Updated: Sep 23, 2019
Horned Toads & Spiritual Dryness
The Horned Toad
As kids growing up in Arizona, our most favorite of all lizards to catch was the horned toad, or “Horny Toad” as most kids called them. They are generally found up north in the woods and are slower than most lizards, making them a bit easier to catch. They are pretty chill and docile and are just adorable. There is also a dark side to them that every boy knew--they can squirt blood from their eye if they feel threatened! What the boys didn’t know, however, was that most of the ones in Arizona are unable to do that trick. *Yay for the girls!* More importantly, they are able to survive here because they don’t lose as much water because of all those horns. Horny Toad spines are not true horns; they are actually modified reptile scales which prevent water loss through the skin.
How Does This Relate to Spiritual Dryness?
Spiritual dryness is basically spiritual “meh” or lack of spirituality in one's life. It is a form of spiritual crisis experienced subjectively as a sense of separation or distance from God. It’s essentially a lack of spiritual feeling at any given time, even during prayer. In Catholic spirituality, it can be synonymous with the term desolation.
I think individuals can fall into these periods at any given time. In order to survive, some grow a thick skin full of thorns, much like my dear childhood critter pals. They don’t feel connected, and they wish they did. They don’t cry from any overwhelming feeling...but they might *want* to cry sometimes *because* they don’t feel.
I felt this way once. Many years ago, I was sitting in Relief Society, and everyone was tearing up and “feeling the Spirit” as a woman shared a gut-wrenching event that had happened in her life. Sadly, I cannot even remember the content of story, but I sat there feeling like I was just not spiritual enough to relate in any meaningful way. Spiritual dryness.
Remember how I said that some horned toads shoot blood from their eyes? I can see how a person who goes through spiritual dryness would almost want to give up, walk away, and shoot out some angry words over how “emotional” Mormons have to be, therefore they don’t value realism and logic.
I often wonder if that figurative "blood shooting" is anything more than sadness for the dashed hopes and dreams of not being able to feel what others feel so deeply. I wonder if some are just recoiling in a forceful display of tears? Hmmm.
I remember sitting there in that Relief Society room, pleading that God could help me figure out why I was just not able to connect anymore because it scared me. Was I becoming spiritually dead?
Why Does This Happen? What Can We Do?
Well, I would be a monumental idiot if I tried to explain why. The reasons can be anything from a mental health disorder to unresolved issues. The sky is the limit. It’s even believed that it could be part of Heavenly Father's plan for us to experience these types of moments. Whatever it is, I have two words to offer.
This is a latin phrase translated to “know thyself.” I could go on and on about the fascinating history of this Greek Delphic maxim, but you’d run away screaming. Just know, it's a very very old maxim, predating even the birth of Christ, and it’s straightforward, pulling no punches.
Now, you could be sitting there thinking, “But I am pretty sure I know myself. I have known myself all my life! I’m an expert on myself!” However, the sad thing is, we often don’t even know what is truly going on inside our bodies. I lived with a brain tumor and a very large aneurysm for many years, totally unaware.
Here are some horrifying questions (yay!) to illustrate my point:
Do you notice when hormones play a part in your health and choices?
Are you aware of all your behavioral patterns?
How do you feel when you see other people get hurt?
Are you actually processing your feelings in an emotionally healthy manner?
Do people often get upset or angry from your loose, assertive tongue?
Are you able to prepare for your mood changes before they occur? (E.G. I'm not myself today; I didn't get enough sleep last night. You may want to write down what you need so I don't forget.)
Are you pretending with a plastic smile that everything is sunshine and buttercups so no one will find out the truth--that you are a hot mess?
Are you embarrassed of your own emotions?
Do you find it hard to tell people anything negative?
Do you deal with depression and or suicidal thoughts?
Do you constantly excuse or over-analyze your poor behavior?
What day or time of the month are you the most emotionally challenged? *…and yes both males and females endure monthly hormonal cycles, thank you very much. ;-)*
How Does Temet Nosce Help Spiritual Dryness?
A lack of true empathy, the ability to understand and share the feelings of another, is the source of spiritual dryness. It may be physiological or psychological. It can be an old spiritual wound we refuse to see, or even a lack of experiences with adversity and suffering. When you understand more about who you are and how you function, you start to uncover what is barring you from stronger feelings of empathy, and that can lead to resolving spiritual dryness.
Once I started to really make an effort, I realized that there were a lot of issues that came into play for me. I had to work hard to become more authentic, to toss out self-centered behaviors AND self hate. It could be as simple as a vitamin D deficiency. Our health affects our Spirit and vice versa, hence the importance of the Word of Wisdom. If you start to see patterns of depression, suicidal thoughts, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic attack disorder or any issues relating back to your body or mental health, reach out to a professional.
When I have feelings I don’t understand, like jealousy or a lack of self-worth, I am reminded to dig down and unearth the root of this weed. Where did it originate? Doing this allows us to combat certain forms of spiritual dryness that we create ourselves.
I am thankful to say that over the years I have become every bit the loving, caring, open, and feeling person I wanted to be that day in Relief Society. I also know that there are even higher and holier levels of empathy, and I strive to become better by degrees. I trust in Jesus Christ fully to help me do this--which is HUGE for someone with trust issues. I also believe that, like a muscle, our empathy needs constant daily use. Over time it gets stronger, which has all but made me into a bawl baby some days (sarcastically thanks empathy...). However, I am no longer like my dry, beloved, childhood lizard. I’ve moved on to greener pastures.
I look for chances to feel.
I look for the hearts of people outside of what they do.
I look for those in need of love, even when they are challenging or rude.
I look past words to the speaker's intent.
I look for my Heavenly Father’s thoughts of my worth.
I look for opportunities to open up and be vulnerable because I don’t need to be protected from anyone, and I know it will help others open up as well.
I have enough empathy to tell the truth of what I think or believe in a tactful way.
I look past the person to their potential to become a celestial being.
I look upon the sacrament table, seeing the slain body of Christ wrapped in white linens, and imagine what that would have been like to be there physically.
I RECORD MY SPIRITUAL FEELINGS IN A JOURNAL!!
Like Shakespeare said, I, too, now find, “tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in everything.”
These are the rains of my religion.
If there is one thing I know, this Arizona girl loves to feel the rain.