Spiritual Direction 101
As I sit down on a plane, the following waterfall of words comes from my neighbor: “Hi, I’m George. What’s your name? Are you coming or going? I’m on my way home from a long business trip. I’m a banker. What do you do?” The words are spoken in a blur that requires him no pause for breath and offers me no break for response.
“I’m a spiritual director.”
“What is a spiritual director? Do you order people around all the time? Do you make them stop watching TV and drinking wine? Why would you do that? That doesn’t sound very fun to me.”
George isn’t the only one who wonders these sorts of things. Spiritual director doesn’t make it onto most “when I grow up” lists. So, what is spiritual direction? What does a spiritual director do? How can someone find the right spiritual director?
My definition of spiritual direction is this: “spiritual direction is an ancient art of listening for the movement of God in your life alongside someone who cares.” Others say that spiritual direction is discerning the plot of your life. Both definitions are open-ended enough that I am drawn to them, but they also don’t have many specifics involved.
From the outside, spiritual direction might resemble therapy, counseling, or coaching. Two people are talking about one of the person’s life. One person is in the role of caregiver and the other of care receiver. They meet for about an hour once a month. However, there are some key differences between therapy, counseling, coaching, and spiritual direction.
Therapy is to help a person cope with a life event or personality challenge. When the person has reached a place where they can cope, therapy is ended. If another challenge or hard event arises, the person may return to therapy for the next coping strategy. *
Counseling is to help a person decide. Do I file for divorce or stay to work it out? Do I confront this person from my past who has hurt me? When the decision has been made and executed, counseling ends. *
Coaching is to help a person set and meet their goals. How can I grow my business? How can I get back to a healthy weight? What is the plan I should follow? When the goal has been reached and maintained for a season, coaching draws to a close. *
Spiritual direction is to help a person grow more into the image of Christ. Spiritual direction never ends, in some form, until the day we day die because there is always more growing to do. We are always uncovering more ways to allow the Spirit of God to lead us, transform us, comfort us. And life around us is always offering more ways to ignore, numb out, and rebel against that leading. Spiritual direction never ends as a believer is always seeking a deeper relationship with God.
Spiritual direction happens in many different contexts. Some are informal groups of friends who seek to grow in relationship with each other and God. Some are formal groups with an identified facilitator. Some spiritual direction happens in a one-on-one setting. If one-on-one spiritual direction appeals to you at this stage in your journey, how do you go about finding a good fit with a spiritual director?
Locating a spiritual director can be as easy as visiting this website. You can also ask at local churches—Catholic, Anglican, Episcopalian, Methodist, and Presbyterian churches will often have people to recommend. Eleven28 Ministries also has spiritual directors on staff. A spiritual director does not have to share your same religious background, but it is helpful if they are somewhat familiar with it. The best spiritual directors will not force you into their own belief system but instead will invite you to grow in your own. Spiritual direction is a great equalizer; it is not necessary to find someone of your same gender, age, or personality type. In fact, seeking diversity can often enrich your experience. It is important that you feel a sense of safety and freedom with this person. A final consideration would be how you prefer to meet. Some directors only meet face-to-face, while others utilize technology. Your comfort and connection are most important.
I have grown up in the Churches of Christ who haven’t always emphasized a lifetime of growth for the disciple or trusting the guidance of the Spirit. The truth is that, by ignoring these vital elements, we have missed out on an abundant wealth of what God desires for the believer throughout their spiritual journey. However, it is never too late to embrace the foundation of life to the full as Jesus promised!
*These are overly simplified definitions to be sure and I mean no disrespect in any way to those who practice these necessary and good vocations; I have benefited from all three. My only goal is to differentiate between their purposes and that of spiritual direction.