…Last night I heard a presentation on spiritual direction. At the end of the evening, I felt more frustrated than ever. I had more questions than ever.
+What is spiritual direction, really?
+What can one expect from it?
+Is it foolish to look for one who will actually give direction?
+Is it too much to seek a director/directee relationship with someone who is both willing and able to admonish and correct as well as encourage and motivate?
+Is there anyone out there who is prepared ~and gifted with the ability~ to listen to the Holy Spirit in regard to my spiritual life and give concrete advice for growing in Christian Perfection and prayer?
…Now I surely may have missed the point or misunderstood the talk I heard, but it seems to me that the definition of spiritual direction, according to the presenter, is nothing that I thought it was. Or rather it’s not as much as I thought it was. While the presenter was careful to impress upon us that it is not “counseling,” I did not hear anything more than what I would expect from counseling (pastoral or otherwise.) There was really no mention of a director DIRECTING. I didn’t hear him say anything that made me believe that I could expect real help, real advice and real direction from a spiritual director. If a spiritual director doesn’t believe it is their job to offer concrete advice to the directee, if they are unwilling to boldly recommend a particular course of action, with an expectation that I would at least attempt to follow their advice and recommendations, if they don’t feel that it becomes their place to truly guide me, then I don’t know if I understand the point of spiritual direction.
…I do understand that there is not strict obedience in the director/directee relationship. Bishop Gregory Mansour says it like this:
A spiritual director is not a figure of authority that one is obliged to obey. Nor does he take the place of our superiors. The virtue to be exercised in spiritual direction is not obedience but rather docility. The person seeking direction ought to see his director as a spiritual father and as a special gift from Christ to guide and assist him.
…I think the good Bishop hits the nail on the head by pointing out that the virtue we seek to live in such a relationship is docility to the guidance and advice a director gives. Otherwise, why bother? Why waste the time of the director if we are not going to commit to at least trying to execute the ideas, advice and plan they offer?
…Bishop Mansour also notes in another place that the “stuff” of direction is prayer. Alleluia! Of course it’s not that “simple”. In order to grow in prayer and holiness, we need to examine and challenge our whole way of thinking and being and get to the root of what keeps us from growing. To pray well, to offer God the praise, worship and adoration He is due, to hear His voice, I must be as free as possible from the self-indulgence that gets in the way of relationship with Him.
…In my mind, this is the goal of Spiritual Direction. And I’ll tell you, I would welcome someone who isn’t afraid to (kindly, gently, but firmly) grab me by the scruff of the neck and give a little shake to wake me out of my spiritual slumber or remove the blinders that I have become so used to that I do not see them.
…Am I asking too much?
…Is it wrong to desire to find someone who has the wisdom, prudence, experience and holiness to assist me in digging up the roots of my sin, to shine a light in the dark places of my soul, to actually *direct* me on a path that leads to holiness?
…Is it crazy to look for someone who will challenge me in deep, even sometimes painful ways to root out sin and seek the Lord?
…Am I out of my mind to hope, to pray, to believe that God could provide someone to help me to really grow in virtue and holiness?
…Do I suffer from delusion and pride if I think that it is possible to become a truly holy person by means of submitting myself (docility, not obedience) to a wise, holy director who can guide me onto a path of holiness?
…After the meeting, I shared some of these thoughts with a woman whom I’ve known for years. I shared the frustration I felt after the talk. I shared my impression that the picture the presenter painted was, in my view, nothing more than counseling. I shared my deep desire to grow in holiness and the need that I have for a reliable guide in order to do so. I told her of my disappointment that, according to the talk we just heard, spiritual direction could not offer me what I seek. I told her how sick I am of the self I am now and how I desire to become who I am. I told her how much I needed someone who is more than a reflective listener and does not suffer from “nicer than Jesus” syndrome (you know the ones, the ones who are so “nice” that they make all of the excuses in the world for you and your sinfulness. They mean well, but they don’t help!)
…She seemed to understand what I was looking for and she recommended that I call a particular priest that she knows. A priest who is wise, faithful, holy, and discerning. A priest who has the courage to call you out with kindness, gentleness and a bit of humor. A priest who really desires to help the faithful become the beloved of the Bridegroom.
…My friend did not know if he would be able or willing to take another soul under his care and direction, but she was sure that he was the kind of director I am looking for. She recommends that I call him and let him know that she sent me to him. Even though he sounds like he has the makings for the right kind of director for me (and the added “bonus” of being able to have him hear my confession at the same meeting is very appealing!) I have a fear about calling him. I fear that he will tell me that he is sorry, but he is way too busy to take on another soul in this capacity. I fear that he will ask me to come up next week! You see, no matter how much I know I need it, the idea of seeking spiritual direction and committing to docility within it is daunting. Can I do it? What if I fail? What if I succeed and I learn that God is asking so much more of me than I imagined? What if I find out that I am a bigger mess than I think I am?
…I suppose all that I can do is pray and then make the call, trusting that the Lord Jesus, who loves me like no other, will Himself work out the details. If this priest declines to accept me for direction, Praise be Jesus! It is His Holy Will! If he agrees to accept me (or I should say meet with the idea that he will if it is comfortable for us both) then Praise be Jesus! It is His Holy Will! He will afford me every grace for the relationship to be fruitful.
…And what about you, dear readers? Do you have a director? Do you desire one? Do you find that they are not for the average Joe Sixpack? What are your thoughts on this?
God bless you and Mary keep you!
the title of this post, “Seeking Spiritual Direction” is also the title of an excellent book by Father Thomas Dubay. I highly recommend Seeking Spiritual Direction: How to Grow the Divine Life Within