How Finding a Spiritual Director Changed My Life

“Who do you imagine as a spiritual director?” Carla, the coordinator at my local Ignatian Spirituality Center asked. I started to laugh as the image of Don Porter, the actor who played Sally Field’s father on the television show, “Gidget” flashed in my mind. Carla’s mission was to find a spiritual director match for me among the resource pool the Center maintains.

“Dr. Lawrence from the show ‘Gidget.’” I answered. On the show, Dr. Lawrence was an English professor who found his daughter’s antics adorable, and he always had a kind word for her when she got herself into trouble. “No small task — but find me someone like him,” I joked.

But Carla knew that as much as this detail seemed silly, it was telling of the type of spiritual director I was looking for.

A spiritual director is someone you can talk to about your experience with God. They are there to support you, guide you, and help you see where God is working in your life. Carla asked me about my spiritual background and what nourished my own faith journey. It was through this conversation that we realized I was looking for someone intellectual and compassionate, someone who wouldn’t be intimidated by my sometimes brassy manner. Yes, someone like Dr. Lawrence.

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The next week, I received an email from Carla with a possible match. Mark was a deacon from a neighboring parish and would meet with me to see if we were a good fit for one another.

When we met, I immediately noticed Mark’s boisterous, yet warm, manner. He welcomed me as if I was a long-lost niece and offered me tea. Within minutes, Mark told me he was New Yorker, a perfect match for my East L.A. brass, and as I started to tell him about my spiritual background, he quoted Church Fathers and writers as if they were dear friends.

I told Mark I had pursued spiritual direction because I wanted more of God in my life. I had felt disconnected, not just from God, but from others in my life, and I lacked focus in my work and relationships. I wanted to feel God’s presence in an ordinary day, as I believed all the rest would fall in line when I knew God was there.

“The time we spend together is just for you, to feel supported and for me to help you find God,” Mark said.

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He asked about my prayer life. How did I pray? What did I pray about? How did I feel connected to God? Was it mostly through Mass or could I remember times I felt God in other places? As I answered, it felt wonderful to share these precious things with someone else.

As we wrapped up our meeting, Mark said to me, “Pray the Examen,” giving me the next step for making a connection with God. “You’ll see where he’s been all along.”

I added the Examen to my nightly routine. By looking over my day with gratitude, I began to see all the ways in which I connect with God — through music I play on my stereo (or even in the car), art in museums or magazines, conversations with strangers and friends, hikes in the forest near my house, and sometimes, even as I fold laundry. I realized I had so many places to look for and meet God. And after sharing these revelations with Mark, I started to view these activities as moments of worship.

“Now, try to notice God in the moment, instead of only in the reflection of the day,” Mark advised. I will, in fits and starts, as any practice takes just that, practice. When I do, I stop and savor these moments of God’s presence.

Talking to Mark is akin to daydreaming about God. I imagine where I’d like to spend time with God like I would if my old friend was coming in from out of town. I might take them for a walk to Lake Washington or share a favorite cafe or an art exhibit. What would I want to tell an old friend about? What struggles or joys would I share? Something magical happens when we daydream about God with another believer. We conjure God up. And I begin to notice that God is present with Mark and me as if he heard us talking about our dear friend.