As a friend of Tim Staples, I used to write on the Catholic Answers forum in the vocations category. It amazed me how often young people would pour their hearts out there only to hear back - even from priests! - "Get a spiritual director." That's it?! How does that help?
Now as a priest who gives spiritual direction I agree that a good director can be a huge help for knowing the will of God, but he or she is not indispensable. I know lots of young people who have discerned without having a human spiritual director.
Could it be that this myth has stuck around for so long because young people don't know any better, so they ask the "experts"? But what happens when the experts get it wrong? God does have a plan for your life, and a spiritual director can help you discover it, but he's no magician or mind-reader. He's definitely not God.
The truth is that the two irreplaceable elements in vocational discernment are you and your Creator. God is the only one who knows who He made you to be and for what purpose He created you, and He is going to reveal His plans to one other person... you.
A spiritual director is like a good friend. He
- confirms you when you're right,
- corrects you when you get something wrong,
- moderates exaggerated excitement,
- encourages you when times are tough,
- and helps you anticipate obstacles
He's like a good basketball coach. Yes, a good coach can teach you mechanics and strategy. Yes, a great coach is necessary if you want to be world-class. But he can't do it for you. You are the one who has to get out there and practice: dribbling, passing, shooting, defending. You are the one who has to execute. And guess what? Can you get better without the coach if you go through the right exercises? You bet you can!
So what sort of "spiritual exercises" would you need to do to be able to discern the will of God for your life?
HOW TO BECOME A CHAMPION DISCERNER
What you need to do - what any spiritual director worth his salt would tell you to do - is to create a spiritual parthenon so you can embrace the freedom of heart and the intimacy with God that together make discernment possible. Concretely that means:
- daily meditation of at least 20 minutes with a concrete resolution
- Sunday Mass
- monthly confession
- eliminate distractions: TV, video games, iPod, texting, etc.
- live balance: sleep, prayer, family, work/school, friends/hobbies, etc.
- live virtue, especially purity of heart
- go on a dating fast (or break up if you're already dating)
Do that, and I guarantee you'll be light years ahead of anyone who has an outstanding spiritual director but doesn't actually put in the work. God bless. Live from your heart.