I consider myself to be a fairly spiritual person. I had a strong religious upbringing both at home and in school. I was active in my church and had a regular prayer life. So when I became depressed after my retirement, I sought peace in prayer and meditation. But for the first time in my life, it didn’t seem to be working. Life wasn’t getting any better. Then fate, or maybe divine intervention, led me to a spiritual director at Sacred Ground Center for Spirituality where the experience of looking at my life with a spiritual director was life changing.

For me it is easier to say what spiritual direction is not than to describe exactly what it is. I learned first that spiritual direction has nothing to do with anyone telling me what to do or trying to fix me. It isn’t therapy or counseling. It’s more like having a mentor to help me discover what I really want out of life by listening with me and examining my goals, dreams and desires. It is up to me to decide where I need or want to go with my life. It isn’t just about religion, although it helped me clarify my beliefs. It is a process that involves a personal relationship with someone who sees God in you and is able to help you see the divine in yourself.

So how does it work? Together, we look at life, choices and personal relationships – whatever I need and feel comfortable talking about. I learn to see my experiences from a different perspective and to see myself as a valuable human being, rather than a human doing something. I learn to see how past events and memories, especially traumatic ones, influence who I am and limit my freedom of choice today. I discovered that my image of God affects the way I see myself and others, and my world view. All this is done through the director asking simple questions, rephrasing, noting patterns and most importantly, by listening without judgment. I’m helped to see myself as a child of God, and to be gentle with myself and, therefore, more understanding of others.

As I went through the direction process, I discovered I wanted to help others the way I had been helped. I went back to school and completed a program to become a spiritual director.

I had retired after 20 years in the military and was lucky to have a director who had some understanding of a military life. Because she did, the process was easier. As members of the Minnesota National Guard returned from Iraq, I realized how helpful spiritual direction could be for their reintegration. With a director who knew the military personally, who knew the language and culture, it would be easier to talk about deployment experiences. I could help them deal with painful memories, loss and grief. And because I was also a military spouse, I knew the challenges from both sides and can help families deal with reintegration issues as well.

So spiritual direction as a personal spiritual practice not only led to my own personal growth, but it led to my becoming a director myself.

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Sheila Laughton is a spiritual director at the Loyola Spiritually Center working with the Welcome Home Program, a free listening ministry for any veterans or their family, courtesy of a grant from the St. Paul Guild of Catholic Women. Sheila can be reached at 651.338.0008, ext. 13. Copyright © 2008 Sheila Laughton. All Rights Reserved.

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