different peopleI think one of the things I struggle with the most, like many people, is assuming the experiences I’ve had are the definitive answers to reality, that somehow what I’ve learned and come to know over time up until now is what is true and absolute. Indeed, for all of us, our experiences are as true and real as can be… for us. But everyone is at their own stage and place in life. I have encountered teenagers, undergrads, young adults, middle-aged people, and elderly, all who experience God and life in wildly different ways. It’s easy to let my ego get the upper hand when I feel I’m spiritually “more advanced” than others. That is the evil spirit at work.

As I have reflected on my own journey and witnessed the different journeys of others, I’ve come to acknowledge that no one will ever be in the same place I am. If you think about that language literally, it’s true. No person can be in the same place I am. It’s literally impossible to physically take up the space of another. Ever. That means that those I encounter in the world have never fully had my perspective and never will. We may share similar experiences which can help us empathise, but if someone else experiences God in an evening rainfall I can never fully know what that experience was like for them. Their spiritual experience is shaped by all their past experiences, their image of God, their relationships, and even their biological makeup.

I recall after having the experience of the Spiritual Exercises—a full 30 days in silence and prayer, praying several times a day through the four weeks of the Exercises—I tried to relay the powerful experiences to others, the fruits and graces I received, and my personal encounters with Jesus in prayer. Yet no one fully understood. No one will ever understand my exact experience, even if they themselves have made the retreat.

While it may be frustrating to never find someone who can fully know your experience and to know that you can never fully understand another’s experience, the gift is that God has made us as unique beings. God allows us to have our own unique experiences informed by our own personal decisions, relationships, age, life choices, interactions, and DNA! We are not robots. We have our own perspectives and God touches us in the ways that are best for us. That is a foundational principle of the Spiritual Exercises:

“… the Spiritual Exercises are meant to be adapted for us by the director who takes account of our age and maturity, education, potential, and talents.” (18th Annotation, Spiritual Exercises, David Fleming)

God, Ignatius says, is ultimately the director. God works with us as unique individuals. What sets one person alight with consolation may not have the same effect on another. While praying the rosary is not as life-giving for me, it may be for you. Through life, trust that God is caring for each person in his or her own personal way and guiding you in the best way that leads you to becoming more you.

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