Spiritual Direction

What is spiritual direction?

Spiritual direction is one way of exploring your spiritual journey with someone who is trained to listen.

Spiritual direction is a time and place set aside for you to ask your deep questions: What is my life about? Who is God? Why am I here? Smaller questions are okay too.

A spiritual director listens to (and with) you as you pay attention to your life, notice how God speaks to you, and discern what invitations God may be sending your way. Spiritual direction helps us to keep our eyes and hearts open to the sacred in our everyday life.

The name “spiritual direction” is somewhat misleading. Do you only talk about spiritual stuff? Not really. God meets us in the ordinary details of our lives when we are paying attention. Does a spiritual director tell you what to do? No. A spiritual director’s role is actually non-directive. “Spiritual companion” is sometimes used in place of the phrase “spiritual director” and might be a more accurate description of the relationship. A spiritual companion bears witness to another’s story.

Spiritual directors don’t give answers or tell you what to do, but they help you to do your own listening as you discern God’s presence and invitations in your life.

Who is spiritual direction for?

Spiritual direction is for anyone who hungers to live deeply and authentically and wonders what that means for them.

Why do people come to spiritual direction?

Some people come to spiritual direction because they feel lost. Some people come because they want to know and experience God in a deeper way. Some people come to spiritual direction because they don’t know what to think about God. Some people come to spiritual direction when they are trying to figure out what their lives are supposed to be about or they are trying to find their next step. Others just have this feeling that there’s More, and they want to pay attention to that.

What does a spiritual director do?

Generally, you will meet with your spiritual director once a month for an hour per session.

A spiritual director’s job isn’t to fix you or to tell you what to do. A spiritual director’s job is to listen to you deeply and compassionately, without judgment. A spiritual director will help you hear what your heart is saying and may ask questions encouraging you to explore even deeper. A spiritual director may suggest practices or tools that you can use to continue your work of paying attention.

You and the Spirit set the agenda and do the work. A spiritual director helps you recognize the agenda and celebrate the work. The bulk of the work happens in your everyday life.

What can I expect from my spiritual director?

You can expect your spiritual director to be a compassionate, non-judgmental listener who will keep what you say confidential. You are free to discuss what happens within your spiritual direction session with others. Your spiritual director will not.

You can expect your spiritual director to respect wherever you are on your spiritual journey. Your spiritual director will also maintain healthy and strong boundaries. While you and your spiritual director may grow close, your spiritual director is not a friend that you’ll meet for dinner or drinks. Your director may occasionally share personal stories if they happen to be relevant or useful, but the focus of the relationship is on you and your relationship with God. Your relationship with your spiritual director is generally contained to the hour each month set aside for spiritual direction.

“Spiritual directors support and encourage directees as they listen and respond to God.”–Jeanette Bakke

What can I expect in a spiritual direction session?

What happens in a spiritual direction session may vary from director to director and from person to person. I tend to ask my directees how they would like to begin our time together: prayer, a poem, silence, or combination of these? My spiritual director always begins our time together by lighting a candle and praying for our time.

A spiritual director will let you talk about what you need to talk about. You can expect to do most of the talking in a session. You can expect your director to ask you some questions or to make observations. You may spend a portion of your session in prayerful silence if that is what you need. Occasionally, your director may suggest a practice to try during your session or at home.

What can I expect from spiritual direction?

Can we guarantee results? No. But if you are hungry to grow spiritually, and you are seeking to grow spiritually, I believe you will find yourself growing. You are seeking spiritual direction because you are seeking God. And God is always seeking you first.

The spiritual journey is a slow, spiraling process. It takes us through dark places, ups and downs. Often the way of transformation can feel like a dying process. Growth can be subtle or look stagnant. Your spiritual director will sit with you in those dark places–knowing that new life comes after seasons of dark.

I believe Wendell Berry’s words about the spiritual journey are true:

And the world cannot be discovered by a journey of miles, no matter how long, but only by a spiritual journey, a journey of one inch, very arduous and humbling and joyful, by which we arrive at the ground of our feet, and learn to be at home.”

Over time, I’ve come to realize that spiritual direction is not just something that we do, it can become a way of being and moving in the world. It is listening with your whole being, paying attention to your life as it unfolds, living with a spacious and open heart, and making room for others and their journeys toward God and the holy.

How do I find a spiritual director?

It is important to find a spiritual director that you feel comfortable with and can talk easily to. Not everyone is a good fit for each other. Usually, the first meeting with a spiritual director is free and it allows you to get to know one another and to talk about expectations and hopes for your time together. If you choose to meet again, it may be helpful to reevaluate your fit after three sessions together.

There are a number of ways to find spiritual directors. If you know a spiritual director, you could ask them for a referral. Local clergy and retreat centers may also be a good place to start.

Spiritual Directors International has a seek and find guide that lists names and contact information for spiritual directors in your area.

In the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, Sacred Ground, Christos Center, and Loyola Center for Spirituality could refer you to spiritual directors connected with their programs.

If you are interested in talking to me about spiritual direction, please contact me at jessicalsanborn@gmail.com.