I've written about some of my experiences with spiritual direction before, but I've never really devoted an entire post to the topic. Perhaps I will someday, but until then I am very excited to welcome my first guest post by Christina!
For anyone who is unfamiliar with the concept of spiritual direction and what it’s all about, let me give you the five cent definition. Spiritual direction is when a person meets with a priest/nun/monk/well-formed lay person to talk about their spiritual life. You’ll talk about how you’re praying, how often, what you struggle with, major themes you notice (or they might notice for you), and perhaps a plan for going forward from where you are. It has a great deal to do with self-awareness, but you’ll also be trying to listen for God’s voice or see His hand in your life. Additionally, they’re a fantastic help if you’re discerning your vocation, and that’s where my story starts.
I was away from the Church for most of my high school career, and reverted to the faith shortly before my freshman year of college began. I had a serious conversion of heart on a retreat that September, and threw myself wholeheartedly into the practice of my faith. I was on cloud nine for a while, going to daily Mass, weekly Adoration, and occasionally cutting my math class to have lunch with the missionaries on campus and two very wonderful religious sisters, and I naturally began to think about entering the religious life myself. However, what began as a passing thought quickly became a matter which consumed my prayer completely. After about three weeks of torturous grappling with it, I decided I had to speak to the university’s chaplain.
I went into his office and very nervously told him that I thought God was calling me to the religious life. I don’t recall what he said, but I do remember that he was much too calm for my comfort, seeming almost to take the news in stride as if I’d informed him of what lovely weather we were having. I was upset by his reaction and confused with what this would mean for me. Would I drop out of school to enter a convent? Would I still be called to the religious life if I finished my degree before pursuing it? The chaplain could see how upset I was, and took me into the chapel to talk. He reassured me that if I was actually being called to the religious life, this wasn’t a bad thing. It’s a beautiful vocation, and the women who are called to it live with extraordinary joy. If I wasn’t being called to religious life, that wasn’t a bad thing, either. Either way, he told me, I should stop trying to actively discern, since I was so new to the faith, and that I should remember that no matter what my vocation ended up being, whatever God called me to would be my happiness (this is one of his favorite things to say).
It was at that point that he recommended that I see him each moth for spiritual direction. Since then, he’s helped me work through some serious issues. When my parents, angered by the change in political views my religious orthodoxy had brought about, pulled me from the Newman Center’s World Youth Day trip and I thought they would force me to spend the next three years at UConn, I was in his office looking for guidance. When I was afraid to go home to my very lax Catholic family for the summer, where I would have none of the support I enjoyed at school, I was talking to him. When I thought once again that I might be called to the religious life, he was counseling me on what to do. When I experienced a sudden and painful spiritual dry spell during my sophomore year, he was helping me work through it. Even working through some very personal issues that affected my spiritual life, I went to the chaplain in spiritual direction.
Of course, I don’t want to give the impression that spiritual directors only help you deal with the tough stuff in your spiritual life. Liesl and I have the same spiritual director, and though he has a unique relationship with each of the people under his direction, he and I have a slightly weirder relationship than most. We make fun of each other a lot, we used to get into a few (lighthearted) physical tussles, and occasionally I will invade his office, take up one of his couches, and we’ll just laugh at the awkward non-sequitur of a situation. We laugh a lot, talk about sports, he’ll occasionally tease me for being a nerd like one of our more recent seminarians, and he’ll guide me through good or emotionally neutral time in my spiritual life, as well. He’ll recommend books I should read or new prayers I could say, either to expand my horizons or to correspond to what’s going on with my prayer life. He’s also my confessor, which helps him and me identify patterns and signs more easily because we see most of what’s going on together, rather than me knowing everything and forgetting to tell him something important or relevant.
Even as a young woman who hasn’t discerned her vocation and doesn’t have a degree yet, I can definitely say that spiritual direction is a tremendous help in my life. It allows me to reorient myself every so often, like a pilot making sure the plane is on course, except with heaven as my destination, it’s not so much about keeping on the only route that will get me there as determining which route God is calling me to take. I imagine that eventually, whether I move away for grad school or work or any other circumstance, I will need to find a new spiritual director. This isn’t an uncommon occurrence, and though I dislike the thought because I also think of mine as a quirky older brother figure, I’m more or less reconciled to the idea that it will happen. In any case, I thank God for my spiritual director and his wise guidance, as well as for allowing me to grow closer to Him through spiritual direction and its fruits.
If you would like to learn more about spiritual direction, you can visit Catholic Spiritual Direction, though you will have to sort through it a little bit, depending on your familiarity with the subject. If you want a spiritual director, ask around with anyone you know who has one. You can also ask any priests or other religious you know to guide you or point you in the right direction for a spiritual director. I hope I’ve helped you all out a little bit by telling the story of my experience with spiritual direction, and I want to thank Liesl for giving me the opportunity to do so. God bless, everyone!