Attending to Spiritual Direction: What it is — and how it helps

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By Joy Davis

“As she has always done, today the Church continues to recommend the practice of spiritual direction, not only to all those who wish to follow the Lord up close, but to every Christian who wishes to live responsibly his baptism, that is, the new life in Christ.” 

— Pope Benedict XVI, address to the community of the Pontifical Theological Faculty (“Teresianum”) of Rome, May 2011.

In more than 16 years of parish ministry, most of those as a DRE, the regular practice of spiritual direction has served as an essential discipline for me. It has allowed me to persevere and grow, even in the most challenging situations. Spiritual direction can be one of the best things we do for ourselves, enhancing our relationship with God — and our effectiveness in the ministry of catechesis.

Eventually I discerned a call to train for this ministry myself. Today, as a spiritual director, I am privileged to journey with several laypeople who are seeking to grow in holiness. Despite my personal experience with spiritual direction, I meet very few lay leaders and volunteers who know what spiritual direction truly is, and even fewer who have an experience of it.

Defining spiritual direction

Spiritual direction is “help given by one believer to another that enables the latter to pay attention to God’s personal communication to him or her, to respond to this personally communicating God, to grow in intimacy with this God, and to live out the consequences of this relationship” (William A. Barry and William J. Connolly, The Practice of Spiritual Direction). More simply, the spiritual director is there to help the one receiving spiritual direction listen to God, grow in a deep, personal relationship with him, and live more authentically in that relationship.

Good spiritual direction can help you recognize where God is moving in your life and to discern his voice among the many voices that compete for your attention each day. Spiritual direction sessions usually take place monthly for about an hour. Through the prayerful listening of a trained spiritual director, you will live more abundantly that “new life in Christ” to which Pope Benedict XVI referred!

Getting started

Once God has placed the desire in you to pursue spiritual direction, the next step is finding the right person with whom you will share your spiritual journey. The best place to begin is with prayer. If you don’t have a regular time for prayer each day, begin making this part of your daily discipline. You can’t grow closer to God if you’re not talking to him! If you already have a solid daily prayer life, ask God to send you someone to help you make it better.

You may find that you are already receiving some spiritual direction in the context of regular reception of the sacrament of Penance. Consider asking that priest if he meets with people for spiritual direction and if he would be open to meeting with you. Another possibility is contacting Catholic retreat houses or religious orders that have the ministry of spiritual direction as part of their charism.

Once you’ve made an initial contact with a spiritual director, don’t be afraid to ask about their training and experience. Finding a director in obedience to the Church and its teachings is paramount.

Growth in holiness

A good spiritual director always points you to the Lord, inviting your growth, healing, and renewal. Yet they do not tell you what to do or merely give advice. Spiritual direction is not a counseling session, either. It is focused on your interior life with Christ. A wise director listens well as you share.

It is very common for both director and directee to assess how the relationship is going after a period of a few months. Both you and the director need to be comfortable with each other and with how things are progressing.

“Faithful friends are a sturdy shelter; whoever finds one finds a treasure” (Sirach 6:14).

Take the time to pray about whether God may be calling you into the very special type of faithful friendship that is spiritual direction. There you will find a treasure — not only in your sessions with your spiritual director, but most importantly, in your growing intimacy with Jesus.

Bio: Joy Davis, MA, is a certified spiritual director, trained at the Lanteri Center for Ignatian Spirituality, Denver, Colorado. She has served as a director of religious education and a youth minister in the Diocese of Manchester, New Hampshire.

Image credit: Shutterstock 445660798

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