Do I stink?
I was over at a friend’s house the other day, a friend that I know well and whose house I visit often. And I noticed, as I notice every time I go over there, that their house REEKS of dog.
I’m not passing any judgment. They have a dog, the previous owner had dogs, there have been dogs living in that house for probably 30 years. It’s not their fault that their house smells like dog. But it smacks me right in the face every time I walk through the door.
I have to assume that the people who live there don’t realize that their house stinks. In fact, after about 10 minutes, I didn’t notice it anymore. That made me think, “what if my house stinks too and I don’t even realize it?” My wife says all the time that our house smells like dirty diapers; I don’t smell anything. But we do have a 1 year old, we do live in a small condo, and we do have dirty diapers in the house at all times. It could very well stink and I just don’t smell it. So what I’d like to do is invite someone over to my house, ask them to come inside and to give me an honest response to whether or not our house stinks, help me identify the source, and then help me remove whatever’s stinking the place up.
I think there’s a parallel here to our souls, in regard to confession and spiritual direction. Going to confession without getting any spiritual direction would be like identifying the thing that I think stinks and taking it out myself. I’m removing the things that I can see: the trash, the diapers, the things that are obvious. But there might be a smell that I don’t ever smell because it’s all around me all the time and I’m just used to it. And the source of that smell is completely undetected because I don’t know it’s there and have no idea it’s making me stink.
Don’t misunderstand me, going to confession is always awesome! But if we really want to be holy, it’s even better to combine that with some spiritual direction. This is someone you invite in and are open and honest with and you ask them to be completely honest about what they see…and smell. I can imagine sitting on my couch with a buddy watching a game and asking, “Hey does it stink in here?” And he’ll say, “Nah, it’s fine.” But really it does stink. So first we have to invite them, we have to let them in and actually let them see what’s going on inside and explore and investigate and ask questions and sniff around. But then they also have to be real honest about what smells and what doesn’t smell. This is the great gift of spiritual direction. If you really want to be sure that you don’t stink and that you’re following the path that God wants you to be on, then I suggest that everyone get a spiritual director. Someone that can enter into your life, can help you sniff around and will be honest with you about how you can make your life better.
What would be even better would be if you could find someone who is an expert in trash removal. I think a priest who can give you spiritual direction and at the same time give you confession is a blessing although totally not necessary. There can be two different people. There can be someone who comes in and sniffs around for you and helps you identify the stink, and then someone else, a priest, that comes in and helps you with the removal. But if you can get that help of identifying the stink but then also get some help in HOW do the removal – i.e. advice for how to avoid sin - that’s the ideal combination for a spiritual director.
One last point: the type of stink that I was talking about over at my buddy’s house, there’s no item that’s causing it. It’s ingrained in the carpet, the upholstery; it’s even permeated into the walls. It’s not from anything they did. It’s not even anything they can change completely. And it’s certainly not their fault. Some of the things that spiritual directors help us with aren’t just removing the sins in our life. It’s also about being the best person we can be - holiness. There might be certain personality traits that you have, that gone unchecked, can be less than charitable to people. For example, I am an incredibly honest person. Sometimes if I’m too honest and I tell people things I think about them or what they’ve done in too blunt of a fashion it can be hurtful. It’s not necessarily a bad thing that I’m honest, but I can certainly be more careful to balance my honesty with compassion. The things that spiritual directors help us with are not just keeping us from stinking but are also helping us smell good! And by really being the best person we can be and not just doing the minimum of removing the bad stuff, it might help us spread the fragrance of God instead of our own fragrance.
So if you haven’t been to confession in a long time…go! And if you are a regular visitor to the confessional, next time you’re in there ask your priest if he’d be willing to be your spiritual director or refer you to someone who can.