Spiritual Direction Supervision - A Story about Forgiveness
In a session with a directee, I slipped down the slope of ego.
This person had been meeting with me bi-weekly for approximately six months and we had settled into a comfortable relationship. He came to spiritual direction as a doctoral student of theology. As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, his path has not always been a smooth one in either his personal or professional life. Our sessions revolved around fitting in while also being true to himself.
We began this session as usual – with an opening blessing. Having been in this practice of spiritual direction for five years, I have become comfortable with silence. But this client always jumped right in by reading his copious notes to me. This time, there was only silence. I looked into my screen (video call) to get a sense of what was happening.
He was crying – head down, shoulders moving with his sobs – and without knowing what was causing his deep pain – my heart broke. I began to pray for guidance. How to support him? How to hold the knowing that Spirit was within him, me and whatever this grief was about? I waited.
The cause of his pain? His PhD supervisor has told him not to pursue his degree. He has been sensitive to his supervisor’s homophobia – in meetings, having seen various posts on social media and hearing from others.
And now we move to the other person in this session: Me.
I slipped right into the role of the Advisor when he asked me what he should do. I asked if there were any others that he could reach out to – to ask for answers. I reassured him that he had done nothing wrong. I suggested that he draft a letter to requesting feedback on this decision… and (it gets worse) I offered to write a letter myself, as his spiritual director.
During this session, I stopped being the spiritual director and became his advisor, his parent, his advocate, and an activist who was ready to lead the protest. It was later that night that I woke from a deep sleep and realized how far I had slipped. And my prayers flowed for this man – that I had not damaged his spirit beyond repair.
The next day, I met with my spiritual direction supervisor and this time, after our opening prayer, it was I who silently cried, pulled out my notes and shared my failure – not only had I failed this vulnerable person but also myself.
My supervisor gently guided a reflection on what had been triggered within me. This was easy: adult sons who no longer need my advice. Next, I was invited to consider a “growth opportunity” that I may have noticed while in the session. I could not reply to this one – my own grief was overwhelming me. And then, my supervisor asked this question of me, “Do you have a specific question that we will focus on together today?” Will I be forgiven for this error, I asked, and how can I make this right? And more tears fell… many more tears.
Most of those who read this will have undergone training in spiritual direction. Many of us work in isolation and, I believe, there is a danger in this. We meet one-to-one with directees in our offices, online, in coffee shops, on park benches, etc. We may consider the vulnerability of our clients by referring to the Guidelines for Ethical Conduct (printed copies are available in the SDI Store), sign agreements, and purchase liability insurance. And yet when something like this comes along – how do we move forward in the best interests of not only our directees but ourselves?
Answering a call to become a supervisor brought me to the Mercy Center in Burlingame, California earlier this year. This was no small thing! Travelling from British Columbia, Canada in the middle of winter, leaving my practice and other responsibilities behind for a week, plus the financial considerations, I climbed up the slope and it was one of the most beautiful learning experiences ever! Lucy Abbott Tucker is a gifted teacher, an experienced spiritual director and her facilitation of this course provided us with the skills, resources and gifts to offer supervision to colleagues everywhere. Lucy’s book on supervision will be available soon (SDI PRESS, April 2020) and I can’t wait to have my own copy.
So, what happened to my directee? Following my supervision session, I sent him an email apologizing and “owning my error”. I asked for his forgiveness – forgiveness for letting him down as his spiritual director. I offered to provide several referrals for a new spiritual director. He accepted my apology but refused to end our relationship. We continue to meet biweekly and by the grace of Spirit our sessions are rich and blessed.
Joan Alexander is a trained supervisor who offers individual supervision sessions on Skype, Messenger, Facetime and by phone and email. Her website: https://www.joanalexanderspiritualdirector.com/
In her own words: "I am a life-long learner trained by the Haden Institute & Mount Carmel Spiritual Centre to practice Spiritual Direction and trained by Lucy Abbott Tucker in Spiritual Direction Supervision. Prior to following the call to become a Spiritual Director I worked as an Administrator and a Project Manager. All those who are spiritual but not religious or religious but looking for a deeper faith are very welcome. My spiritual direction practice is a safe place for members of the LGBTQ+ community. As a woman in a same-gender marriage to an Anglican priest and the mother of two grown sons, I continue to travel the path of inclusion where Spirit walks with us all."