in your mind. Do you feel less connection to God or who you are in Him? Are you sad? Is your energy drained?
We must cultivate stillness and quiet in order to get in touch with this sense of God’s presence, to know His consolation in the midst of our thoughts and actions. She suggests 5 to 10 minutes of silence a day, reflecting on God and His will for you. Also, at the end of the day, take a few minutes and invite God to go over the day’s activities with you, asking Him to show you when He was speaking to you that you didn’t hear Him.
The goal is to recognize and respond to God in the moment, throughout the day, as we learn to consistently be aware of His presence and guiding.