March 10, 2017 - by Lisa Hastings
My experience of spiritual direction began long before I was ready for it. It was years ago and I was stumbling around on my faith journey. One of the priests at my Jesuit parish casually suggested “you should come and see me sometime.” He recognized my spiritual desiring before I did. I was recently married, growing into the role of stepmother, and had lost my mother, suddenly, to cancer. With little reason not to, I made an appointment. “So what’s going on?” he asked after I got settled. The flood gates opened…
And so began the spiritual conversations, off and on to this day and with different spiritual directors, that have had a profound impact on my relationship with God, my spiritual life, and my way of seeing and being in the world. Long before I learned the Ignatian terminology of disordered attachments, discernment of spirits, and “freedom from versus freedom for,” I learned to look for what was good and fruitful in my life and recognize how easily I got derailed by anxiety and self-doubt. Mostly, I learned to pay attention. I was astounded by how active God was always, and in a very personal way.
A spiritual director is someone with whom you can talk confidentially about your prayer and spiritual life. Conversations with a director include all the “stuff” of ordinary life—work, family, relationships, joys and sorrows, excitement and despair—and seek to notice God's presence, laboring, and invitation in the midst of it all. A director helps you explore the darkness of self-doubt, confusion, and fear so that you are able to be free of what blocks you from God's loving presence. The director will listen and support you, and may gently question, challenge, and suggest ways of praying and specific content of prayer. Above all, the conversation takes place in a prayerful atmosphere where both you and the director acknowledge the movement of the Spirit in every aspect of your life. It is this focus on your relationship with God that distinguishes spiritual direction from psychological counseling or therapy.
Spiritual direction in the Ignatian tradition reflects Ignatius’ commitment to the art of spiritual conversation as a means of “finding God in all things.” For his own spiritual growth and in ministering to others, Ignatius constantly engaged in spiritual conversation, the fruits of which he later codified into the Spiritual Exercises. A key component of undertaking the Exercises is meeting regularly with an experienced spiritual guide.
Despite its historical roots and the popularity of Ignatian spirituality today, spiritual direction for many remains mysterious, even intimidating. Some assume that it is reserved for the “spiritually mature.” On the contrary, spiritual direction is an accessible means, much like the Ignatian examen, of noticing God movement in one’s life. Also like the Examen, spiritual direction helps develop the habit of discernment, which enables you to be more attentive to how God is leading and guiding you. Seeking out a spiritual director is about acting on the desire to know God more deeply.
I am grateful for God’s initiative all those years ago that led me into spiritual conversation with a wise and attentive director. During this Lenten season, I invite you to ponder spiritual direction as a new (or continued) way of growing closer to God.
For more information on spiritual direction, click here.