During a particularly difficult moment recently, I found myself sitting, head in my hands, at a complete loss. I was faced with an unexpected situation, and I didn’t know exactly what to do next. I wanted to avoid the situation completely, make it disappear, or even pretend it never happened in the first place. I wanted to get in my car and drive as far away as I could, saying to the situation in the rearview mirror, “Catch me if you can!” I wanted to fight against it, ball up my fists, and say with passion, “Just try and take me down!”
All of these responses are ones I have had in the past when an intense and emotional situation for which I was unprepared has arisen. But this time, I did none of those things.
Instead, I took a deep breath, grabbed my phone, and sent my spiritual director a message: “Do you have time for an extra session this week? I have found myself in an unexpected situation, and I need your help deciphering what exactly God is trying to do here.”
A year ago, I would not have had this resource to access. In fact, it was just May of last year when I decided to seek out a spiritual director to lead me through the Spiritual Exercises. I sought out a person unconnected to my day-to-day life to be the rational and objective and spiritually focused voice that would help me see the movement of God in my life. After the Exercises were over, this person became a regular part of my monthly routine—someone to call and talk to about God, spirituality, and my seemingly never-ending discernment process.
Luckily, she responded with a wholehearted yes, and we set a time for a call. When that time came, I grabbed my car keys. We talked as I drove around the city, trying to make sense of where I was and what I was feeling. By the end of the call, I felt better. I felt like I had found the ground once again beneath my feet. By no means was my problem over, nor had that hour solved anything. Instead, it gave me tools I could use immediately to take at least one step forward.
My spiritual director advised me to:
- Allow myself to feel what I feel. Often when I find myself in difficult situations, I try hard to mask what I am feeling. I also doubt if what I am feeling is valid. She reminded me that my feelings are valid, and allowing myself to experience the truth of them is an important step forward.
- Ask for help. I find it hard to ask for help. I don’t know how much of what I’m going through I want to share with others. I don’t know how much to let other people in. She reminded me, however, that there are many ways to ask for help. Reaching out for spiritual direction was definitely the help I needed at that moment. But there were smaller ways I could ask for help too, like asking my husband to take care of the kids for a night to give myself the space I needed.
- Be the help someone else may need. In my own desolation, I can forget to reach outside of myself. I can get locked into the details of a particular situation, and it’s suddenly all I can see. Desolation can cut me off from others. Instead, my director invited me to consider how I could continue to be a sign of God’s hand in the world. In my desolation, I could direct my energy towards my kids. In my desolation, I could also say yes to invitations to help others and let my response of yes remind me of who I am and who I am striving to be.
These three pieces of advice were guideposts for me that day and in the weeks that followed. They helped me regain my footing and remember who I was. Now, as I head into Lent, I realize that these can also be invitations for how I navigate this Lenten season. What would this Lent look like if I honored Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross by not hiding my emotions, by asking for help when I need it, and by saying yes to helping others whenever I can?
What would it look like if you did the same?