How To Make the Most of Spiritual Direction

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Prepare

Pray for the grace to listen to and respond to God’s invitations. Seek to bring an attitude of openness to spiritual direction, so that Jesus can “shape” you and draw you more deeply into his love

Approach spiritual direction with reverence. Your relationship with God is sacred; this time that you are taking for your relationship with God is also sacred.

Prepare by noting/journaling about your recent prayer experiences.

  • If you are praying Lectio Divina or another meditative or contemplative prayer, you will find it helpful to reflect on your feelings, inspirations, and the fruit of your prayer immediately after praying. Review these reflections before you go for spiritual direction.
  • If you pray the examen prayer, you will probably find your first meeting for spiritual direction easier, as the examen prayer includes reflection as part of the prayer.

Also, note any questions you wish to ask regarding your spiritual life.

Spiritual Direction Session

When you arrive, the spiritual director may begin with a prayer, then will most likely invite you to talk about your spiritual journey and what has brought you to direction. In your conversation, you will want to focus above all on your spiritual life—that is, your prayer, your relationship with God, and how you live your relationship with God in your day to day life. Because your whole life is the context of your relationship with God, you will want to tell your spiritual director briefly about the important things that are happening in your life and how they are affecting you.

Spiritual direction is different than a counseling session or a conversation between friends. Your time is limited, so you will want to keep the focus on your spiritual life. Sometimes it’s hard to know how to do that, but the spiritual director will help to focus the conversation around your relationship with God. He or she may ask you questions so that they understand the context of what you are saying. Feel free to answer, but also feel free not to answer, saying something like, “I have to think about that.”

Also feel free to acknowledge that you don’t know exactly what to talk about or how to speak about something. The spiritual director can then help guide the conversation.

Don’t be afraid of the silence that may arise—the silence may give both you and the spiritual director an opportunity to reflect and listen together to God’s invitation to you.

At first, you may feel a bit uncomfortable or uneasy speaking about your prayer and your relationship with Jesus. This is natural because you don’t know your spiritual director and also  because it’s not something that you usually do. Speaking about your prayer life takes practice. Finding the words to describe a spiritual experience can be challenging, which is why it is helpful to reflect on it ahead of time, and bring those notes to your spiritual direction session.

During the session, the spiritual director’s role is to:

  • Listen attentively (to the point that you feel understood)
  • Help to focus the conversation around your relationship with God
  • Offer insight into what you shared so that you can reflect more deeply on your relationship with God
  • Direct you back to your relationship with God
  • Occasionally, offer advice on spiritual matters or on how to pray
  • Address any questions you have

If a director offers advice on spiritual matters, this is important to listen to and receive thoughtfully.

If you feel that the spiritual direction session was helpful or went fairly well, you can arrange for another appointment. Typically, someone in spiritual direction would see their director about once a month, although it can certainly be more or less frequent.

Don’t expect too much from any one session of spiritual direction. The spiritual director is not there to “fix” your problems, but to help you recognize God’s action in your life. Sometimes spiritual matters take time to unfold. As the spiritual director gets to know you, their insights and advice will become more specific to you and your situation.

Follow Up

Immediately or as soon as you are able to, take some time to pray about what came up during spiritual direction. Journaling or noting down what the spiritual director said may also be helpful. If the spiritual director offered advice that seems helpful to you, give it a try. If you’re not sure that it would be helpful, pray about the advice that was offered, as the spiritual director is speaking from the wisdom of prayer and experience. If you decide not to take the spiritual director’s advice, is there something else that you can do that will address the area that the spiritual director’s advice was directed towards?

Follow up your spiritual direction appointment with prayer: this is the best way to help it bear fruit in your life.

Spiritual Direction 101

Before getting to the practical tips, I thought it might be helpful to share some general notes about spiritual direction.

06A second foto stochPerhaps we are discerning our vocation or another big life choice, and we decided to go for some spiritual direction. [Here are some suggestions how to find a spiritual director.] After we have found a director and set up an appointment, what should we expect?

First of all, we remember that our true Spiritual Director is Jesus himself. The person we are seeing for spiritual direction is helping us recognize Christ’s direction and invitations in our life. A spiritual director is trained to listen, to accompany us on our spiritual journey, and to help us recognize God’s invitations in our prayer and in our life.

Secondly, in our first meeting, we want to look for a certain affinity between our spiritual director and ourselves. When we meet for spiritual direction for the first time, we want to notice how we feel, especially if we feel fairly comfortable talking honestly with the director. (It’s natural when speaking with a spiritual director for the first couple times, to feel a bit uncomfortable simply because we don’t know the director yet.) After the session, we can consider if we felt understood and validated in presenting our experience. The spiritual director should understand where we are on our spiritual journey and we should feel that we are able to trust him or her. If we find ourselves holding back from what we wanted to talk about out of fear, or feel misunderstood, or something feels “off,” we can still have a helpful session, but we may wish to try another spiritual director in the future. Sometimes it takes two or three meetings for us to recognize whether or not a spiritual director is a “good fit” for us. This is normal, and the spiritual director will expect us to evaluate our experience with them.

Thirdly, spiritual directors usually support themselves and their families (or their communities if they are religious) with their spiritual direction. When we set up the appointment, it is helpful to ask the spiritual director what their stipend is. If we forget to ask about a stipend before we meet, we will want to make sure we do so at our first meeting.

Next, I’ll post some tips on how to make the most of spiritual direction.

Would Yoda Have Made a Good Spiritual Director?

YodaBandWWhere would Cinderella be without her fairy godmother? Frodo without Gandalf? The English students without John Keating in Dead Poets Society?  The Karate Kid without Mr. Miyagi? Or Luke Skywalker without Yoda?

Great movie mentors, although often idealized, remind us how important mentors are in our own lives. Mentors are the people who have walked the difficult path before us, people who have shared or currently share in our situation or something similar. How they have walked their path ignites in us a longing to be like them. They approach challenges with a quality or grace that appeals to us. Sometimes it is simply their courageous example that shows us the way; at other times it might be their wisdom that gives us hope that we too can overcome the obstacles in our path. Although we don’t have to personally know someone for their words and example to mentor us, the ideal mentor not only knows us, but “gets” us, and offers us insight to help us see from a different perspective. A mentor can be encouraging, challenging, or even discouraging at times, but their wisdom and insight is the fruit of their life experience.

We can be mentored in many areas of our lives, from a career, to living our Catholic Faith, to a certain scientific or artistic discipline, to simply becoming a better human being. A mentor may be a parent, grandparent, or other relative, a teacher, an expert in a particular field, a boss, a co-worker, a pastor, a spiritual friend, or someone with vast life experience. The best mentors are those who are comfortable with themselves, who have integrated the various aspects of their lives, and are deeply spiritual human beings.

A spiritual mentor is wise in spiritual matters not just from study but from his or her lived experience. Consulting with someone wise in the ways of God can be invaluable for our discernment journey. We should seek advice when we are ready—after we have already been praying about our discernment and done whatever research we need to do—and are at a point where we need some insight as to how to proceed. Perhaps we are stuck in indecision or fear, or perhaps we simply lack the knowledge or insight needed take our next step forward. It’s important to be really open to what our mentor has to say.

One form of mentorship that is part of the Catholic spiritual tradition, as well as highly encouraged in discernments, is spiritual direction. If we are seriously engaged in our spiritual life, we may want to seek regular spiritual direction. But especially when we are discerning a larger matter (such as our vocation), we would be wise to seek a spiritual director, who is often the most helpful mentor in a discernment.

In an earlier post: https://coauthoryourlifewithgod.com/2015/03/04/spiritual-direction/, I talked about how to find a spiritual director. In my next couple posts, I’ll talk a little bit about what it is like to go for spiritual direction for the first time, and some tips for how to make the most of spiritual direction.

To get back to the title question, yes, I think Yoda would have made a good spiritual director for Luke and perhaps does offer him some spiritual direction. Above all, Yoda does what a good spiritual director does: to find God in the directee’s own experience. Yoda encourages Luke to get in touch with and trust his own experience of “the Force.” And while “the Force” seriously lacks as an image of God from a Christian worldview, for the fictional world of Star Wars “the Force” does seem to refer directly to God’s Providence at work in creation.

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In the meantime, what questions do you have questions regarding spiritual direction? If you contact me with your questions, either below in the comments, or via email, I’ll answer them in an upcoming post.

Spiritual Direction

Another way to help us to listen to God in our prayer and in our lives is to seek out spiritual direction. Speaking regularly to a spiritual director is a time-honored practice, especially when someone is discerning their vocation, making a major life-choice, or a week-long retreat.

How can a spiritual director help us? Ideally, a spiritual director accompanies us on our journey, helping us to recognize God’s action and invitation in our lives. As we share our prayer and experiences with a spiritual director, the director helps us to understand more clearly how God is speaking to us in our prayer and our lives. The more honest we are, the more insight the spiritual director can offer to us. An essential part of spiritual direction is our openness about our lives and what is happening interiorly. At first, it can be difficult or feel awkward to speak about our spiritual lives, our deeper thoughts and feelings, and what happens in our prayer life, but it is important to be open with a spiritual director.

Finding a good spiritual director can take time but is worthwhile. Here are some characteristics to look for in a spiritual director:

—Approachable—someone you can honestly speak to

–Available–a spiritual director only has time to meet with so many directees, and in many places, spiritual directors are in short supply. If a spiritual director tells you that they are not available right now, or it becomes too difficult to arrange a meeting, it is probable that they are already directing too many people to fit in another person. You can ask them for a recommendation for another director.

—A good listener—a good spiritual director offers guidance and direction, but most often listens to our experiences and then points us towards what is significant about that experience

—Spiritual experience and maturity—someone who is faithful in living their faith, is proficient at prayer, and growing in their own spiritual life. Ideally, a spiritual director has significant experience in the spiritual life and also training in spiritual direction.

—Accompanies rather than leads.

How can we find a good spiritual director?

  • Look for a priest whose homilies or personal conversations you find helpful. (Parish pastors can often be too busy to offer spiritual direction, but sometimes an associate pastor may be available.)
  • Ask for a recommendation from your pastor or another priest you trust.
  • Call a Catholic retreat house and ask for recommended spiritual directors in your area.
  • Make a retreat and follow up with the retreat director, or with someone the retreat director recommends.
  • Connect with a religious community that offers spiritual direction: Jesuits, Benedictines, Oblates, etc.

Having a good spiritual director accompany us on our spiritual journey helps us to learn the principles of the spiritual life, recognize God’s unexpected action in our lives, avoid obstacles and self-deception, and go beyond being stuck in a rut or discouragement. However, while finding a good spiritual director to be very helpful, our true Spiritual Director is Jesus Christ, who guides us in hidden ways through the action of the Holy Spirit. And Jesus is always with us, guiding us.