What is spiritual direction?
Spiritual direction is a Christian spiritual practice in which one person (the “director”) comes alongside another person (the “directee”) in order to prayerfully help that person attend and respond to the deeper realities of his or her relationship with God. This typically occurs within a spiritual direction session, which occurs once a month for an hour.
The practice of spiritual direction is part of a long tradition of the Church. Today Protestant and Evangelical churches are rediscovering the beauty of this gift to those who are spiritually seeking. One of the gifts of spiritual direction is that it helps an individual grow in awareness of Jesus in his or her daily life. And when we grow in our awareness of our Lord Jesus Christ, our eyes can be opened to the transformational and loving work of the Triune God in our own lives and in the lives of those all around us.
What is the role of the spiritual director within a session?
Spiritual directors aim to be fully present and attentive to the directee. The time spent in a spiritual direction session is meant to be a non-judgmental, safe place where you can share your desires to know God more, your heart longings, questions, frustrations, or possible confusion as your spiritual journey has unfolded. As these conversations unfold within a session, a spiritual director tries to help you better sense and discover what God is saying and doing in your heart and life. “Fostering discovery rather than teaching doctrine is a spiritual director’s purpose" (William Barry, The Practice of Spiritual Direction).
What can I expect during a spiritual direction session?
We live in a culture where teaching doctrine, having answers, imparting knowledge, administering unasked for advice, and sharing our opinions (on everything!) is more popular than the beautiful art of asking questions to someone with the full intent of just listening. In spiritual direction, you can expect to have the director ask you thoughtful questions in order to help you reflect on your relationship with God and His will for your life. And then listen to what you say.
It is a privilege to listen to someone share his or her heart, longings, hope and pain. To listen with an ear bent fully towards what you are saying, but also with an ear fully turned inward, listening for the still, small voice of our Father. A spiritual director is constantly trying to discern ‘what is the work of the Holy Spirit and what is He inviting this person to notice?’ Most spiritual direction sessions include times of silence to help you listen to God and become aware of His Presence with you.
One might expect a spiritual director to "direct" you and help point the way you should go, whether vocationally, relationally, emotionally, or in regards to a particular situation. Although all of these topics can be explored within a session, a spiritual director does not direct you by giving you advice or showing you how to solve a particular challenge that we may discuss. Rather, a spiritual director helps you sense and respond to God’s invitations to you personally in regards to whatever was discussed. The true spiritual director in every session is God Himself. The spiritual director aims to follow Him and let Him lead the session; thus sessions include times of talking to God in prayer. Spiritual direction sessions can be viewed as a three way dialogue, between God, the directee, and the director.
Why might one seek out receiving spiritual direction?
People seek out receiving spiritual direction for many reasons. It is difficult to narrow down the main reason(s) because everyone is different and experiences God differently. That said, most people seek out receiving spiritual direction in order to grow closer to God. To know Him more and be known by Him more.
The one seeking spiritual direction may be a new Christian, or someone who has been in ministry for decades. The person may feel stable and very close to God, or the person seeking it can feel like he or she is in a desperate place where it is a new season of crying out to God and struggling to trust Him. Some people want to learn to slow down and begin to lean into a more contemplative lifestyle. Some want to learn how to receive God's love more fully in order to allow that to overflow into this world. So regardless of the reasons one might seek out receiving spiritual direction, the vast majority of those who take this step say that they have found it to be a very valuable part of their spiritual journey.
Who could benefit from spiritual direction?
Anyone who is seeking to know God more can benefit from spiritual direction. You can begin receiving spiritual direction at any season of life. Old, young, struggling in your faith, or mature in your faith but needing new life infused into your soul. Male or female. All are welcome.
Spiritual direction can help you discern what God is desiring to communicate to you in whatever season of life you find yourself right now. Whether you are in a season where God feels very near or where He feels far away, you simply need to desire this monthly discipline of slowing down to focus on your relationship with God. Spiritual direction can be very rich in its benefits toward your spiritual formation. So whether you are in a season of transitions, a time of mourning, a season filled with searching, or a time of desiring to love and to be loved by God more deeply, spiritual direction can help you navigate these paths and seasons of life.
What is the difference between spiritual direction and counseling?
1. People usually seek out counseling and spiritual direction for different reasons:
People tend to seek out counseling in times of crisis or desperation, or at least due to a problem that is affecting their ability to function more fully in life. People usually seek out spiritual direction in order to grow in their relationship with God. However, some people do seek spiritual direction due to a crisis or struggle, but the desire is not necessarily to solve it with coping skills as much as it is to better learn to deal with issues or problems by leaning on God, with the help of someone (like a spiritual director) who will be able to honor that desire.
2. The focus is different for counseling and spiritual direction:
In counseling, the focus is on helping the client navigate, solve, or manage problems and issues he or she is dealing with. Again, this is usually done in order to increase his or her ability to cope and function in life. In spiritual direction, the focus will be centered more around faith, prayer, and growing in his or her awareness and experience of God through all the ups and downs of life.
3. Prayer is approached differently with counseling versus spiritual direction:
Prayer is usually not a part of a counseling session. However, it can be a small portion of a session with a Christian counselor as long as it is initiated by the client and well documented by the counselor that the client desires this as part of treatment. With spiritual direction, prayer is central to the process, for “there is no such thing as a relationship apart from communication. Communication with God is prayer. Prayer is the heart of our relationship with God. And prayer is the core of spiritual direction” (Sacred Companions, David Benner).
4. The pace and process are different for each type of service:
Counseling is typically short term, can be somewhat intense, and occurs weekly, often with homework that helps the client to directly work on an issue throughout the week. Spiritual direction typically occurs once a month for an hour, and may extend for years if the directee continues to desire help in growing ever closer to God as his or her spiritual journey unfolds. Because life is often busy and filled with noise and distractions, those coming for spiritual direction often desire to learn to slow down and begin to appreciate a more contemplative lifestyle that leaves room to regularly listen to God.
5. if I am really struggling with an Issue, should I see a counselor instead of a spiritual director?
Not necessarily. Both counselors and spiritual directors may be faced with someone who is struggling with depression, anxiety, addictions, deep weariness/burnout, grief, guilt, shame, fear, damaged self-image, and wrong perceptions of God. A spiritual director may have the flexibility to more deeply honor the truth that God is doing a work in his or her heart and will strive to go only at the pace God goes, which is often much slower than a shorter term treatment plan that a counselor is trained to create. That said, if you are dealing with an intense addiction, a mental illness that feels out of control, and/or severe depression or anxiety, then it is definitely best to seek out the help of a counselor or psychiatrist first. If you have any questions about whether you should see a counselor or a spiritual director, I would be happy to help you answer any questions you have.