Walls in Spiritual Direction
Saint Anne Parish de Detroit

Walls in Spiritual Direction

I got a great “gift” the other day. My friend Bob, an IT guy, got lost using a GPS to where a group of us were meeting. Bob loves to razz people. So naturally, we spent the rest of the afternoon commenting on Bob’s sense of direction. It is what guys do, especially those of us who came of age in the 70s and 80s. In my era, Mr. Spock was a sissy – he showed too much emotion. In those days, life was always about being cool. Fonzie was not “cool,” Walter Payton defined that for us. You never showed a weak side. If our pack mentality saw a wound, then we’d instinctively go for the kill. It was expected and, at the same time, feared. Real men never ate quiche.

I never cease to be amazed at God’s sense of humor. For men of my era, emotions kill. So what does God do? He matches us up with our life partners, our wives, who see emotions in everything. Further yet, he blessed me with three daughters. I live in a house high in emotion and low in testosterone. I trace my challenges in spiritual direction to this. Spiritual direction challenges us to get in touch with those emotional forces that are affecting our lives at the moment. I’d rather punch them. Speaking of my emotions is my “Calvary.”

I’ve known for a while that I am a challenging spiritual directee. As a spiritual director, father, friend and husband, I’m great at guiding other people’s lives. Mine? Not so much. The enigma lives… Yet, I’ve come to see that spiritual direction is a wonderful ministry in people’s lives. I have often heard it’s one of the great unknown secrets of our faith. After mentioning this dilemma to my spiritual director he said to me, “Greg, you like to write. Why don’t you write about being a poor spiritual directee?”

I spent the past month thinking about this. I didn’t appreciate at the time the challenge this would be for me. I did some “homework” on what some reputable resources suggest as ways to go about spiritual direction. I was not surprised at the commonality in response. The reoccurring theme was reflection and contemplation. Prior to spiritual direction, the first thing we need to do is assess our own spiritual health. In other words, we need to answer some basic questions:

  1. Who is God for me and where is he in my life right now?
  2. What have been some significant encounters with God in my life?
  3. Where in my life have I felt the separation or void from God?
  4. How is God speaking to me at the moment or, is God speaking to me in this moment?
  5. What is challenging me in my life right now?
  6. What do I want to ask/tell Jesus right now?

Spiritual direction is about engaging where God is active in our life. We can’t know this without taking the time to reflect upon this. Some people do this by journaling. For me, my time of reflection is when I walk my dogs and just try to shut down the world for 15 minutes. My family has always been one that made lists to bring order to the many activities going in our lives. Yet, I’ve failed somehow to see “the list” I needed in spirituality.

I know the “how.”  I’ve long studied the “why.” So, if I know all the steps people are supposed to take, what then am I missing? I am more prayerful and contemplative than I’ve ever been in my life. Nevertheless, the question remains, “Why is the other chair in spiritual direction so challenging for me?”

Yes, I know I am an emotional guy who prefers to pack away his emotions. I still won’t eat quiche. I have a relationship with Jesus Christ; not the best the best relationship but, surely not the worst. I don’t believe that being a 70/80’s guy and my knowing most of the catchphrases from some of the greatest movies of all time, Airplane! or Monty Python and the Holy Grail, is the issue. (My son-in-law thinks Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy is in this category… sad)

Back in the day, when trying to be “cool” we blocked out the “uncool.” Locks and security systems are for doors, not hearts. “Smell like the sheep” is simply the start. We need to live with the sheep rather than taking the easy academic route. Saint Teresa of Calcutta didn’t do acts of charity but acts of love. She became hungry with the hungry. She lived poor with the poor. She turned off the air conditioner, opened the windows of her heart and lived in their world, not isolated from it. In letting in the foul, she found true fresh.  She tore down the walls around her heart.

Of course, we need Dogma. Dogma teaches and defines truth. Yet, the world has never been simply black and white. Jesus embraced the gray. He meets people where they are at in order to include them. This meeting never diminishes dogma. Jesus showed us how to live in this world from our hearts and not solely our heads. He came not to replace the Law but to show us how to be fully alive in it. Accordingly, immigration laws are important but, they can never be a wall of indifference for us with the immigrant.

My challenge is more than “walls.” We all have walls in our lives. My “wall” in faith is having too much Dogma without enough mercy. I know the homeless without knowing the homeless person. I write a check without sitting down to eat with those struggling. I need to be less “Catholic League” and more “Feed My Starving Children,” less “K of C” and more “PADS.”

One of my spiritual direction mentors, Fr. Jim, tells me that my challenge is that I don’t “pray through my issues.” I disagree. What I don’t do is embrace them and live them as Saint Teresa of Calcutta would. Job issues diminish in light of hanging on a cross. The stress of college tuitions pale in comparison to being hungry. My high school football coaches told us to “leave the game on the field.” I don’t. I take it home, lock it away and then keep replaying it. I see now these are the walls that hold back my spirituality. My walls don’t keep the world out, but the heat in. I continue to self- inflict 3rd degree burns on myself. Stevie Nicks was right— the feelings remain after the glitter fades.

That’s why I’ve been weak in spiritual direction. I focus on the clean heart and mind without getting my hands dirty. Living the faith without embracing it as my way of life is the core of my resistance. I’ve struggled with the easy part— seeing the issue. Now where do I go with this?

Great question. Let’s take it to spiritual direction.

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Written by
Deacon Gregory Webster