I mentioned in my post about my journey into spiritual direction that I first heard about spiritual direction in my spiritual traditions and practices class in seminary. The idea that someone would walk alongside me in my spiritual life was very appealing- so I endeavored to find a spiritual director. Once I finished the class, though, my pursuit of that goal fell to the wayside. It was another three years before I started meeting with a spiritual director regularly. If I had known how spiritual direction would help me in my spiritual walk, I would have been more disciplined in my pursuit! Since I started meeting with one over the last few years, here are a few benefits that I have experienced:
A space for me and my walk with God
I have spent the last ten years of my life in ministry leadership, and while I have felt called to it and enjoy it and have experienced God in powerful ways, it’s easy to lose sight of my own walk with God. Ministry leaders spend their time caring for other people’s souls, but don’t always have someone who cares for theirs. My spiritual director is someone who isn’t concerned with my ministry effectiveness, isn’t impressed with my busy schedule or all the exciting things that are happening. He is concerned with my soul and how I am experiencing God. For an hour a month, I get to simply process what is going on in my heart and how I am responding to the Lord.
Our conversations are free flowing but always point back toward God. Sometimes when I enter into a session, I spend a decent amount of time discussing what is going on externally and practically, and each time, my director takes those pieces of conversation and helps me direct them God-ward, thus turning them into a prayer. Questions like, “Where or how have you experienced God in that?” or “What is you desire in your relationship with God through all of this?” are particularly evocative. These may seem like simple questions, but they can be life-changing when asked in a reflective space like spiritual direction.
A safe place to process
When you are in ministry, the majority or your relationships are with those to whom you minister. There is a wonderful blessing about living in a community like that, but it can also be isolating. It is not always appropriate to share some things that are weighing on your heart. I meet with a group of guys on a weekly basis, and we have incredible heart conversations, but there have been a few instances where it has been wise to refrain from speaking about things on my heart because they affect our worshipping community. I need a place to take such thoughts, and spiritual direction has been that place. My spiritual director lives in a different state, so there aren’t any dual relationships. He listens to my life, and that is it. In that sense, spiritual direction isn’t a complete or reciprocal relationship, but it is a necessary and helpful one.
I was directing someone in a one-off setting recently and the directee entered into the session skeptically, having never experienced spiritual direction. Within a matter of minutes though, they began pouring out their heart to me and told me, “I haven’t really told anyone this before.” It felt like I was standing on holy ground. Providing that space gave them an avenue to voice the depths of their heart. Something about us comes alive when we get to articulate the depths of our souls and is met by God’s and another’s loving presence.
Awareness of God’s presence
I don’t always walk out of receiving direction feeling like I had a powerful encounter with God—which is a good thing and not necessarily an expectation of mine—but having grown up in the charismatic stream, there is a small part of me that thinks that should be the case. Some sessions do feel like this. Most feel pretty normal. What has happened to me, however, is that I have become more aware of God’s presence in my everyday life between sessions. Processing my life in Christ for an hour each month has helped me see more of God’s gracious activity throughout the other thirty days. Even as I look at my calendar and see a session coming up, my heart automatically starts reviewing the ways that I have encountered God in normal circumstances. Regular direction has helped broaden where, when, and I how I see His holy activity.
A different kind of accountability
The other day while meeting with my spiritual director, I took a lot of time to talk about what was going on externally as well as internally. After listening patiently to my monologue, he simply shifted my direction and ask me how my prayer life was doing in the midst of a busy season where my heart felt pulled in different directions. My answer was that frankly, my prayer life was not in great shape. I wasn’t in a regular rhythm and the effects of living out of my own strength were starting to show. My director compassionately and non-judgmentally listened and asked, “What do you desire?” My director holds me accountable to where I long to connect with God, but it feels different than the accountability that I grew up with. It’s not guilt-ridden, but rather invitation-driven. It’s not action oriented, but rather heart oriented, even though we talk about spiritual practices and disciplines.
Joanne Jung, in her book The Lost Discipline of Conversation, notes “It’s important to be accountable to each other; however, this approach [the tendency to overemphasize actions and fail to attend to one another as souls] misses a critical component because we can be our own best actors. What must complement accountability is attentiveness, being attentive to one another’s hearts and souls, in relationships that seek to listen, understand, and represent Christ.”
My director helps me see more than just external actions, but invites me to look deeper at my soul and what is happening there that is driving my actions or lack thereof. He reminds me that my spiritual practices don’t have any value in themselves. As a perfectionist, I need that reminder. He points me back to the reality that it is about cultivating a life-giving transformational relationship in Christ in the core of my and holds me accountable to that.
These are just a few benefits that I have experienced over the last few years of receiving direction. Can you think of any more?