Let’s imagine you’ve made the plunge, you’ve made meeting with a spiritual director a regular rhythm of your life. You’ve found a director. You’ve met for the first time and decided they’re a good fit and you want to continue meeting.
Now what? What’s next?
Henri Nouwen writes, “The goal of spiritual direction is spiritual formation—the ever-increasing capacity to live a spiritual life from the heart…. Almost anything that regularly asks us to slow down and order our time, desires, and thoughts to counteract selfishness, impulsiveness, or hurried fogginess of mind can be a spiritual discipline.”
While certainly not necessary, it can be helpful to carve out some margin to consider what you want to cover when you meet with your spiritual director. That could look like spending some time scanning your journal, or it could look like turning the radio down in the car on the drive to the meeting.
Here are some ways you can get ready for a meeting with your spiritual director.
We want to be mindful of not out-sourcing our spiritual life, our listening life, our prayer life. A spiritual director is not a mediator. They are not Moses, coming down from the mountain with a word for you. A director is a partner in listening with you.
We must listen. We must make ourselves available to God. The agenda for the meeting comes from the Holy Spirit, from the ways the Spirit provokes, nudges, inspires, stretches us, not from the director.
We need daily patterns of prayer. Paul says, “Never stop praying” (1 Thess 5:17). This can look like a regular rhythm such as the daily office. It can be habits like talking to God in your car or while you brush your teeth or before meals. God is unlikely to ignore the sincere prayer, “Show me what you’re rearranging inside me. Show me where you’re at work in the world around me.”
Remember that the role of the director is like a midwife, helping give you words for the life that God shaping within you. When I begin a meeting with a directee, we start with reading the daily psalm. We give God the first word. Then we sit in silence, listening together, and I invite them to break the silence whenever they’re ready, whether it takes 20 seconds or 20 minutes. Prayer is the best way to prepare to meet with your director.
There may be artifacts from the past month—encounters, conversations, stories, insights from Scripture or other devotional reading or hearing sermons, moments of prayer, thoughts, dreams. If you’ve written them down, whether they felt important at the time or not, pulling them out before your spiritual director like items from a suitcase, or jigsaw puzzle pieces from the box, your director can assist you in connecting the dots between them. If you haven’t been writing them down, they may be lost opportunities.
Make the space to listen how God responds to your prayers, especially when God responds in unexpected ways. Regular patterns of spiritual practices give us plenty of subject matter to bring to the direction meeting. Waiting until the day before or the day of is like cramming the last minute for a big test.
Work to capture your thoughts on paper as they happen throughout the month. It doesn’t need to be elaborate or lengthy. Michael Hyatt provides a simple template for daily journaling. Sacred Ordinary Days has resources for a weekly rhythm of spiritual reflection. One of the foundational pieces to the Getting Things Done methodology is the weekly review. The Examen, a daily practice started by St. Ignatius, is yet another tool for self reflection. Whatever you do, write it down. There is no better way to keep track of and pay attention to your own growth over time.
Notice your anxious places
As a director myself, I send each of my directees an email a day or two before we meet. From a practical stand point, I do this to confirm the details of our meeting. But it also serves a deeper purpose.
I borrow a paragraph from Susan Scott’s Fierce Conversations:
When we meet tomorrow, I want to explore with you whatever you feel most deserves our attention, so I will begin our conversation by asking, “What is the most important thing you and I should be talking about?” I will rely on you to tell me. If the thought of bringing up an issue makes you anxious, that’s a signal you need to bring it up. I’m not going to preempt your agenda with my own.
It’s helpful to begin to think about those things that threaten your peace, that ignite your shame, and incite your anger. That place of anxiety often reveals the growing edges of God’s work in our lives. The creation story of Genesis states, “The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.” It’s one of my favorite verses. Formless and empty. That’s where God’s creative work happens.
Where are you feeling formless and empty? It’s my hunch that’s where God’s creative work is about to break out.
And often it’s okay to have not prepared at all. Some times it’s a bad month. Some times we get swept away by the onslaught of activities and obligations. That’s okay. All the more reason to keep your appointment with your director, so that, for that one hour, you hold the franticness at bay, and you listen. You sit still and you be with God.
Allow yourself to enter into the story of the panicked disciples, sitting in their fishing dinghy in the middle of a violent squall. Shake Jesus awake, who has the wherewithal to be taking a nap amidst the noise. Listen deeply as he stands and shouts out into the rain, “Peace! Be still!” And sit in silent wonder as he crawls back into his nap.
Your spiritual director will be with you. You are not alone.
“Be still and know that I am God.”
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