Decision-making is something with which I struggled a lot as a teenager and as a young adult in my 20s; no one really taught or showed me explicitly how to discern different choices I had and make decisions on important matters. And, even though I prayed diligently, I could never figure out what God was saying to me or wanted me to do. So, when the time came to start making big life decisions, I was very unsure of what to do, and was anxious and fearful of making wrong decisions. I remember my first big decision of choosing a post-secondary school, which triggered an episode of panic and depression that lasted over a month.
There have been many more important decisions I’ve made since then, and life continues to present big and small decisions that shape who I become and where I am heading in life. Being a Catholic who wants to follow Christ, I always want to know if my decisions follow God’s will and teachings of Jesus. In my struggle to make good and holy decisions, I’ve spent years reading books and articles on decision-making, praying to God for wisdom, and seeking and consulting many people who I considered wise. Of these people, spiritual directors have journeyed with me and helped me feel more confident about God’s will in my life.
My first formal spiritual direction was from a priest at Madonna House, a Catholic community in Combermere, Ontario. He described a spiritual director as someone who journeys with people and helps them recognize God’s presence and voice in their lives. I’ve also received informal spiritual direction from a religious sister at Daughters of St. Paul in Toronto and from a lay prayer director at a local parish; I say ‘informal’, because we did not designate our conversations and meetings as spiritual direction. All of them gladly spent time to get to know me, listened to my stories, empathized with me, and shared their insights and wisdom. I heard of people who charge a fee for spiritual direction; however, from my experience, most spiritual directors would be happy to help you without any fees.
I’ve shared a lot about my past experiences, present concerns and situations, and hopes and dreams for future with my spiritual directors. They helped me to see how my past experiences – particularly, the difficult or painful ones – contributed to the incorrect and skewed view of God I held. This view of God was affecting my current relationship with Him, preventing me from knowing and discerning His will correctly. My spiritual directors also could recognize things that my own spirit might be saying, which I may have failed to notice due to the lack of objectivity about myself and my circumstances. Based on their knowledge of God, me, and teachings of Jesus, these spiritual directors provided guidance, suggestions, and wisdom about matters in my life.
For example, the thought of joining a convent plagued me for a long time. I use the word ‘plague’, because it was a very strong, yet unwanted, obsession about being a nun; I felt that being a nun is a holy thing that I should pursue as a Catholic woman, but I also felt guilty for not wanting to become one. During one spiritual direction session, the Madonna House priest helped me realize that my wounds from painful experiences formed a view of mean and demanding God who asks of me difficult (albeit holy) things. Due to these wounds, I believed subconsciously that holiness was sacrificing my happiness and desire to do good things – whether I want to do them or not. Through many more spiritual direction sessions and opportunities for healing (that the priest recommended, such as healing conferences), I became mostly free of this image of God and wrong ideas of holiness and sacrifice. I learned that true holiness and sacrifices are of love and joy, even if they may be difficult at times. I discerned that being a religious sister is not my vocation, and I don’t feel guilty about it anymore. I am not yet sure what my vocation is, but I rejoice in my present situation of being a single person and discerning my vocation with more freedom, clarity, and peace. I still struggle with the image of this demanding God, but then, I try to remember what I learned during spiritual direction sessions and reject the lies about God and myself.
The last time I had a spiritual director was four years ago. Even though a continuous spiritual direction would be ideal, I realized that I was depending too much on my spiritual director and was too anxious about trusting myself and discerning God’s will on my own. While it’s important to listen to spiritual directors and follow their guidance, it’s also important to develop your own good discernment skills. Even though the thought of not having a formal spiritual guidance was scary, I wanted to learn how to listen to God and my heart on my own, learn to trust myself, and trust that God will guide me to right places if I have the holiest intentions and try to live according to His will.
Another reason I (temporarily) stopped spiritual direction was that I gained clarity about the kinds of support I needed, especially in times of challenge. Spiritual directors can become close companions in your spiritual life and journey on earth, so I think it makes a difference to have a spiritual director who is compatible with you. My own criteria for good spiritual directors would be people who are empathetic, sensitive, warm, supportive, wise, and trustworthy (since spiritual direction can involve sharing intimate details of your life). They should be not only knowledgeable in the Catholic teachings but should also actively live out those teachings in their lives. I’ve met a girl whose criteria were different from mine; she preferred someone who was blunt and direct, with less sensitivity. Her criteria seemed to mirror her own personality, and the best way she takes in information and feels supported. So consider your own personality, situation, and needs as well when deciding the kind of spiritual directors with whom you feel comfortable journeying in life.
Even though I do not have formal spiritual direction at the moment, I have been seeking guidance and wisdom from other Catholics (e.g., talking to a priest from a local parish and to close Catholic friends) before making important decisions. I may be better now at discerning God’s will and making decisions accordingly, but I try not to be proud in what I think I know and try to run my discernment process by trustworthy people who follow Christ. I consider these people companions in my spiritual journey. I pray that God will find me a new spiritual director when the time is right.
I also pray that, if you are seeking help in navigating through your life, you will find holy and wise spiritual directors who can journey with you and help you discern God’s will for you. Through these spiritual directors, I hope you develop keen spiritual ‘ears’ to hear God in your life, and skills to discern His will and make good decisions. Perhaps, when you’ve developed these skills and learned to recognize God in your life, you could return the love and support you received by becoming spiritual companions (or even spiritual directors!) to someone else.
About the Author: Theresa Kim is a blog writer for Faith Connections. She is an aspiring freelance writer and a polymath with many, many interests and passions, including writing, visual arts, mathematics, social justice, and (of course) God and the Catholic Church.