One important way that individual Christians for centuries have involved others in their efforts to become truly and fully who they are in Christ is through a relationship specifically devoted to giving attention to your life with God, known as spiritual direction.
The name itself can convey some misguided ideas about what a spiritual direction relationship is, thinking that it will involve someone telling me what to do on spiritual things (as if to say, “Go home, read Habakkuk three times, and call me in the morning”). But rather than having a narrow focus on religious practices with the director being very directive like that, the focus of spiritual direction is on an individual’s whole life and God’s activity in it. Therefore, I think it is helpful to continue to use the same term as those in centuries before us, but to emphasize that the role of spiritual director is to direct my attention to the work of the Holy Spirit in my life.
Albert Haase says spiritual direction “is about committing to the attention, discovery and articulation of...the reality of God’s grace in our lives,” and he lists the following seven motivations for why someone might commit to sharing their life with God with a spiritual director*:
- To learn how to be attentive to God’s grace in one’s life
- To deepen awareness of God’s grace
- To explore what obstructs one’s attention to God’s grace
- To name and honor near occasions of grace
- To find the grace offered in loss, grief, anger, or fear
- To be conscious of God’s grace in a moment of transition
- To make an important decision in light of God’s grace
This helps to highlight the distinctions between meeting with a spiritual director and meeting with a therapist or pastoral counselor. While each of these relationships can be important and helpful, the focus is different. Therapeutic or counseling relationships are typically problem-centered. I might seek to engage a counselor for help with an issue: dealing with grief, relational difficulties, or anxiety, for example. I will probably meet with a counselor while I am dealing with the respective issue, and then––hopefully––come to a significant degree of healing in regard to it, and the therapy or counseling would end.
In spiritual direction, the focus is not on a particular problem, but on your life with God. Since they are not problem-centered, spiritual direction relationships can be longer-term, allowing us the immensely valuable experience of being known over time by someone who is prayerfully paying attention to us and to God as we meet together.
Spiritual direction primarily happens in one-on-one relationships between an individual and a trained spiritual director, although spiritual direction groups also exist and can also be a wonderful setting in which to allow others to participate in our journey.
A spiritual director sees the grace imbued in the directee’s life, has experience in what it’s like to stay planted, and is aware of the challenges involved in the growth process. Then the director is able to take that experience-based knowledge, prayerfully listen to our stories, and “name and honor the occasions of grace” within the realities of our lives.
*From Albert Haase, O.F.M., Coming Home to Your True Self: Leaving the Emptiness of False Attractions (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2008), 130-135.
Opportunities for Spiritual Direction
- I (Daniel) meet with people for spiritual direction regularly, most often through online video calls. I also have written exchanges with some directees, which adds a helpful way of being together. I do not currently ask directees to pay for spiritual direction conversations. The first step is a 30-minute conversation in which we explore what spiritual direction is and how we might go about it together. After the initial conversation, connecting with one another once per month is a normal rhythm. If you are interested in exploring this together, please email me.
- I am a part of two organizations which have lists of recommended spiritual directors. You can browse these lists to see if there is someone in your area, or whom you wish to contact:
- CenterQuest is where I was trained in spiritual direction. They have a list of recommended directors as well as an online form you can complete to be put into contact with a trained director.
- The Transforming Center is a ministry which focuses on the souls of pastors and Christian leaders where I have received training and now offer spiritual direction on retreats. The link above is to their list of recommended directors.