What is Spiritual Direction?
If you’re anything like me you’ve probably never heard of Spiritual Direction, or if you have it was in passing, someone mentioned it and you smiled, nodded and acted like you knew what they were talking about, all the while having some vague idea of a hippy therapist with no actual credentials, and weird titles after their name like “Life Coach.” No? Just me? Well, I’m nothing if not presumptuous.
I started seeing a Spiritual Director about three years ago. I can’t really say why. I think it was probably because I was still so new to the church that I just assumed that’s what all Catholics did:
- attend Mass on Sunday, check!
- sign kids up for Sacrament Prep, check!
- get a Spiritual Director, check!
But I would learn in the years after that no, not everyone has a spiritual director, and even a lot of Catholics don’t really understand what one is, what they do, or why you would even want one.
Diving in Heart First
My first SD meeting went something like this, “Hi my name is Ashlea,” and then I proceeded to burst into tears. It was full on ugly cry.
Geez. I wasn’t expecting it, and neither was the poor soul sitting in front of me. I would later learn that this was actually her second session ever, talk about trial by fire. There were so many things I wanted to say to God, I decided I would pray and attend Spiritual Direction and let Him speak to me in that way. Telling God when and how He could speak to me would turn into quite the pattern for my spiritual life, one my Director ever so gently reminds me of every time she exclaims, “You can’t control God Ashlea!”
It pretty much boiled down to, I knew what God’s character was, I had read my Bible, and my Catechism. I knew that He was the embodiment of Truth and Love, but if I was going to be absolutely honest, I was pretty sure there was about a 99.99% certainly that God didn’t actually love me. That if by some miracle I made it to heaven it would be through one of two ways:
- God just plain felt sorry for me.
- I snuck in through the back door while He was distracted.
I realize that neither of theses scenarios makes any sort of Theological sense, but the heart wants what the heart wants, and mine more often than not wants to shove God into tiny little boxes that I’ve carefully crafted for him. Ones labeled things like: “abandonment”, “trust issues”, “parent issues”, and my favorite and most frequent offender, “I cannot feel anyones love” (Ashlea does not like to be hugged). The ability to say all those things OUT LOUD to another person was beyond liberating. I said them, gave them voice and life and the Earth didn’t shutter. Everything went on as normal. My newly minted Spiritual Director didn’t flinch or give up, she calmly looked at me, and said, “Yes, but you know that’s ridiculous, right?” Now, I can’t promise that you’re Spiritual Director will be as kind or straightforward, but I do think if you pray about it, God will send you not necessarily who you want, but definitely who you need. Having said that…
Spiritual Direction is NOT Therapy
Spiritual Direction is not the same as, and shouldn’t be used in place of, counseling or psychotherapy. There are several reasons why this isn’t the case and this article explains it better than I could ever could (it’s also a great resource for learning more about SD). But summed up, lets just say that SD is focused on how the Holy Spirit is working and moving in your life, your relationship with God, your images of God, things of that nature. This is not to say that your “real” life and real life issues won’t come up, we can never truly separate our spiritual life from the rest of our life, but that’s not the main focus. Where a therapist may ask, “And how did that make you feel?” A Spiritual Director might ask, “And how were you expecting to feel?” The difference is subtle, but huge. Can you speak with a SD about your issues of abandonment? Absolutely, but just know it may be more along the lines of how these issues shape (and warp) your view of God.
Spiritual Direction is not just a “Catholic Thing”
I know what you’re thinking, that all sounds well and good, but I’m not Catholic. While Catholics may have invented the concept of Spiritual Direction, it is by no means limited to just the Catholic Church. Now, having said that, I do think there is a value to people who have actually been trained in SD and don’t just have credentials like “Christian Mentor” or lay people who are designated as “Counseling Ministers.” This website is a great resource for finding a Spiritual Director from many Faith backgrounds.
**Have you ever considered visiting with a Spiritual Director? Comment below, or feel free to email me, I love questions and I’d love to help direct (see what I did there?) you to the right resources.**