“The task of the spiritual director is to be positioned, like a campfire in the wilderness,
welcoming sojourners from all corners of life to stop, relax and yarn for a while. A place
where tired bodies and spirits are warmed by the fire and refreshed” —Simon Brown.
How do you attend to and respond to the work of God in your life?
This is the question at the center of spiritual direction. In short, a spiritual director is someone who attentively listens with you as you listen to God. A person might seek out spiritual direction for any number reasons. The benefits are boundless. Below, I sketch out ten of them.
1. Self awareness
I have two toddlers. They’re all arms and legs. No self awareness at all. They bump into things, knock things over, run into walls and doorknobs that are at eye-level. Unsupervised, my daughter with an uncapped marker will result in writing on everything. Simply because she’s not paying attention.
And we’re all metaphorically a little bit like that, aren’t we? We’re all on a journey of maturity and we’re all at various stages of self-awareness. The more self-awareness we have, the less damage we do to ourselves and to those around us. Sometimes a meeting with a good spiritual director is like a serious look in the mirror. A director may ask, “I’m seeing this. Are you seeing this?” Some times it’s uncomfortable, even painful, but it may be what’s necessary for your next stage of growth.
2. Mental health
According to research in 2011, one in ten Americans are taking antidepressants, a 400% increase from the late 1980s. We live in a culture haunted by anxiety and stress and depression.
Jerry Seinfeld has a great bit about helmets:
Why did we invent the helmet? Well, because we were participating in too many activities that were cracking our heads. We looked at the situation. We chose not to avoid these activities, but to just make little plastic hats so that we can continue our head-crackin’ lifestyles.
Don’t hear me wrong. There are situations where medication is a proper and necessary solution. But there may be other situations where medication covers over a long-term unhealthy lifestyle, much like Jerry’s helmets. Sometimes we just need to slow down. Spiritual direction can be a healthy place to share things out loud to another human being. We’re hard-wired for this. In this way, it can be like “burnout insurance.”
3. Spiritual health
Most of us have heard how we need to read the Bible and pray ever since the first day we turned to God. Some of us have received more help than others in helpful ways to live that out. Christians through the centuries have a wide array of practices that draw them closer to God.
An experienced spiritual director can offer not only fresh ways of approaching Scripture and prayer, but also can introduce new spiritual disciplines with which you can experiment. And you can treat them as exactly that, experiments. Some may click immediately. Others may not be for you. Spiritual direction can be a place to discover new ways to grow deeper with God.
4. Better questions
Albert Einstein said, “If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on it, I would use the first 55 minutes determining the proper questions to ask.” Sometimes, on our own, we can be blocked by the wrong questions. We find ourselves stuck in the same old patterns of thinking.
A spiritual director can help us learn how to ask deeper, more meaningful questions, not just of ourselves, but of God and of those around us. Spiritual direction cultivates our curiosity. It exercises those spiritual and mental muscles that wonder and creatively explore the world.
5. Hear “you’re normal”
Regular meetings with a spiritual director provide an outlet for all the creeping doubts, crazy hunches, and scary questions that lurk in the back of your mind. In all likelihood, in whatever you’re feeling, you’re not alone. And a good spiritual director will tell you so. You just need the courage to say it out loud.
From time to time, when introducing someone to spiritual direction, I’m asked, “Well, shouldn’t my pastor do this?” And sometimes the answer is yes. But there are other situations, especially in the case of a person who works for a church, where the line between pastor and boss is muddled and some sharing would be inappropriate. In cases like these, a spiritual director is an impartial third-party who can listen, provoke deeper understanding, and lead into places of grace and healing.
6. Reconciled relationships
This follows self-awareness. As you come to a greater understanding of your own shadows that lurk in the corners of your being, you come to a greater awareness of their effect on those around you.
Frequently, our words and actions are experienced by others in ways we never intended, leading to hurt and misunderstanding. A careless word can break a relationship. A spiritual director can help expose your hidden shadows, as painful as that may be, and assist in offering forgiveness where it’s needed.
7. Clarity about decisions and purpose
Frequently we find ourselves at crossroads, in need of making significant decisions. It may related to career or education or ministry. It may involve love or family. It may involve a promotion that calls on a new set of skills and a new set of responsibilities.
A spiritual director can be a helpful sounding board. They may pry at some underlying assumptions about your choices. They may ask penetrating questions about what really matters to you. They may help you see things in a different light.
8. New language about God
I spent my first 18 years in one particular church tradition. As far as I knew at that time, that’s how all Christians were. Then I went to a Christian college that was a part of whole different Christian tradition. Later in life, I became good friends with some Roman Catholics who showed me yet another “accent” to being Christian.
The Christian faith is like a large house with many rooms. Many of us can spend much of our lives in a single room. An experienced spiritual director can show us new rooms. Just because we have a bad experience with one room doesn’t mean we burn the whole house down.
9. Hearing a new story
You may very well have assumptions about yourself, about God, about faith, about the church, that need to be dismantled. There may be be things you take for granted that need to be re-examined. You need to hear a new story.
One of my favorite stories of Jesus is found in Luke 24, just after the resurrection. Two disciples are walking on the road to Emmaus, and Jesus, unrecognized, joins them. Dejectedly, they share their grief, sorrow, and disappointment. And the Jesus goes on to re-narrate the story of Israel in such a way that his death and resurrection make perfect sense. Similarly, a spiritual director can take the pieces of your story and retell it in a way full of hope and joy.
10. Receive the gift of presence
We live in a day and age where we are forgetting what it means to be present to one another. Distractions scream at us from every corner of our day. Spiritual direction can be an intentional, scheduled monthly time to sit still and receive the gift of presence.
All of us are made for presence. We are hard-wired to connect with other human beings. A spiritual director is an ally on your journey. They listen without judgment in full confidence, giving you 100% of their attention.
Perhaps one or more of those benefits resonates with you. If you’d like to learn more about what spiritual direction might look like in your life, fill out this contact form and we can start that conversation.
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