by Natalie Ryan, CPSD, Guest Blogger
The movie War Room is about a woman, Elizabeth, who is a wife, a mom, and a real estate agent. Elizabeth and her husband began to run into communication issues among other challenges in their marriage. They were so focused on those complications that they were neglecting their daughter’s newfound talent in sports and academics. Their relationships with family members and friends became more like arguments.
One day Elizabeth met an elderly lady, Ms. Williams, because she was going to sell her house. Ms. Williams wanted to not only sell her house, but she wanted to get to know her real estate agent personally as she could tell that there was something else going on behind that smile. Ms. Williams invited Elizabeth back over to talk about faith and God as well as a listing price for the house if she was open to it. Eventually, Elizabeth confided in faith and released her worries about all of the curve balls that life, marriage, and family was throwing at her. However, Ms. Williams showed her how to look at it all with God’s eyes. Most importantly, she helped the woman dig deeper in a prayer life that she was currently lukewarm in keeping up with. Once her prayer took off, she let God fight the battles for her while she trusted. Instead of fighting her husband, she prayed for her husband and let God change his heart. She felt she was at a standstill in her marriage, but Ms. Williams taught her another way through prayer.
Elizabeth kept going back to meet with Ms. Williams even after the house was sold because not only did Ms. Williams help her change the way she prays, but Ms. Williams transformed her entire perspective on life. It became a journey and a friendship. Life became a continual prayer. Looking back now, Elizabeth can realize that the day she met Ms. Williams and was invited back to talk about her faith was the day she truly met her spiritual director.
We all have this deep pull towards this mysterious something that we can’t quite put our finger on. A pull that is so strong that we can’t ignore it. That mysterious something is love; it’s God’s love. God so desires to be united with our hearts and our inner-most selves that He literally pulls our entire beings into action. We have this longing to grow deeper in this mysterious love, but how do we do that? The answer is simple: a fiat. Saying yes. Saying yes to the pull. Being pulled by God to achieve holiness. Being pulled by God to become aware more and more of His Presence in our daily lives. That is what a spiritual director helps a person do.
What is spiritual direction?
It is sitting down one-on-one in a safe space. It is for everyone. Come at whatever stage you are at in your life; come as you are. It is a time to pause, and to focus on you and your journey. It is recognizing the best way for you to pray and to center. It is a time to listen, and a time for personal, inner growth. It is opening your awareness to the God inside you. It is identifying what makes your soul come alive and nurturing those discoveries to honor you and to honor God.
What fills your soul? Solitude, a walk, playing music, making art, playing a sport? Where do you go and what do you do to feel the most like yourself and to re-charge your batteries? This is your soulfulness. Soulfulness can take many forms. It is finding all that resonates with your soul. Resonance is harmonizing life to the true self. In that true self, you are most aware of who you are at your core, and at your core is where God rests in you.
Diane M. Millis and Bussho Lahn write, “Many of us have felt the urgency to express the unspoken words inside our hearts, the anxiety of a truth longing to be born, seen, and acknowledged. There is no one among us who is not pregnant with a kingdom of details, characters, pains, hopes, and desires. Spiritual direction offers a container for those who labor to give birth to the stories that are too large to be carried inside them any longer. . .We invite our spiritual directees to gain awareness of the stories they have absorbed by giving voice to them—the good, the bad, the beautiful, the ugly, the joy-filled, the pain-filled—knowing that a story often contains all those dimensions.” (1)
What is the difference between spiritual direction and counseling?
Counseling is seeing a psychiatrist or a counselor; you typically get a diagnosis and try to work through finding solutions like changing your environment, trying a medication, doing treatment over time. Counseling is putting a name to the problem and then giving suggestions for how to fix it.
Spiritual Direction is a matter of heart. It is finding God in the everyday happenings of life, and it is how the Holy Spirit is moving through those things for God to communicate to you. It is also the Holy Spirit moving through you so that God can be seen in you. Spiritual Direction is not counseling or telling people what to do; it is not sharing advice or giving all of the answers. It is a balance of psychology and of spirituality, a balance of head and of heart. Spiritual Direction is allowing others to unearth themselves with the eyes of faith. The whole purpose is growth in introspection, development, prayer, relationship with God, and then putting all of that into action.
For instance, after birth one may experience so many new emotions and responsibilities. You’ve carried this beautiful miracle, and he or she has finally arrived. You just went through one of the most physically grueling experiences, and now you’re called to look after this little one day or night, sleep or no sleep. Some even experience Post-Partum Depression. A spiritual director, in the safe space provided, can make a suggestion for the directee to see a counselor if the need presents itself. This is a real diagnosis and it is vital to be treated by a psychiatrist or counselor. In addition to getting counseling, one may also seek spiritual direction because it is immensely beneficial to find God amidst the struggle. You have a new perspective of a parent’s love, and God, the Father, sees you in the same light. Life is going to hand us difficulties, and it is up to us to lean on Him during those times. Spiritual direction is a prayerful way to do just that.
Who can be a spiritual director?
There is a common myth that only priests can be spiritual directors; however, it is just that, a myth. Many deacons and lay people have also gone through training programs all over the country to become a spiritual director. There are two types of spiritual directors: Certified Spiritual Directors and Certified Professional Spiritual Directors. Certified Spiritual Directors go through their training, graduate, and go off to practice. Certified Professional Spiritual Directors or CPSD go through training, graduate, go off to practice, complete at least 20 hours of continued education every two years, and seek supervision in a peer group once a month.
There are some spiritual directors that serve solely under the Catholic tradition. Others serve all Christian traditions or all religious traditions in general. Spiritual direction is about leading a more aware and contemplative life, and this is visible across religious traditions.
Directors and directees work together in and through faith. There will be things that I say that will stick out to them, and there will be things that they say that will stick out to me. That is the give-and-take of the Holy Spirit flowing through both of us in each session together; the Holy Spirit is the true spiritual director.
How can spiritual direction help me?
To deepen my spirituality, I need that silence and solitude; that time where I get to nurture my relationship with God by turning inward. In those moments where I feel so small, I can begin to see the bigger picture again. I see that I am a part of something bigger than myself, and what an honor that God chose me for that role. Spiritual direction can get you to the same place no matter the life situation, especially when it comes to our fertility.
Can you imagine being a 14 year old, and an angel appears to you? How scary, yet exciting! He asks you to carry and to bare the Son of God through the Holy Spirit. You say yes knowing that your community will shun you and they could even try to stone you. I am sure that when you woke up that morning, you weren’t expecting to find out that you’re going to be pregnant. You know that God’s plan is great for you, even if you don’t understand right now. God placed Mary in this role, but she was able to be grateful because she was aware of herself and God acting in her life.
1 Corinthians 3:16 says, “Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” Your body is a temple, and God has a specific purpose for your temple. Infertility is one of the hardest challenges a couple may experience in their marriage. Even if your body cannot physically produce a life, it is still God’s temple and He has a purpose for you. How are you praising God through your temple?
God made us for Himself. He wants to be at the very center of your very being, of your every thought, and in all of your actions. “He must increase, and I must decrease” (John 3:30). In Matrimony, you vow to put God at the center of planning and raising your family. Are you truly putting God at the center of your family planning?
Putting God at the center of your life can transform your entire perspective. It leads, more than anything else, to gratefulness and to overflowing joy that allows my true inner-self to feel God driving me to grow further into His Presence. Prayer calls us to come together to pause so that we can connect with Christ.
God is waiting.
Spiritual Direction is that finding of awareness and resonance. When you take these moments to pause with your director, you’re going to become more aware of God in your surroundings. Most importantly, you’re going to become more aware of God inside of you. God is at our deepest core, and He is waiting for us in our souls to call out to Him. One way to get to the God of our souls is to discover our soulfulness.
As St. Francis of Assisi most humbly prayed before the San Damiano crucifix, “Most high, glorious God, enlighten the darkness of my heart and give me true faith, certain hope, and perfect charity, sense and knowledge, Lord, that I may carry out Your Holy and true command.” Amen.
Natalie Ryan is a Catholic wife living in the western suburbs of Chicago. She works in parish ministry and as a spiritual director. She also enjoys photography and blogging in her spare time.
Check out both here.
She has big plans this year as her husband graduates from Chiropractic medical school. They plan to move back to Covington, KY (just across the river from Cincinnati) and go on pilgrimage to Rome and Assisi in the fall.
Do you have questions or are you interested in spiritual directions? Natalie would be happy to help and can do Facetime/Skype spiritual direction sessions. Contact for more information at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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