One of the best and most ancient spiritual analogies that describes our life here on earth is the ship sailing towards the harbor of heaven. Saint Thérèse explained that it was one of her favorite analogies:
“[T]he symbol of a ship always delights me and helps me to bear the exile of this life. Does not the Wise Man tell us—”Life is like a ship that passeth through the waves: when it is gone by, the trace thereof cannot be found”? – Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, The Story of a Soul.
It reminds us that heaven is our true home and that our life on earth is temporary. All ships must come in at some point and cannot stay out at sea forever.
Additionally, ships out at sea must use a compass to ensure that they are going in the right direction. If the captain of a ship does not use a compass, he/she runs the risk of drifting off course and ending up in the wrong place. A storm in the middle of the ocean can easily take a ship off course and when the waters die down, the captain must use navigational tools to steer the ship in the right direction.
So too in the spiritual life.
If we are not oriented in the right direction and do not have a clear idea of where we are headed, it is easy to get side-tracked when the storms of life come and try to pummel us. We can then end-up drifting into dangerous territory that will further separate us from our final destination.
That is why it is most beneficial to have a set of spiritual goals with a plan behind them to give us a spiritual compass that keeps our soul on the right path. It will help us to listen to the movements of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, following the voice of God to safer shores.
Moving forward, here are three initial steps that will help us give our spiritual lives the compass that we need:
1. Find your place on the map.
It is nearly impossible to reach a destination if you do not know where you are on the map. One way to do this is to practice the Ignatian Examen. Only when you know where you are on the map are you able to chart a course to a destination.
2. Discern where God is leading you.
We certainly may have big plans for that we want to accomplish, but God may have other ideas. This means we have to open up our hearts and discover the various movements of our hearts, recognizing what is from God and what may be a distraction. We may want to radically change our spiritual lives and live like a hermit in the desert, but God may want us to live in the city and focus on loving him in the little things of life. Discerning what our spiritual goals should be requires being open to God’s will and actively working with him to plan a better path to follow. Again, the Examen can be a helpful tool to discern God's movements in your life.
3. Start sailing toward your ultimate goal.
After recognizing where you are and having discerned where God wants you to be, you can begin working towards that destination. This will require great effort and the practice of virtues that will lead you in the right direction. As in all things, “baby steps” are required and the goal will only be reached incrementally.
In the end, don’t become anxious if you are not in a place right now that you want to be. It is possible, with God’s grace, to move in the right direction and stay the course to safe harbors.
It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it. With God all things are possible.