I need a spiritual director. It’s not safe to develop my spiritual life alone. I need a spiritual fitness coach like my body needs a fitness coach. Where do I begin? How do I know he’s the right one? What can I expect in spiritual direction? Basic questions that are surprisingly hard to answer. Fortunately, God did not abandon me. I see the light. And, I’d like to share, in case others might be facing the same problem.
There was an Advent Penance Service on Monday. My wife and I went, and as I was doing my examination of conscience, I recognized the threat my spiritual life was facing: I was on fire for God, but I am constantly being led astray. I would lose spiritual battles either from the devil’s tricks, the world’s seduction, or the weakness of my flesh. There was a pattern of failure: the more in love I am with God, the more vicious the spiritual struggle. It’s especially difficult after Confession, or on Sundays after Communion.
So, during Confession on Monday, I asked my priest where I could get spiritual direction. He was open to the task, but I suspected he might be too busy. I didn’t want to put him more on the spot than I already was at the moment. I mean, he just absolved me from my sins. It seemed ungrateful to guilt him into such a commitment. Although I left feeling the sublime joy of reconciliation, the question of finding a spiritual director stayed with me.
The need for a director is becoming more pressing because of other decisions I’m considering. I’m afraid of going down the wrong path. I’ve been discerning whether I should volunteer as a catechist, for example, in addition to singing in the choir. Should I get a MA in Theology or just get continuing education courses as a catechism instructor? Long-term, like when my daughters are older, I am discerning whether God is calling me to the permanent diaconate. These are some big decisions. I still have a full-time job as a diplomat, another full-time job as a husband & father. There’s so much room for pride to sneak in, temptations for shortcuts, and distractions in worldly pursuits. A spiritual director, I hope, will help me see my blind spots. Like an athletic coach, he would see where I need training and give me an idea (a direction) on how to win the championship title: a faithful child of God. Sainthood. Eternal life with my Creator.
God bless Dan Burke and Fr. John Bartunek! They created a wonderful website about spiritual direction, and I found many comments highly recommending their book, “Navigating the Interior Life: Spiritual Direction and the Journey to God.” I quickly got my questions answered: What is spiritual direction? It’s “a relationship through which we come to better know, love, and follow Christ through the help of a kind of spiritual coach.” He lists what spiritual direction is not:
- It is not a boss/employee relationship: just as with a coach in any sport, the athlete is the one that is ultimately in control.
- It is not confession: while one’s confessor also used to be spiritual directors, that is no longer necessarily the case.
- It is not spiritual friendship: like a coach, the directee needs to be firmly challenged, pushed, and encouraged toward concrete progress.
- It is not a Catholic self-help program: it’s not just a quick pep talk and then we go about on our own again. There’s a relationship that’s needed for the director to see one’s blind spots.
- It’s not psychological counseling: one needs to seek specially-trained professionals for serious emotional/psychological issues.
- It is not a one-time emergency-room event
- It is not wandering around with a spiritual companion
The main focus of spiritual direction is union with God. The central aim of spiritual direction is to help guide the directee to purposefully, consistently, and substantively grow in their relationship with God and neighbor. It’s about developing a love relationship with God that inevitably spills into all other areas of our lives.
God has yet to provide me a spiritual director, but He’s letting me know that I’m not alone. He’s sending help. I just need to be patient, pray for additional guidance, and be persistent about this goal. It’s a good thing. Our Father loves giving us good things. It’s all about timing.