Having a Spiritual Director

A few years ago, I found myself smack dab in “mid life” gasping for air. I couldn’t breath. The reality that my 20-year marriage had ended left me shocked. It was as if I had been run over by a truck — a big mud truckjeep-1318706_1280. Confused and unable to think clearly, I sought help from my parish priest.

The loss of my marriage was the initial reason I sought spiritual direction. Obviously, I needed professional counseling, which I received, but I also needed someone to guide me under the rule of the divine. Left to my own human feelings and sinfulness, I was headed on a path to destruction— in the opposite direction from union with God. I was headed out the door with a wrecking ball!

Spiritual direction is defined as being under the guidance of one who is trained in Scripture and Catholic doctrine and helps you become aware, or “awaken” you, to the spiritual relationship you have with God. In my case, I initially thought God was absent; however, that was not true. God was there, and had been all along; I was not listening. I was too absorbed in my own life, my home and what I wanted to do.

My first spiritual director was my parish priest. I came to my first appointment full of anger, hurt and sin. Because of my situation, he met with me more frequently than under normal circumstances. But eventually, we would meet once a month for an hour. His role was to direct me to the workings of the Holy Spirit in my life. As I would learn, prayer would become essential for me to move forward.

In spiritual direction, I was looking at my relationship with Christ. This was most helpful to me for I wanted to dwell on what I saw as “character flaws” in my husband. There was no need for that. I had my own character flaws to deal with and I spent time in direction learning how to change myself. I learned how to deepen my relationship with Christ. I would learn how to be humble and patient — characteristics of Christ, not me — which took a spiritually mature person to teach me.

After many months in direction, my parish priest was transferred to a new city and a new parish. By this time, I knew spiritual direction was mandatory for me if I was to grow spiritually through my loss. I had grown to love the peace which came with prayer and silence — something my priest encouraged for me.

My second spiritual director, and the one I still see today, is a woman in my parish trained in spiritual mentorship. I have met with her monthly for over three years now. She has maneuvered with me through my life experiences of the death of my mother, the end of my marriage and a bout with cancer. Her gentle guidance, and sometimes rebuke, has been indescribable because it has brought peace to my life.

I will admit, we’ve had some tough topics to conquer — forgiveness, honesty, and taking a look at that “wooden beam in my own eyes” (Matthew 7:3). My spiritual director is good for me because she points me to the truth. Without her guidance and prayer, I hesitate to think where my life in Christ might be. I envision I would be stuck under that muddy tire.

My life today is not what I had dreamed, but it is “my life” in Christ. Without spiritual direction, I feel I could have become a bitter, old lady. Instead, I am a woman seeking the heart of Christ, a woman with compassion for others who are hurting. The road is not always smooth, but what does Christ tell us? How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life (Matthew 7:14).

Silence on Retreat

I recently attended a 7-day spirituality retreat offered through the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas. The week was filled with study, prayer, daily Mass, spiritual direction, a movie and many meals. There were 100 other men and women from around the United States on this retreat with me. The priests and sisters from the Apostles of the Interior Life, the archdiocese School of Faith team and the Holy Spirit lead us during the week.

Day 6 was a day of silence. No talking! During that day, I wrote these thoughts as I was reflecting on what had occurred while on retreat. I will share my insights with you.


 

Now, I come to a place of rest. A day of silence. A time and space to sit and reflect with Our Lord on what has transpired in me. It is starting to sink in that God is asking me to be an instrument of His love. He is calling me to continue loving His Son and allowing His Son to love me so I can love others. The emotions are real, they are deep and, as is typical for me, there are tears.

Mark 6:30-32 The apostles gathered together with Jesus and reported all they had done and taught. He said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.”

I’ve tried to meet each person attending this session. This is the third time in a year we’ve been together for a 7-day stretch. I’m sure I’ve not met everyone, but each person I’ve met has touched me in a different way. What amazes me about this process is how the Holy Spirit takes my first impression and shows me how I am judgmental. When I am allowed to sit and get to know one of God’s children on a personal level, all of my first impressions are proven wrong.

We have studied the lost art of having meaningful conversations this week. There is no small talk about the weather, our clothing or our children. We are asked to go to that next level of deeper conversation. During this time, a friend disclosed her marriage problems. She knows of my divorce and that God has provided strength. I am able to assure her that God hears prayer and he works for our good.

At breakfast, a man discussed the reality of his life. “How have you handled your wife living in a nursing home and being left to raise your 6 children?” I asked him. My heart softens as I hear him tell me how all 6 of his children do their own laundry. I discover the strength God has given him to endure. Before he spoke, however, I only saw his round, soft belly, his bald head and the t-shirt he was wearing. But through his words of courage, I saw his heart. Jesus shows me how much He loves this man.

During one of my daily breaks, I checked my emails. I had an email from my family practice doctor. A recent CAT revealed several cysts on my kidney. The doctor tells me I need to go see a nephrologist. My health issues continue and I’m determined my suffering will not be wasted. I believe in redemptive suffering.

It was a wonderful week. The great “take away” for me is the importance of silence. If I allow no time in my day to silently reflect, how can I know which way God is leading me? How can I hear his voice? How can I rest? I’m convinced silence is a must in my life.

The 1st Thanksgiving

This was my 4th Thanksgiving as a single, separated (not yet divorced) mother. I’ll admit, it’s become much easier. This year, my heart was drawn to all of my friends and relatives who are single. The holiday season can be a time of loneliness. I chose to keep my mind focused on those who were single or widowed and pray for them throughout my day. This brought me peace.

This year was much different from my first Thanksgiving as a separated mother. My first year apart from my daughters was a shock. It wpumpkin-704626_1280as 2012 and I had been diagnosed with breast cancer on October 29th. My plans had been to be in Florida with my family and extended family. We had planned a beach-front Thanksgiving vacation six months in advance. Instead of the beach, I found myself alone in Little Rock with breast
cancer. Devastation.

It appeared God was playing the cruelest of jokes on me. I had discovered an unfaithful husband and Stage 2 breast cancer a month earlier. It didn’t seem real to me and it didn’t seem like my life. Up until that point, I had not suffered an illness or a loss of that magnitude. But, I would soon discover, God showed up for me everywhere I turned.

The first place I discovered God that Thanksgiving was in my father. He had buried my mom just four months earlier in July 2012. My parents had been married 51 years when my mom died of cancer. She had struggled for 8 years with what began as colon cancer. Had it not been for my circumstances, my dad would have been left at home alone for his first Thanksgiving without his wife. I was so grateful to be with him. How could I possibly mope around all weekend when my father was grieving?

On Thanksgiving morning, the two of us went to Mass. The priest reminded us to be thankful. I had to dig deep into my heart to be thankful for anything. I soon discovered I was truly thankful I had a father who was still alive and could sit with me in worship. I was thankful I had three brothers who I could depend on to help me. I was thankful I was alive and the cancer was treatable.

The second place I discovered God was at a wedding. My father and I attended a Saturday evening wedding that weekend. The groom was one of my dad’s golfing buddies. I witnessed two senior citizens giddy with love. Their love offered me hope. I realized that sad times had preceded this wedding because both bride and groom had lost their first spouses. There was a moment in the wedding where the priest remembered both of their former spouses. Tears were shed.

The groom’s daughter, who I met for the first time at the wedding, was a breast cancer survivor. She shared her story with me at the reception and filled me with confidence. I knew that I could go back home and tackle my cancer. It was as if God had placed me at that wedding to show me He had plans for me. I just needed to trust Him because He had my back.

Yes, this Thanksgiving was much easier and time has helped heal my wounds. But more than time, the family God gave me has helped me heal. I have a father and three brothers who I love. I also have a heavenly Father and many brothers and sisters in Christ who sustain me in my weakness and loneliness. God has proven himself over and over to me these last 4 Thanksgiving holidays.

My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.
2 Corinthians 12:9