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Spiritual Direction in the Wilderness

It’s been a very interesting month for me, and it has reminded me of a time when I felt like I could no longer do the thing I was doing, and that I needed to change the direction of my life or burnout. 

In 2016 I left pastoral ministry. It was a particularly difficult, heart wrenching, grief-filled experience. It was the very thing I needed to do, but it came with much pain and sacrifice. 

Right as I had left my last church, I reached out to an acquaintance who was also in ministry and explained my situation. He met me where I was at: broken, confused, afraid. He said that he would be praying for me and he connected me to a well-respected priest who specialized in spiritual direction.  

Now, I had never done spiritual direction at this point and didn’t know much about it. But I was willing to take any kind of support at this moment, knowing that the possibility of it doing something beneficial and good in my life was pretty high.  

I emailed the priest and he called me. He stated he was sorry for what I was going through and that he would be happy to meet with me. We set up a time at his office and I went.  

When I arrived I was met with a warm smile and a firm handshake. We sat down, he in his chair and me on the couch. We spoke for about an hour and it was mostly me doing the talking and him doing the listening. I tend to be an over-sharer so he got my life story pretty thoroughly (whether he wanted to or not). He gave some solidarity in my situation which felt very nice at a time when I was feeling such opposition. He shared that he was surprised I lasted this long doing what I was doing: spiritually growing but staying in places that spiritually stifled me. It was from that point of wisdom that he shared with me three important questions he wanted me to meditate on and ponder for our upcoming sessions.

I never met with him again. I was a mess and didn’t take the exercise seriously. I wanted him to fix me, not give me homework. But I didn’t realize the wisdom of him showing me that he can’t fix me and give me all of the answers I wanted, but he could show me the wisdom of asking questions to myself and discovering the answers I need. 

Three years later, I’m now working through the three questions that he shared with me. These questions are proving to help me tremendously through some difficult times on my own spiritual journey and I believe will always help me in those times when I am prone to wondering, prone to feel abandoned, prone to cynicism or doubt.  

  1. How Do I Heal? 
  2. How Do I Discern Calling? 
  3. What Does Faithfulness Look Like? 
Sticky note I wrote in my car right after my session.

Sticky note I wrote in my car right after my session.

How Do I Heal?

For me, this question makes sense in light of the other two questions, because if I cannot find healing and wholeness in my life, it will prove difficult for me to discern my calling and to be faithful to that. Healing, for me, took a great amount of time; because my knee-jerk reaction was to run away from everything that brought pain into my life, instead of processing my pain and putting things in perspective. Once I did that, I started to separate and find healing from those things that truly hurt me from those things which appeared to hurt me but actually didn’t.   

How Do I Discern Calling?

This took a great deal of time as well. For me, I realized that I no longer felt like I could fit in a local church context, especially the one I came from. My growth in faith/spirituality slowly alienated me from what I knew and led me to something unknown, but later something better for me. Discerning calling also was a work of Divine providence, because calling comes from the Divine as it leads us to find where our greatest passion and the world’s greatest needs intersect.

What Does Faithfulness Look Like?

Once I was able to find some healing from the hurt and was able to discern my calling moving forward, I was then able to determine what faithfulness looks like. This had a two-fold impact on my life: of course there is the faithfulness to God through the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; but I believe he was talking  about a different kind of faithfulness also... I believe he was talking about how can I be faithful in making sure I continue to find healing and discern my calling regularly. I can no longer neglect my self-care for the sake of others or their perceptions of religion. I must continually form my own spirituality in light of scripture, tradition, reason and experience. I must continue to grow more uncomfortable and discontent for the sake of living out the teachings of Jesus and model the life he lived. 

So I embark on another chapter of my spiritual journey, continuing to grow and flourish and to make sense and meaning of this thing called religion, this thing called faith, this thing called spirituality; but more importantly, for me, this God-man Jesus and the good news he brings to the world... and ultimately, to me.


So, if you are experiencing some religious trauma, church hurt, or just growth and change in your faith/spirituality; I would encourage you to ask yourself these three questions and see how God speaks to you! 😊 - ✌🏼 Ryan  

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