Spiritual Direction, Is It for You?
My first experience with Spiritual Direction took me by surprise. I was going through grief and in the midst of transition. During this time, I was invited by a not-so-close friend to meet weekly for conversation and prayer. I accepted her invitation and discovered that although she wasn’t an accredited spiritual director, she was a naturally gifted one. She provided for me what I then came to expect from Spiritual Direction: a focused listening ear.
Each week I would tell her what was going on in my life. She would listen with respect and empathy. She neither prodded my talking nor ignored anything I had to say. She never bounced from my topics into talking about herself. She just listened with great interest and understanding. The focus of those conversations was my life and journey.
In subsequent years, I have met with accredited spiritual directors. While each one differs in style, the role is the same. They are deep listeners. St. Benedict said, “Listen with the ear of your heart.” This is the kind of listening I look for in my spiritual directors.
Listening with the ear of your heart doesn’t mean saying nothing. My spiritual directors listened and responded. But it wasn’t a response which tried to tell me what to do, how to think or what to believe. Rather, it was a response which aided my own discoveries of God present and active in my life.
I came to expect that kind of deep listening and careful responses from my spiritual directors. I also came to expect what each of them believed: that God was the real director and that together we were tuning our ears to listen and respond to the voice of God in my life.
Probably the most surprising discovery of receiving Spiritual Direction is that all of life is spiritual. There is the tendency to think of the spiritual in rather narrow categories such as that which has to do with one’s beliefs or only that which concerns the inner world. But spirituality encompasses all of life’s experiences.
In a book titled "Listening to your Life," Fredrick Buechner writes, “Listen to your life. Listen to what happens to you because it is through what happens to you that God speaks.”
What does it mean to listen to your life? How does God “speak” to us? A few years ago I had a outstanding dream. It was a dream in which I still can recall not only the feelings present but the dream’s detailed narrative. The dream pointed me to a turning point in my life. I spent two years living into the vision of that dream. I have come to realize that along with the prodding of my subconscious, God was “speaking” to me of new life in that dream.
I don’t hear God talking out loud, nor do I think that every dream or event in my life is God’s doing. But as I pay attention to my life as it unfolds, I have a sense that God is sometimes addressing me through the events, people, internal nudges and even dreams.
The sorts of messages that I hear are not things like “here’s a good parking space I saved just for you!” Rather, they are messages in line with who I understand God to be in nature and character. So, while an opportune parking space is grounds for a thank you, I’m really keying in on those serendipitous messages which challenge me. I’m listening for the voice of God that keeps pointing me to loving myself and others more deeply and courageously.
Spiritual Direction has helped me pay attention to God but there also have been times when I didn’t pay attention to God. Those are the times when I figured there was no God to pay attention to. Times when life was hard, messy and busy. I figured there was no relationship to talk about in Spiritual Direction. But somehow, talking about my non-existent relationship with God, about my anger at who God hadn’t panned out to be, about the dry places in my heart, helped. Meeting once a month with my Spiritual Director was almost more effective when I didn’t care to pray, didn’t want to pray and didn’t know if a relationship with God, whoever God was, mattered to me.
Spiritual Direction may pique your curiosity, sound like a welcome opportunity or seem intrusive. In any case, a spiritual director worth their salt will respect your unique journey as well as the naturally private and puzzling nature of one’s relationship with God. For me, I found someone willing to give time and attention to my relationship to God. Above all, I discovered someone who would help me discover over and over the movement and gracing of the Divine in my life.
Aprille Jordan is a pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and a spiritual director. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This blog post originally appeared in The Missoulian. Pastor Aprille generously allowed us to share it here.