It all started with a little pinch from God

NADD Convention in Louisville, KY

Last week, I was a featured speaker at the National Association of Deacon Director’s (NADD) annual convention. The topic: Spiritual Direction. As I think about that moment, I wonder, “How in the world did I get here?!?”  

Six years ago, I was the manager of a small division of a big steel company. I was looking to retire and had written out my bucket list. Nowhere on that list was to be the director of the Catholic Conference Center, lead retreats, and do spiritual direction. There was especially no thought that I would one day speak about spiritual direction at the annual convention of deacon leaders and directors across the country.

Looking back, I can see the many breadcrumbs God left that led me to this place. Since I tend to ignore these, God gave me a little pinch. 

It was during the pandemic. Since groups stopped coming, I encouraged people to visit for private retreats. I would offer to talk with them, we’d pray, and I’d set up some time in Adoration. I had years of experience meeting with deacon candidates in discernment as the director of formation. I had years of experience in pastoral care, both as a deacon in the parish and in the prison. I thought I had what it takes to help others spiritually, but soon realized I was missing some essential pieces.

The people who came to the center during the pandemic weren’t looking for diaconal discernment or pastoral advice, they were looking to make a deeper connection with the Holy Spirit. On more than one occasion, the conversation stalled. The other person wanted someone to guide them into their heart where the Holy Spirit resides, and I lacked the navigational tools and spiritual experience to do this. A couple of times, this period of silence became awkward, even a little painful for both.  

That was God’s little pinch. The message was clear. Get serious about your spiritual life and get some more training to help others do the same. I did both. As with many little ‘yeses’ to God, it’s brought me to a surprising new place. 

It’s been the type of journey that only God could orchestrate. And as a spiritual director, I’m getting better at learning how “through this art of accompaniment… to remove my sandals before the sacred ground of the other.” (Evangelium Gaudium, 169)

I’m also learning to pay more attention to those breadcrumbs and avoid the next pinch.