I‘ve mentioned a few times that I had an amazing spiritual director named Christie. Unfortunately, she’s gotten busy with other commitments and I haven’t been able to meet with her lately, so I’ve been without a spiritual director for a while now. I hope to find a new person soon, but in the meantime I’ve been thinking back on my conversations with her, particularly when I’m trying to discern the right path for some big decision where there’s no clear right answer. When recalling our meetings, I realized that Christie almost always asked me the same few questions, and that prayerfully considering my answers to each one always helped get me off the fence and make a good choice. I thought it might be helpful to others to share what they were.
1. Have you prayed about it?
You would think that this question wouldn’t be necessary, but, alas, we’re dealing with me here, and Christie quickly learned that we might want to cover this base before moving on. With embarrassing frequency I’d come to her and pour out my angst about some conundrum, throw up my hands in frustration, and announce that God did not seem to be helping me here. Then she’d gently asked if I had prayed about it; specifically, if I had set aside the time not only to place my petition before God, but to calmly wait and listen for an answer. The answer was often “no,” which gave me an obvious place to start in my discernment process.
2. How does it impact your primary vocation?
I can’t overstate the importance of this question. It’s brought more peace to my life than any other thought exercise. The Catholic idea of vocation is that the meaning of life is to serve others, and your vocation (e.g. married life, religious life, priesthood, etc.) is the main way that God intends for you to serve. It’s his primary path for you to find peace and fulfillment — and, therefore, no legitimate call from God would negatively impact your vocation. For example, God would never call a parish priest to do something that made him feel burdened and resentful of offering the Mass on Sunday, he would never call a father to something that made him feel tied down and frustrated by his wife and kids, etc. It doesn’t mean that the only things you ever do are directly related to the duties of your vocation, simply that those duties are your top priority.
On many occasions I’ve started pursuing opportunities that seemed great in theory, but made my life as a wife and a mother harder. I would walk around the house snapping at everyone, feeling angry that I didn’t have as much time as I wanted to work on these projects, bemoaning the basic duties that come with my vocation, etc. Thanks to the advice from my spiritual director, I would take this to mean that this wasn’t where God wanted me. And, sure enough, every time I made changes that improved my ability to live out my vocation well, I’d find myself on a far better path that made me much happier (and, surprisingly, often led to more success with the project than when I was sitting around fixating on it to the exclusion of my family).
3. What does your spouse think?
Christie always reminded me that God often speaks through our spouses. I’ve experienced this many times myself but, like with #1, I’d often get so caught up analyzing something that I’d forget to sit down with my husband and get his thoughts. (For people who are not married, an alternative might be to ask your parents, siblings, or a trusted friend.)
4. Are you taking care of yourself?
One of the most interesting conversations we ever had was when I told Christie how terrible my prayer life had been lately, and her first questions were about how I was taking care of myself. Was I eating well? Sleeping enough? Getting some exercise? Upon further examination, it came out that I was running myself ragged: I was stuffing myself with junk food all day, spending too much time online, staying up way too late, never exercising, then pounding coffee to help me muddle through each day. She pointed out that while God certainly blesses us when we suffer (e.g. in the case of chronic illness), self-inflicted suffering is different. Basically, it would be like if I’d been sitting around and hitting myself repeatedly with a hammer, then crying, “I feel bad and never feel like praying! So weird!” After I improved my diet, got my relationship to the internet in check, and changed my views about exercise, not only did I feel 100% better physically, but I found that my spiritual life was much better as well.
5. Are you making decisions based on fear or anger?
The Holy Spirit does not bark at us in a voice of anger. He doesn’t instill us with fear. He doesn’t make us feel bad about ourselves. Yet too often, I found myself making decisions out of these kinds of feelings — thankfully, Christie was there to point out that this was not of God. For example, at one point I was discerning whether or not to homeschool, but so much of my thinking was fear-based: I was worried about something I’d heard about the local school, worried about how one of my kids would do in public school, but also sure that I was too lazy and incompetent to teach my children, terrified of messing up their educations, etc. I couldn’t even engage in a rational analysis of the pros and cons of each path because my thoughts were consumed with fear, fear, fear.
Christie encouraged me to let go of those feelings and make a conscious effort to trust that God would lead us down the best path for us, and that he’d bless whichever path that was. Once I did that, I was able to let go of all those fearful thoughts, which freed my mind to objectively look at what I thought would be best for our family, as well as to listen to God’s promptings. In the end we have ended up homeschooling after trying a couple other options, but this time I’ve had complete peace about it, because I was no longer letting angst and fear drive my decisions.
6. Which path would bring you the most peace?
Similar to the above, Christie would sometimes ask me to imagine myself going through each of the various options that were before me in some dilemma, and to consider which one would bring me the most peace. Fairly often, I would find that when I actually took the time to do this, one option made me feel filled with the peace of the Holy Spirit, whereas other options that might seem better on paper left me riddled with anxiety — and the peace-filled option always ended up being the right path.
I usually get a lot of great questions when I bring up the subject of spiritual direction, so here are some additional resources:
- If you’d like to find a spiritual director or find out more about what spiritual direction is like, here’s a post I wrote about that.
- This spiritual direction blog is a wealth of information on discernment and the spiritual life. Definitely worth bookmarking and reading regularly.
- This post called 9 Things to Do When Needing Direction has some great tips on this topic.