The life tasks of the spiritual life II: Self-Evaluation
Welcome to the second life task for the spiritual life. They are three: Self-awareness, self-evaluation and integration. Last week we talked about self-awareness and today our focus is on self-evaluation. Dear faithful companion of the spiritual life, may God continue to unfold to us through the power of the Holy Spirit and the Blessed Virgin Mary’s intercession the content of our life tasks in the spiritual life, and the strength to work towards them before we return to God our ultimate end. Amen.
It has been observed by many spiritual masters and mystics that many of us find it difficult to breakthrough our shield of spiritual blockages into the psychological and spiritual (psycho-spiritual) maturity that is expected of us or destined for us (Jer. 29:11). This is so because we neglect our basic responsibilities or services that we should have rendered to ourselves in order to influence the world positively and be enriched in all fronts of our lives. The case here is the abandonment of the second step of our life task which is self-evaluation. It sounds simple but very demanding. Although, it is heavily trivialised or completely neglected, the task of self-evaluation is ingrained in every human being when God said in Jer. 31:33: “I will place my law within them, and write it upon their hearts…” The law placed in our hearts simply meant the grace and the inspiration to know the Truth and nothing more. Hence, human efforts are made to sharpen our abilities to know the truth by cobwebbing and upgrading our critical lens as we study philosophy, theology, mathematics, psychology, principles of engineering and a host of others. In our age, the truth has become a Person that is Jesus Christ who is the way, the truth and the life (John 14:6). Therefore, for us to know and appreciate Truth, we have to become truth ourselves. How can we achieve this feat? It begins with self-awareness through self-evaluation to integration.
Self-evaluation: This is a form of self-care activity in which one critically assesses his or herself depending on one’s context or state of life. In our case it is about the spiritual life. In the life of the Church, we have many avenues for self-evaluation. For instance, the penitential acts of the Holy Mass, gives us the opportunity for a self-evaluation; when we do examination of our consciences, we do self-evaluation; when we do the examen of St. Ignatius of Loyola, we do self-evaluation; when we do journaling we do self-evaluation; when we go for sacramental confession, we do self-evaluation; in short we are blessed with myriad of ways to do self-evaluation. So, the Mass, prayers and the sacraments stand as our spiritual resources and tools to evaluate ourselves. From observation, many are not conscious of these precious gifts and their positive impacts on us.
The question is how can we do better to upgrade our spiritual life, our life of holiness, our interior life or if you like our integration and advancement in our relationship with God? Mind you, our emphasis about self-evaluation is chiefly about spiritual self-evaluation. As far as the Old Testament figures, Jesus Christ, and the Church Fathers are concern, spiritual direction is a superlative means to achieve self-evaluation.
Spiritual direction: It is the art/practice where a spiritual director in union with the Holy Spirit guides a soul or one who is living and leading a spiritual life to be in tune with God in all he/she does. It is simply discovering where God is in all that we do. It is a growing relationship with God. It is a form of soul-care (self-care of the soul) in which a lover of the spiritual life and God seeks the guidance of an experienced Christian (director) in examining his/her relationship with God. Note, it is not psychological or spiritual counselling. Spiritual direction is about you and God but psychological counselling is about solving immediate and remote problems that are influencing our well-being. The former is a permanent need but the latter is temporal and is only necessary when there are physical and psychological problems. Spiritual direction is ancient and has its roots in the Scriptures, the Traditions of the Church and the Magisterium of the Catholic Church.
There is a cliché that runs through many professions as it clearly states the necessity of each profession and this applies to the need for spiritual self-evaluation through spiritual direction. In the medical field for instance, it states: “A doctor who treats himself has a fool for a patient.” In Law, the adage says, “He who is his own lawyer, has a fool for a client.” And in the spiritual life, the spiritual masters led by St. St. Bernard asserts that “He who constitutes himself his own director, becomes the disciple of a fool.” The implication is that we cannot be masters to ourselves when it comes to spiritual self-evaluation. My dear, the eye sees others but cannot see itself! St. Jerome counsels: “Do not be your own master and do not set out upon a way that is entirely new for you without a guide; otherwise, you will soon go astray.” So, self-evaluation can become very fruitful, if we can seek spiritual direction. The challenge of objectivity also stares at us when we want to see ourselves only from our own perspectives. Accordingly, St. Paul was asked by Jesus to receive spiritual direction from Ananias (Acts 9: 10ff).
From time to time, we need to check ourselves through spiritual direction because both saints and sinners have blocks of the spiritual life or blind spots such as: blame, depression, anxiety, indifference, judgment, indecision, procrastination, perfectionism, resentment, self-pity, confusion, and guilt (Gary, 2000). We cannot remove these blocks alone as there is no lone ranger in the spiritual life. We need the assistance of others especially spiritual directors since our focus is on spiritual self-evaluation. The foregoing twelve blocks of the spiritual life are the root causes of anger, sadness, fear, sorrow, frustration, disappointment, worry, embarrassment, jealousy, hurt, panic, and shame.
Finally, spiritual self-evaluation, is an ongoing process and we need it all through life, if and only if we are serious with our spiritual life and our intention to grow in relationship with God. Meet your priests to assist you in spiritual direction or to get a spiritual director for you. Seek for it and you will get it from the Catholic Church. We have it and it is always there for us as God’s people. God bless you always. Amen.
Fr. John-Mary Atep