How Spiritual Direction helps with discernment

Before I could drive a car, before I earned a diploma, I began asking the big question: “What should I do with my life?”

The question stormed in my heart and head right along with its companions — confusion, discontentment, restlessness and, at times, agony. I really didn’t know what to do with all my passion, dreams, desires and hopes. I wanted to do many things and experience the wonders of the world, but I wasn’t sure how to start or where to focus. The possibilities practically made me dizzy.

Since early childhood, my heart has been drawn to God. I was concerned about God’s will for me. (And I didn’t have a clue what the phrase “God’s will” meant!) I was a conflicted, anti-conformist teenager. Of course I wanted to fit in and be liked, but I didn’t want to do anything for the wrong reasons!

In those days, I made up a prayer that became like a mantra for me:

God, help me to be more concerned about what you think of me than with what other people think of me.

In other words, because I loved God, pleasing God was my priority. (It still is!) It’s only natural: when one is in love they want to know and please the one they love.

During my teen years and young adulthood, these prayers and desires offered me direction and helped me make some good but difficult decisions. To help better understand the faith that I professed and follow the nudges I was feeling from the Spirit, I transferred from a Lutheran to a Catholic college half way through my collegiate experience.

Now I can look back and see that along the my journey, God used the elements of my life to guide and change me. Little by little, I was learning what I needed to say yes to love and to develop into the person that God made me to be. In other words, God was helping me to live with authenticity and joy, to be more fully alive and true to myself.

Now I can see how God was working in my life (retrospect is 20/20 vision, right?), but I am not so sure I could at that time. I am not so sure I trusted the clues and messages, the guideposts coming from God that revealed an answer to that big tormenting question: “What should I do with my life?” In fact, I remember feeling very confused most of the time.

Until I started seeing a spiritual director.

Meeting with a spiritual director is a practice that dates back to the earliest years of Christianity. When one is experiencing spiritual direction, exploring how the Holy Mystery is active and involved in their life, they are in a safe, confidential and non-judgmental space. It’s a place to process experiences, to unpack faith and doubt.

Ultimately, when I meet with a spiritual director, I feel as if I am on a holy ground. It’s holy ground because the wonders (and challenges!) of my life are illumined and tended to with reverence and care. This helps me to see my story as sacred. When the events of my life are given honor and attention in the act of holy listening a light shines upon my experiences. I start to see more clearly, and I can gain clarity about reality. I can see how God is guiding me, what the Spirit is inviting me to when my sacred story is in the spotlight.

Photo by Ahmed Hasan on Unsplash

With my sacred story illumined, I usually gain a sense of awe as I see how God is at work in my life. Sometimes I also see what is complicating or blocking our relationship. Again and again, as I grow in faith and wisdom, I am invited to greater depth in prayer. I gain courage to take leaps of faith, to give Christ my trust too. I develop an ability to follow Christ more closely and serve God and God’s people with bold and brave love.

Almost every month for nearly 20 years I have visited with a spiritual director. I now have the joy of serving as a spiritual director too. As a minister to discerners for my Franciscan community, I companion women discerning vocation and frequently encourage spiritual direction. By the way, when choosing a spiritual director, please ensure that they are in fact qualified and certified! Consider the first meeting a trial to see if it feels like a fit. Ask the director where they were trained and about their philosophies and experience. Part of taking care of oneself is to carefully and selectively choose the person with whom to share deeply personal questions, thoughts and feelings.

I doubt I would have gained the clarity and courage I needed to trust Jesus — to follow him into a life of Franciscan Sisterhood — without spiritual direction in my discernment. Without someone acting like a mirror and reflecting back to me what what was true, I doubt I would have gained the courage to take the needed steps on my life path. Without spiritual direction, I doubt I would have discovered what gives my life meaning and joy. What I know now is that spiritual direction definitely helps guide discernment and discipleship.

If the question “what should I do with my life?” torments you at all, I cannot recommend spiritual direction strongly enough. This ancient spiritual practice, available to you both virtually and in person, is a significant tool in your search for meaning and purpose.

When someone listens to our stories — holds them with compassion — we gain strength to listen to our own hearts and the ability to hear messages from the Divine. With the encouragement of spiritual direction, we start to say “yes, I will do that with my life!” We are empowered to choose love, healing and freedom. I sure did, and I hope you do too.

How to Find a Certified Spiritual Director to Help You Discern Your Vocation

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