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?
Interesting that this articles would pop up today . I have spent many months trying to find a new SD… mine had to quit due to health issues. Finally our diocese has some trained SD and have let persons know what is available. I have connected with one even during the holidays but we both decided to start fresh the week after New Years. We made a definite point of already having the date on the calendar. I am spending some quiet reflective time reviewing several of my old journals to see if I have a pattern or need. Looking forward to this experience again. I saw this email as an affirmation that I needed this. Thanks for the seed!!!
Many Episcopal parishes have excellent spiritual directors if you are not near a Jesuit facility.
Great advice for handling desolation thank you.
Here in England we don’t seem to have too many Spiritual Director opportunities. There are 2 Retreat Centres, both over 2 hours drive away. Is that typical over with you ?
I have thought about asking acquaintances at out local church to establish whether there are others enjoying the Spiritual Exercises.
So many excellent books though 🙏👍
Perhaps you find this website helpful. Many spiritual directors are willing to meet online as well.
Thanks Gretchen. Great stuff as always. Reaching out to others can be a win-win situation.
Such a good reflection, Gretchen. I love the advice of your spiritual director!
How does one find a spiritual director that would lead me through the spiritual exercises?
This is a great question! I would look first at any Jesuit Retreat Center in your area. They would have a list of Jesuits and lay people trained in the Spiritual Exercises that you could start by reaching out to. There are also Jesuit Universities who train people in specifically Ignatian spiritual direction and the Exercises like Loyola Chicago who would have a list of their alumni that you could contact. I know other universities like Creighton have Spiritual Direction programs, so there are many avenues to take. I would start with retreat centers, however. In Dallas, we have Montserrat Retreat Center, but there are many located all over the United States. You can find more information on Spiritual Direction on these two webpages: https://beckyeldredge.com/what-is-spiritual-direction/ and https://www.ignatianspirituality.com/making-good-decisions/spiritual-direction/
I will also add that it took me time to find the right spiritual director for me. I have tried a few. I think it’s one of those people that should be a right fit for you. You may try a couple before finding the one that will work.
I have the same question. Do I need to send a donation?
Great question! So, I think it varies depending on where you go for Spiritual Direction. If you go to a Jesuit through a retreat center, then they either will tell you a set fee or you can make a donation to the retreat center and/or the Jesuit’s community. If you seek out a lay spiritual director, they may have a fee or a suggested fee right up front. For lay spiritual directors, this may be their part-time or full-time job. They offer spiritual direction as a vocation and a calling, but they also should be paid for their time and expertise. I do pay my spiritual director. She gave me her rate per session when we started. I think it is always a good idea to ask, and if they don’t ask for one, to offer some kind of donation to affirm their training as well as their offering of time and spiritual counsel.
Does one have to pay a Spiritual Director?
Bruce, see my reply to Maureen above.
I went thru it for a period of my life and there was a “suggested donation”, which I have also seen elsewhere.
Great advice. Now to integrate it into my own life.