What is a spiritual director?
Ideas about what a spiritual director is and what they do can bring up positive or negative images, depending on a person’s faith tradition and experience with faith institutions. Images about spiritual directors may range from self-righteous religious bully to guru guide to spiritual bliss. Neither should be the case!
A spiritual director is, quite simply, a listening companion to someone on their spiritual journey. In various traditions directors might have been the apostles, teachers, evangelists, priests/pastors within congregations. In other traditions they might be spiritual elders or mentors; the spiritually mature lay people of the church. Spiritual directors might be known as soul friend or spiritual guide or counselor.
Most essentially, a spiritual director, in the Christian tradition, is a disciple of Jesus and committed to attending to the care of souls. Different Christian traditions will have different approaches to spiritual direction but in Christian spiritual direction it is the Holy Spirit who is recognized as the true Spiritual Director. The spiritual direction session is recognized as a conversation of three: director, directee, and our Triune God.
The spiritual director makes space to be present with the Holy Spirit and the person who desires a deeper spiritual journey (the directee). Through attending to the everyday events, thoughts and feelings of the directee, together, they become gently curious and attentive, seeking to discover God’s movement in the life of the directee, so that the directee might draw deeper into God’s loving embrace. Our journey as Christ followers is the realization of our true-self in Christ and living in an intimate communion with God in the midst of our everyday life. The journey of spiritual direction is towards wholeness, holiness and the healing that comes through a deeper knowing of Jesus.
Do I need a spiritual director?
If you are thinking about finding a spiritual director, consider asking yourself these three questions:
1. Do I desire a deeper journey with God?
2. Am I willing to be uncomfortable as I seek to draw near to Him?
3. Will I make a once-a-month commitment to attend to my life and God’s movement in my life with the listening ear of another?
If you answer yes to all three of these questions, then spending time with a spiritual director will likely be a worthwhile investment of your time and money and a fruitful endeavor on your spiritual path.
The spiritual journey was never meant to be done in isolation. It was always meant to be lived in community. In seeking a deeper journey with God, we all know how easy it is to be blind to the realities of our own life and circumstances. We simply don’t know what we don’t know. We need the gentle presence of another to bear witness to our life – to speak with grace, kindness and curiosity at our unnoticed discrepancies, and to encourage us when our faith feels thin or life feels overwhelming.
This journey takes time and commitment, and a willingness to be wrong, as well as right about one’s self. It can be uncomfortable to be transparent about one’s life and emotions. Yet, God is in the very midst of it all, welcoming us with grace, love and forgiveness. God speaks through our circumstances, thoughts and emotions. The listening presence and gentle curiosity of a spiritual director can expand our view enough to help us listen a little more clearly, surrender a little more fully, and give our self the same love and grace that God pours over us. It is in the power and presence of His love where we are transformed.
Finding a spiritual director
Finding a spiritual director can take a bit of time and work. Though spiritual direction is not a new spiritual practice, it is not as prevalent in some denominations. Still, you may want to begin your search by contacting your own church or denomination. Ask if they have any person on staff who is a spiritual director. This is a different relationship than pastoral counseling, as the purpose is not to solve a life issue, but to meet together regularly to bring all of life into an awareness for noticing God.
If your own church denomination is not able to refer you, the Catholic denomination has a strong tradition of training up spiritual directors and could be a valuable resource for you.
In addition to spiritual directors through your local church, there are a number of organizations that train spiritual directors. My personal favorite is my training ground Anam Cara (anamcara.com), where spiritual directors are taught in a very personal, individually-focused apprenticeship model. I am currently accepting new directees and you are welcome to email me to set up a time to connect.
While not an exhaustive list, two other organizations that I considered before deciding on Anam Cara’s apprenticeship model are:
Leadership Transformations (leadershiptransformations.org)
Sustainable Faith (sustainablefaith.com)
You might even check your local seminary or Christian university, as there has been an increase in programs focused on the training of spiritual directors.
If you can not find a local spiritual director, do not be afraid to ask if a director will consider a distance spiritual direction relationship in which you meet through one of the widely available video-conferencing apps. Many directors offer distance direction and my distance directees have found our time to be just as fruitful as it would be if we were meeting in person.
Once you get the name of a spiritual director, many will schedule your first session for free. This meeting allows the directee to get a sense of the director’s style and character and the director to hear what the directee is seeking. Both director and directee are able to assess an initial level of comfort that will allow the sessions to move freely.
This initial meeting in no way obligates a directee to the director, and you should always feel the freedom to meet with another director. In any case, many directors suggest an initial 3 to 6-month trial period through which you are able to fully engage this new practice with the knowledge that you have an “out” should either the process or the spiritual direction relationship be outside your desires or expectations. While at any time you should feel free to address your concerns with your director, this check-in session is a definite time to be honest with your director.
The length of time you journey with a director is ultimately up to you. Ultimately spiritual transformation is a life-long journey, but your time with the director most likely will not be. It is difficult to plan the length of this journey at the onset. Life circumstances may change, theirs or yours, that brings the spiritual direction relationship to a close. And that is ok. God is in it all.