Things I’ve Learned in Spiritual Direction, Part 3: The Lies We Listen To

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“It’s happening again,” I say, shaking my head as if to clear it.   It’s been a good meeting with my spiritual director so far—lots of clarity, signs of hope, determination to continue to seek and love God’s will in my life.  But then I notice a shift in my mind, as if someone changed the channel, and a voice begins its taunts.

These good things will never last.

Just wait until tomorrow.

None of this is real.

I press my hands against my temples.  The thoughts come thick and fast like a swarm of flies.

You can’t sustain this progress.

It will always be the same.

You are such a fraud, aren’t you?

You are wasting her time.

My director raises an eyebrow.  “He’s moving especially fast today,” she remarks matter-of-factly. “What are you hearing?”

I speak the words.

You are not strong enough.

You are not good enough. 

You are unable to move past this. 

You don’t deserve anything else.

Speaking the lies out loud is effective at swatting them away, and we continue to talk in peace. But hearing them so clearly in this concentrated way in our meetings has helped me to recognize the “thoughts that aren’t my own” in other situations in my life: 

Seeing a woman who has it “all together”: You’re such a stupid mess.

Desiring a good thing for my family: That’s not for you.

Feeling consolation after an uplifting conversation: They didn’t really mean that. Do you honestly think anyone cares?

How often do thoughts like this invade our minds and steal our hearts without us even noticing? They sound like us, and so we let them in.  We give them a seat at the table and serve them dinner and we entertain them and listen to their stories, nodding and agreeing and raising our glass and swearing secret vows with them.

How often do thoughts like this invade our minds and steal our hearts without us even noticing? They sound like us, and so we let them in.  We give them a seat at the table and serve them dinner and we entertain them and listen to their stories, nodding and agreeing and raising our glass and swearing secret vows with them.

But these are lies with a hurtful hiss at the end.

I asked my friend, a Catholic counselor, if there was one lie that was most common, most insidious. “That’s easy,” she said.  “It all comes down to this: you are not enough.”

And that would make sense, after all.  Because the Liar is not God, and he cannot create.  Not even close.  He can only steal and then distort. And so he recycles the original lie over and over in a thousand ways, thinly veiled versions of his plot in Genesis—to get the woman to believe that she is not enough as she is. She is shown something lovely and forgetting her own goodness, she grasps it so that she can “be like God.” (Gen 3:4)  She wants more.  She wants something else. She looks around and only sees what she can’t have and believes the lie: You are not, after all, enough.

The truth that gets twisted into the lie?  That we have limitations. That we need God.  That we do not have the same opportunities or gifts or graces as another. Yes, those are true.  But they are overshadowed by the reality that we have been granted exactly what we need to live out our universal, primary, and personal vocations with grace and strength.  We have the precise gifts for our particular family, for our exact calling, for this specific cross, in this time, at this place, for this season.  God promises only daily bread, and it is made to order.  We do not have the grace for anyone else’s life—or even for tomorrow—but we have all we need to become more fully ourselves, which is more like Christ, today.

In the end, even our limitations are beautiful. They reveal our contours.  They show us where we end. Who we are not is sometimes just as important as who we are.  Because there is a place in God that is a perfect fit for the shape of our soul, and when we see it at last we will respond with “the cry of recognition and love” that St. Thérèse spoke of. (See CCC 2558)

So, yes, I am incomplete and needing Him—true.  But not enough for that to which He has called me?  Not able to sustain the Christian life? Not designed for intimacy and deep prayer? Not gifted and anointed and set apart for a greater purpose? Not created for joy? Not given more than enough?

Those lies I must reject and not waste any time in doing so—and even better that I do with a wise director who recognizes the duplicity sooner than I do.

When the enemy of human nature brings his wiles and persuasions to the just soul, he wants and desires that they be received and kept in secret; but when one reveals them to his Confessor or another spiritual person that knows his deceits and evil ends, it is very grievous to him, because he gathers, from his manifest deceits being discovered, that he will not be able to succeed with his wickedness begun.

-St. Ignatius of Loyola, Discernment of Spirits, Rule 13

Image (modified) courtesy of Unsplash.

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