Have You Tried Mary? Spiritual Direction for Special Needs Parents, by Heidi Indahl
“I’ve gotten used to and accepted that my life is going to look different than other people, but I can’t seem to get past the loneliness that comes with that. I can’t volunteer or participate or even relate to other moms in the same ways.”
“Have you tried the Blessed Mother?”
“Yes. I mean, yeah. I mean… I try?”
With all the gentleness that a spiritual father who has been around this block with me before can muster, my spiritual director went on to remind me that Mary was not at the front and center of the gospels. Her role was behind the scenes and unseen in almost every way. She was not a part of the front and center crowd. When I think about that, I even wonder if she might have struggled to relate to other women at times because her work of raising the Son of God was quite, well, unique.
While seeking the company of Mary in our journey as special needs parents is helpful in a million ways, I actually want to comment today on the value of a competent spiritual director. Taking the time on a semi-regular basis to care for my soul (spiritual needs) and check in with how I’m doing on the most important relationship in my life (Jesus!), has had every bit as much value as time with a therapist (emotional needs) or fitting in an annual check up (physical needs).
These three areas of need overlap for all human beings, but as special needs parents we know how quickly any one area can be left uncared for. Sometimes we think of spiritual directors as something extra for people with extraordinary or big jobs- leaders, authors, religious, etc.- and don’t think we are “worth” the “special treatment”. Guess what? Wrong. First of all, special needs parenting is an extraordinary or big job and second of all, spiritual direction is valuable to anyone who wants to improve their relationship with God.
Ultimately, spiritual direction is a relationship where you intentionally open yourself to being guided by the Holy Spirit in doing just that. It isn’t just Mary that my director continually encourages me to be more receptive too. He notices when one of those other areas (emotional, physical) are being unmet and encourages me that it is the desire of Jesus’ heart that I be cared for in those ways too and that it is never the right thing to neglect one for the sake of the others for more than a particular season. He pushes me to listen carefully in prayer and points me towards simple scriptures that can help me do that. He also tells me when he perceives that I’ve bitten off more than I can chew in a self imposed improvement plan.
The fruits of spiritual direction are many, but I find them particularly obvious in my marriage and in my life as a mother. I am reminded of my value, my worth, and the source of my strength. When I cooperate (and to be honest this is sometimes more difficult than I would like to admit), I find myself growing in virtue and holiness in ways that I don’t recognize at the time. In short, I find myself drawing closer to being a woman who is joyfully saying yes to the life God gave her. A woman who is becoming closer and closer to Mary.
Have you ever worked with a spiritual director? What have the fruits been?