Hagiosthenia - Spiritual Fatigue
Updated: Mar 9, 2019
Have you ever become lazy with your faith and want to pick it up again with a new zeal but then felt tired? Have you ever felt worn out after committing yourself to too many devotions?
Chances are you have experienced Hagiosthenia which is a Greek term meaning, "tiredness of holy things" or spiritual fatigue.
Hagiosthenia shouldn't be confused with Acedia or Spiritual Sloth. As St. Thomas Aquinas describes Acedia in the Summa Theologiae (Secunda Secundae, Q. 35 A.1) "Sloth is an oppressive sorrow, which, so weighs upon man's mind that he wants to do nothing. ...Sloth denotes sorrow for spiritual good."
Spiritual sloth is a sorrow for wanting to do things which are spiritually good for us. Spiritual fatigue on the other hand is feeling worn out after doing too many things which are spiritually good for us. We can see a great example in exercise. After we go for a long run or hit the gym for an hour or two we can feel worn out and tired. Especially for those not accustomed to exercising regularly we can feel really tired after a small workout. This is the same with prayer, meditation and other spiritual goods.
I remember when I was wanting to increase the amount of prayer in my personal life I could definitely feel Hagiosthenia. I would only watch sermons on YouTube, I would try to learn as much as I could about Catholicism and I tried committing myself to praying the rosary everyday. After about a week or so of trying to do this I was completely worn out. I was just doing too much for my spiritual life to handle. I felt like I needed a break. However, I remember that we are called to pray unceasingly (1 Thess. 5:17), so I felt bad about taking a break. What was I supposed to do?
I found my answer. I had to commit to an active prayer life and just keep trying. It's the same with exercise. We can't just quit when we get tired or exercising, we have to keep doing it day after day so that we can get better at it. However, we have to be smart with how we steadily increase prayer, meditation and spiritual readings (the Bible, devotionals, books by the saints) in our lives just as we should be smart with how we exercise. A person who has never been to the gym before shouldn't try to deadlift 100kg. They could injure themselves and never want to exercise again. The same is true with the spiritual life. We shouldn't go from praying once a week to praying an hour, reading the Bible for half an hour and meditating for 15 minutes everyday. We'll end up overwhelmed and probably quit praying all together because we see that it's too hard to maintain. This is why we need to build up to more devotionals in our life. Just as we have to build up to heavier and heavier weights when we lift or longer and longer distances when we run.
If you are currently praying less than once a week and want to increase your prayer life then start off by praying once a day. It can be at night just before you go to bed or right in the morning just as you are getting up. It doesn't have to be a long prayer but aim for about 5 minutes a day. Do this for a couple of weeks and see how you go. If you are missing days then try to become more disciplined and set a specific time each day when no matter what you are doing you have to pray for 5 minutes. If you can pray everyday for 2 weeks straight then you can go to the next level.
If you are already praying about 5 minutes a day then why don't you start praying twice a day, once in the morning and once in the after noon. There are lots of good prayer books that have "morning and evening prayers" in them. These usually take about 5 minutes to pray each and it can help you get into the rhythm of praying set prayers more frequently. Now you have doubled your prayer time to 10 minutes each day. Try doing this again for two weeks straight without missing a morning or evening and then you should be ready to go to the next step.
If you are already praying morning and evening prayers each day then why don't you add a 5 decade rosary to your day. The rosary is a great way of advancing into the next stage of prayer known as mental prayer (there are nine stages in total with vocal prayer being the first). By adding meditation through the rosary each day you have gone from 10 minutes of prayer a day to about 20-30 minutes of prayer each day (depending on how quickly you pray the rosary). Try praying the rosary daily with your normal morning and evening prayer for three weeks straight without any missed days before moving on to the next stage. If you are meeting this stage of prayer then congratulations, you are living a healthy prayer life for a practicing Catholic. Catholics should be praying about 15 minutes each day. This roughly devoting 1/96th of your day to God. It doesn't seem like much does it?
For the next stage it really depends on what you want to focus on in your spiritual life. If you want to continue along the nine stages of prayer to divine union then I recommend reading The Ascent of Mount Carmel by St. John of the Cross or The Way of Perfection by St. Teresa of Avila. These books will teach you about the importance of detachment and growing in virtue. It's important that you make a conscious effort towards eliminating mortal sins, habitual sins and striving for virtue in your life if you wish to progress to the later stages of prayer. It would be encouraged to prayer the Divine Office or the liturgy of the hours. There are 7 hours in total and priests usually say 5 of the hours (Lauds, Either Trece or Sext or None, Vespers, Compline, Office of the Readings). It would also be encouraged to set aside some time in your day to just meditate. It could be with the Lectio Divina or some other personal meditation which you enjoy for about 30 minutes. It would also be encouraged to go to daily mass.
However, like the previous steps make sure you build up to these devotions as going straight from 25-30 minutes of prayer to 2 or so hours is a huge gap and may make you feel such Spiritual fatigue that you lose your previous good habits. I would recommend first reading one of those two books and then working on one of these things at a time (Daily mass, praying the Divine Office, Daily meditation) instead at all at once. If you reach the stage where you are doing all of these things each day then you are doing really well and should start to see the spiritual fruits of your hard work paying off.
I hope this helps you with growing your spiritual life of prayer at a good steady pace.