I vividly remember standing in line for Confession on a Saturday afternoon nervously fidgeting in the pew, my mind divided between praying a decade of the Rosary and going over my list of sins to confess.
When it was my turn, the priest who had been hearing confessions had to leave. The priest taking his place was one I knew well and had gone to regularly for spiritual direction several months before. I worried that he would chastise me for not having been to spiritual direction in so long, especially after I finished confessing all my sins to him, tearfully and clearly with great frustration.
Instead, he gently asked if I had discussed any of these struggles at length with a priest, or with anyone for that matter. Embarrassed, I said no. Truthfully, I’d stopped going to spiritual direction in part because it was difficult to talk through the things I struggled with. I was afraid to make myself vulnerable.
After praying the prayers of absolution and assigning me a ridiculously easy penance, Monsignor encouraged me to return to spiritual direction. I felt more peace leaving that confessional than I had in months and took God’s not-so-subtle hint that it was time to embrace spiritual direction once again.
And I’m grateful I did! Here are some reasons why seeing a spiritual director regularly is good for my soul — and can be for yours, too.
You’ll grow in your understanding of God’s mercy
Though experiences may differ slightly, spiritual direction usually involves meeting with an individual — clergy, consecrated, or a layperson — who is trained in offering guidance on how to help us see where God is working in our lives.
To some degree, we make ourselves vulnerable before our spiritual director when we reveal some struggle — whether it’s spiritual desolation, a particular sin, doubt, or a tense relationship. But this vulnerability is what helps us progress in our spiritual lives, not only reminding us of the unfathomable mercy of God but also allowing mercy to work in us when we invite God into all the messy, ugly places of our hurt, fear, shame, or pride.
In my own life, spiritual direction has helped me overcome the struggle of scrupulosity — an inordinate fear that even the smallest, insignificant things are grave sins. The scrupulous person usually focuses on God’s wrath long before his love, which was certainly the case for me.
Talking out this struggle with my spiritual director helped me to not only understand the difference between a mortal and venial sin, but it also helped me focus more on God’s love and mercy.
You’ll gain an objective perspective in the midst of discernment
A spiritual director can also provide an objective perspective in discernment, no matter what’s being discerned. Whether that’s a vocation, job, relationship, or starting a new devotion like fasting or praying the Liturgy of the Hours.
When it comes to big decisions in life, family and friends can be supportive, but sometimes they’re not the most unbiased voices in the conversation. A spiritual director adds a perspective that emphasizes what God wills for your life. Ideally, you’ll be able to discuss your various options without feeling swayed one way or another because your spiritual director’s first priority is to help you do what God wants you to do.
This was especially helpful for me in my own vocational discernment. For many months, I struggled with discerning whether I was called to further pursue religious life, and it was a source of great anxiety.
Discussing my concerns and apprehensions with my spiritual director helped me to understand the meaning of a vocation and to approach discernment with greater peace and trust in God’s will for my life.
A spiritual director won’t necessarily (and probably shouldn’t) give you career, relationship, or financial advice, but they can help you keep your eyes focused on where they need to be in any discernment process — upon God.
You’ll grow in self-knowledge
If you’re new to spiritual direction, it may take some time to find a spiritual director with whom you feel comfortable. But once you’ve discovered a spiritual match, seeing this person regularly over a period of time can help you grow immensely in self-knowledge.
In my case, I’ve always gone to spiritual direction with the same priest at the same time that I go to Confession. Over time, my spiritual director has pointed out progress in areas that I previously struggled (scrupulosity, for example) and has affirmed and encouraged me in this progress.
But remember that it’s not just priests who can offer spiritual direction. Religious brothers and sisters and trained lay people can also serve as spiritual directors. The important thing is to find someone with whom you are comfortable speaking on a multitude of topics, who you respect for their own holiness, and who you can consider a spiritual mentor of sorts.
You’ll grow in holiness
Making myself vulnerable before my spiritual director and asking for spiritual guidance has taught me true humility. Humility that invites God into my struggles and triumphs. Regular spiritual direction has helped me grow in understanding God’s mercy, and making myself vulnerable in this way has truly enabled me to more clearly see God at work in my life.
You don’t have to be suffering from a major crisis or carrying a heavy cross to benefit from spiritual direction. Whether your trials are great, small, or somewhere in between, spiritual direction is good for your soul.
(Originally published January 7, 2019)