I finally got a spiritual director.
What? You’ve never heard of such a thing? Well, you’ve heard of personal trainers, right? Coaches? Teachers? These days, if you’re looking to…
- get in shape
- lose weight
- excel at a sport
- become a virtuoso
- get motivated
…you’ll likely seek out an expert who can help you. So, if we do this for our body and our mind, why not for our spirit?
St. John of the Cross once said, “The blind person who falls will not be able to get up alone; the blind person who does get up alone will go off on the wrong road.” In other words, we all have ‘blind spots’ in our spiritual life: personal weaknesses or things we don’t notice about ourselves. We need the guidance of another person to overcome those, and to help us choose the right path.
Spiritual direction is an ancient practice that continues today. However, most people don’t know that they can (or should) seek a spiritual director, unless they are a clergyman or a consecrated man or woman. The reality is, spiritual direction is for everyone!
The principal objective of spiritual direction…is to discern the signs of God’s will for our journey of vocation, prayer, perfection, for our daily life, and for our fraternal mission.*
In plain English, that means a spiritual director will help you understand God’s calling for you, how to improve your prayer life, get rid of sin, live your faith daily, and understand how you can best serve others.
So, why not seek a spiritual director? For many years, my answer was simple: I don’t like asking for help. Yup, I’m a prideful dame. (There’s spiritual problem #1!) In high school and university, I thought God might be calling me to religious life (‘become a nun’), and for people considering religious or clerical life, spiritual direction is very common. I heard about spiritual directors frequently from my peers, and I watched them grow in holiness before my eyes.
Frequently, I wondered whether I should get a spiritual director, but I’d always give excuses, such as:
- I don’t know who to pick as my spiritual director.
- I only want a priest to be my spiritual director, but priests are too busy. I don’t want to bother them.
- I already know a lot about spiritual things. I’ll leave the spiritual directors for people who don’t.
- I’m doing OK spiritually.
- I can work things out myself.
- I’m too busy.
These excuses built up over time, until finally, God knocked me over the head with a two-by-four (sent me a plethora of signs, and threw my all excuses out the window), making it abundantly clear that I should ask a priest-acquaintance if he would be my spiritual director.
Now, I meet with Father every month for an hour. It’s great! You’d think that it’d be very somber or serious, and while we do have serious discussions, it seems I laugh more during spiritual direction than I do on a typical day! Spiritual direction has brought so much joy and insight into my life.
When I have questions, or when I’m having trouble making a decision, I receive support from Father. Our conversations always contribute to my personal growth. As I enact his guidance in my daily life, I feel more assured that I’m going down the path that God wants for me. Overall, this one-on-one spiritual direction has helped me with something that I have struggled with: now I’m more clearly seeing myself as I truly am, through God’s eyes.
As someone who was long-opposed to seeking a spiritual director, I encourage and challenge you to consider it for yourself. Take this intention to prayer, and ask God to help you know whether someone should be your spiritual director. It does not have to be a priest; consecrated religious sisters or brothers, or trained lay people can also act as guide and companion on your pilgrimage of life.
As she has never failed to do, again today the Church continues to recommend the practice of spiritual direction, not only to all those who wish to follow the Lord closely, but to every Christian who wishes to live responsibly his baptism, that is, the new life in Christ. Everyone, in fact, and in a particular way all those who have received the divine call to a closer following, needs to be supported personally by a sure guide in doctrine and expert in the things of God. […] [Spiritual direction] is a matter of establishing that same personal relationship that the Lord had with his disciples, that special bond with which he led them, following him, to embrace the will of the Father (cf. Luke 22:42), that is, to embrace the cross.
– Pope Benedict XVI, Address to the Pontifical Theological Faculty Teresianum, 2011
Ways to Learn More:
- Navigating the Interior Life by Daniel Burke, with Fr. John Bartunek, LC (Emmaus Press)
- Watch a video: “Do you need a spiritual director?” Interview with author Daniel Burke
*Taken from The Priest, Minister of Divine Mercy, by The Congregation for the Clergy. Vatican City: Vatican Press, 2011.