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Can I be My Own Spiritual Director? I Can’t Find One: What Now?

Dear Father John, I haven’t been able to find a spiritual director yet (which is kind of frustrating). I am still looking, but what should I do in the meantime? Can someone be their own spiritual director?

their own spiritual directorThis is a deeper question than you might think. First, continue to ask God to put you in touch with someone who can be your spiritual director. (If you haven’t read the post about how to find a spiritual director, you may find it helpful.) Judging by the surveys we have done on this blog, you are not alone. You can count on my prayers for this intention.

The second part of your question opens up some critical issues. Can someone be their own spiritual director? On the surface, the answer is obvious: of course not. The main point of spiritual direction is providing oneself with an objective point of view. As the old proverb puts it: no one is a good judge in their own case. When a quarterback is leading his team on the field, he can see a lot of what’s going on, but his coaches up in the box have a bird’s eye view of the whole field, and their input will usually mean the difference between victory and defeat. We all tend to favor our strong suits and ignore our weaknesses. This is true for musicians, athletes, actors… It’s a human thing. That’s why in all areas of expertise and growth, a good coach, instructor, or teacher is so necessary. They shed light on our blind-spots and encourage us to pay attention not only to what we want to work on, but to what we really need to work on. This objective point of view is all the more valuable because of the director’s larger share of wisdom and experience. In the 1981 Academy Award winning film, Chariots of Fire, based on a true story, the Olympic runner Harold Abrahams realizes that if he wants to win a medal, he can’t depend solely on his extraordinary natural talent and exemplary dedication. He has to find a coach. He does, and it pays off.

But there is another side to this issue. Even if we have a good spiritual director, that is no guarantee of spiritual growth. A medical doctor can prescribe a certain medicine to cure an ailment, but the patient then needs to take that medicine. A spiritual director can point out a path to greater spiritual maturity, but it’s up to each one of us to generously, perseveringly, and enthusiastically pursue that path. Spiritual direction is one of the tools the Holy Spirit uses to shape us into the saints he created us to be, but it’s only one of the tools, and its effectiveness depends primarily on our own sincerity, docility, and determination to seek an ever greater friendship with Christ.

So, if you are having trouble finding a spiritual director, you don’t need to worry about it. If you are making a reasonable effort to look for one, God will honor that, even if the search is a long one (God has his reasons). In the meantime, the Lord isn’t just twiddling his thumbs and checking his watch. Not at all! He is still the Lord, and he can direct you and guide you closer to his heart, if that’s what you really want. He offers us so many other means of spiritual growth – some might say too many! Here are a few questions you can ask yourself as you continue to pray for and seek a spiritual director:

  • Are you going regularly (every 15 days is a good rule of thumb) to confession and preparing well for it?
  • Is your Eucharistic life (frequent communion, Mass, and adoration) robust or anemic?
  • Are you spending time daily in mental prayer?
  • Are you reading good spiritual books (here's a list just for those who have yet to find a director) and cultivating healthy friendships with other people who are also seeking to follow Christ more closely?
  • Do you choose entertainment and relaxation activities that ennoble your soul instead of merely distracting your mind (good literature and art, contact with nature, rich music and intelligent films…)?
  • Are you putting a respectable effort into finding ways to bring others closer to Christ, to build up your local Church?

All of these activities will build your friendship with Christ, and the Holy Spirit will speak to you and guide you as you pursue them, whether or not you have been able to find a good spiritual director or confessor.

So, in short, don’t give in to those feelings of frustration. They are a sign that you are eager to seek Christ, an eagerness that can come only from God. But they also may be a sign that you are a bit impatient, wanting God to go at your preferred pace, instead of patiently and trustingly following along at his (much wiser, even if more uncomfortable) pace.

Yours in Christ, Father John Bartunek, LC

PS from Dan: You can also find great tips for finding a spiritual director in our Spiritual Direction Index and in Father Thomas Dubay's excellent book, “Seeking Spiritual Direction.”

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Art for this post on whether someone can be their own spiritual director: Detail of Saint Dominic from Cristo Deriso (Mocking of Christ), Sangelico (Fra Angelico), from circa 1440 and circa 1441, PD-US author's life plus 100 years or less, Wikimedia Commons. Feature image art: Modified detail of Saint Dominic from Cristo Deriso (Mocking of Christ), Sangelico (Fra Angelico), from circa 1440 and circa 1441, PD-US author's life plus 100 years or less, Wikimedia Commons.

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About Fr. John Bartunek, LC

Fr. John Bartunek, LC, S.Th.D, received his BA in History from Stanford University in 1990. He comes from an evangelical Christian background and became a member of the Catholic Church in 1991. After college, he worked as a high school history teacher, drama director, and baseball coach. He then spent a year as a professional actor in Chicago before entering the religious Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ in 1993. He was ordained a Catholic priest in 2003 and earned his doctorate in moral theology in 2010. He provided spiritual support on the set of Mel Gibson’s "The Passion of the Christ" while researching the 2005 Catholic best seller, "Inside the Passion"--the only authorized, behind-the-scene explanation of the film. Fr. John has contributed news commentary regarding religious issues on NBC, CNN, Fox, and the BBC. He also served as the English-language press liaison for the Vatican’s 2005 Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist. His most widely known book is called: "The Better Part: A Christ-Centered Resource for Personal Prayer". His most recent books are "Spring Meditations", "Seeking First the Kingdom: 30 Meditations on How to Love God with All Your Heart, Soul, Mind and Strength", and "Answers: Catholic Advice for Your Spiritual Questions". Fr. John currently splits his time between Michigan (where he continues his writing apostolate and serves as a confessor and spiritual director at the Queen of the Family Retreat Center) and Rome, where he teaches theology at Regina Apostolorum. His online, do-it-yourself retreats are available at RCSpirituality.org, and he answers questions about the spiritual life at SpiritualDirection.com.

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