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Why You Need a Wise and Trustworthy Confidant to Advance in the Spiritual Life

August 30, 2016


The thirteenth rule: Likewise, [Satan] acts as a licentious lover in wanting to be secret and not revealed. For, as the licentious man who, speaking for an evil purpose, seduces the daughter of a good father or the wife of a good husband, wants his words and persuasions to be secret. The contrary displeases him much, when the daughter reveals to her father or the wife to her husband his licentious words and depraved intention, because he knows well that he will not be able to succeed with the undertaking begun: in the same way, when the Enemy of human nature brings his wiles and persuasions to the just soul, he wants and desires that they be received and kept in secret; but when one reveals them to his good Confessor or to another spiritual person that knows [the Devil’s] deceits and evil ends, it is very grievous to him, because he gathers, from his manifest deceits being discovered, that he will not be able to succeed with his wickedness begun. — St. Ignatius of Loyola

I have written on this before, but felt moved to write on it again: the importance of not hiding your inner struggles and temptations; of not deceiving yourself that you can “tough it out” on your own and, through the sheer power of white-knuckled determination, overcome temptations and struggles without the assistance of another wiser than yourself. Such inner isolation and arrogant self-reliance is the perfect breeding ground for things like discouragement, despair or that most extraordinary human capacity to rationalize and justify succumbing to temptation. When we self-isolate, cutting ourselves off from the saving power of the God-Man, Jesus (i.e. God saves us not directly but through other human beings), we are on our own against “the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness” (Ephesians 6:12).

Fr. Tom Hopko summed up well the orthodox Christian spiritual tradition’s universal insight:

The person should open their life fully to at least one other wise and trustworthy person, telling absolutely everything, without editing or hiding anything: their thoughts, dreams, temptations, actions, sins, fears, anxieties. This person must be able to listen to you without judgment, but be able to judge the lies and lead you into the light … The desert Fathers called this the “baring of thoughts” and considered it an absolute requirement for growth in virtue … without this practice, one is dangerously subject to prelest [delusion] and all the deceits of the Evil One, who thrives on isolation, secrecy and self-direction. St. Teresa of Avila says self-direction is the blind leading the blind … Satan remains brilliant and is a master at cloaking darkness in light. He tempts the good with good, and the evil with evil … St. Symeon says, it’s better to “be called a disciple of a disciple rather than to live by your own devices, gathering the worthless fruits of your own will.”

I share this now because this summer I experienced yet again the power of this truth, and the power of the lie. I had been struggling with an inner storm for months, and when I finally surrendered my pride and revealed it fully to a wise and trustworthy confidant, its gripping power was shattered. I still had to work through how best to overcome the temptation, but its enslaving grip was demolished. This is the power hidden in sacramental Confession, spiritual direction and spiritual friendships. And I’ve always believed this is the deepest meaning of James 5:16: “Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed.” Confess, pray for one another. Though one must use great discretion in choosing the recipient of that confession, the practice itself is foundational.

Regardless of how well I know this truth, or have been through this cycle, I find myself lured into this trap again and again. That’s just the human condition. But it was precisely because I knew the Thirteenth Rule that I knew it’s what I had to do. It’s not always easy to find the “wise and trustworthy” confidant, so it’s something I never take for granted and pray for very often. 

St. Paul tells us in 2 Cor. 3:17, “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” Jesus tells us it is the truth that sets us free. Living in the truth, in the light, fleeing the dark isolation of keeping secret your inner struggles/temptations, and praying for a trustworthy and wise confidant are the ingredients of inner freedom that blossoms into virtue. God has made us this way, so we simply cannot flourish in freedom without one another. In Christ’s Body we are part of a living symphony, and beauty can only bloom in each of us when we have surrendered ourselves to the unifying song of love that the harmonious Spirit of Jesus sings through, with and in us (e.g. 1 Cor. 12).

We must always move from isolation to communion, from “leave me alone” to “don’t leave me alone”… A 21P if you’re game: