Spiritual Direction. Maybe you’ve heard of it. Maybe you’re wondering if it’s a special type of cartography. Either way, the question that might be rattling around right now, since I’ve mentioned it and all is… What the hell is Spiritual Direction? Closely followed, perhaps, by Is Spiritual Direction right for me, right now? And then of course, there are other questions to ask…
So if you’re curious, do read on!
What the hell is ‘Spiritual Direction’?
It’s a little like Life Coaching, actually. But let’s back up. Spiritual Direction isn’t a couple of rather important things. Spiritual Direction isn’t therapy. It’s not a replacement for therapy – talk, drug, or physical. Spiritual Direction isn’t a conversation over coffee with your friend, though every now and then we’re sometimes blessed with a friend who comes awfully close. Spiritual Direction is not a class with a teacher.
Spiritual Direction happens between a directee, you, and a director, aperson who is slightly farther down the spiritual path that you’re on. That person could be a minister of a religion, that person could be someone who has dedicated their lives to this spiritual path, wether through a specialized process (like ordination) or a personal dedication (that can look like a lot of different things).
Spiritual Direction is something that is a compensated and intentional service. ‘A compensated service’ means that if you get Spiritual Direction from the minister of your church, they are paid a salary by that church to do things like offer members of the congregation Spiritual Direction. It also means that if you get Spiritual Direction from an independent individual (for your circumstances, the minister of another church, perhaps), then it is appropriate to offer them compensation. Me, I have a sliding scale which includes barter, because barter is awesome.
Aside from this, ‘an intentional service’ means that it takes time, energy, and dedication for a Spiritual Director to take someone on. They pray about their directee when they’re not around, and they have to spend time in prayer and preparation before and after appointments. Taking someone on is a commitment that the director takes very seriously. They frequently spend some time discerning (thinking & praying) to find out if they can actually be helpful.
So Spiritual Direction is, in fact, most closely related to Life Coaching. A life coach helps you to refine and achieve your personal goals with an eye to a holistic sense of wellness and a mutually agreed upon definition of success. A spiritual director helps you to refine and achieve your personal goals with an eye to a lasting peace, joy and sense of love that they understand to be the end result of a life transformed. And so the goals are… shockingly similar. Arguably, they’re the same thing, only one is put in secular terms and the other is put in religious terms.
Is Spiritual Direction For Me, Right Now?
Maybe. A directee usually comes into Spiritual Direction with a question, a desire, or a feeling they’re experiencing that they don’t like. One frequent question is: “Where is my life going?” Examples of a desire could be: “I thought I was going to be happy once I got to this point, but I’m not. I want to be happy.” “I feel like I need more in my life, but I have no idea what it is.” “I want to discover my passion in life.” Some common feelings that people experience with dissatisfied are impatience, anger, apathy, and worry.
A spiritual director does a lot of listening, will often give a directee homework to do, and will often offer challenging ideas and points of view for the directee to consider. To what end? The same end that most of us will admit to wanting at some point or another: to live joyful, loving, peaceful lives.
Given the craziness inside our heads, it is sometimes invaluable to have a helper who combines objectivity with compassion, and that is what a Spiritual Direction relationship offers. If this seems like it would be a helpful service to add to your life, they yes – Spiritual Direction is for you!
Questions to Ask
How often should we meet? Once every four to six weeks works for most people. Some people are less often. Some people are once a week. It depends on who you are and what you need.
Is it okay to not meet in person? Absolutely. Phone conversations, skype calls, even by letter or email works quite well. Heck, holy men and women have been offering Spiritual Direction by letter for centuries. If it worked for them, it can still for for us.
How does this work? I call up a spiritual director, ask if they have time, and that’s it? Not quite. The initial appointment, which for most spiritual directors is a free appointment, is one which can be done over the phone or by email. Both parties get a chance to get to know the other and ask some questions. Some times people click right away. Some times people realize they are not going to click, and that happens right away. Most of the time it’s in between. A spiritual director will typically want to pray about it, never the less. After the first appointment, a second contact in the next week usually determines if both parties are willing to go forward, how often, and what media will be used for the direction sessions.
Is this stuff confidential? Yep. But let’s be clear: what you discuss with your spiritual director stays with your spiritual director. However, this is not iron clad in a court of law. And most people who end up being spiritual directors are also Mandated Reporters, which means that if you hint or insinuate that you are going to hurt yourself or others, or if you confess to a heinous crime, a) your spiritual director is not going to let you go without being assured that you’ve been talked down off your ledge, and b) your spiritual director is required by law and common sense to tell the police, and she’ll probably try to talk you into doing it while she supports you in that.
Can I ask for credentials? Yep. The training varies, however. Be okay with that, or be clear about what you want. Incredibly wise and spiritual masters don’t always have seminary degrees, and many of them don’t have ordination certificates. Conversely, wisdom is not bestowed upon graduation from seminary, nor when a bishop-type person lays her hands on one’s head, or even upon acceptance to an Order (like monks and nuns and things). Perhaps the most important credential to ask for is this: “Are you, spiritual director, in spiritual direction yourself?” If the answer is no, politely end the conversation. You don’t want to work with them, trust me.
Can I ask for references? Dicey territory. General character references, sure. But remember that your Spiritual Direction is confidential – and so is everyone else’s. If I were you, I’d check a spiritual director who is recommended by someone you trust. You’re in for a total and complete win if someone you trust or look up to themselves offers Spiritual Direction and has the space to take on new directees.
How much is this going to cost me? Well, it will cost you in a few areas. First, you’ll be required to pay a fee per meeting, if this is a service you’re not getting from someone you’re already supporting through your donations (like your congregation’s minister). Some people have a sliding scale, some a set fee. Me, I have a sliding scale: $15-40 a session, and each session is about 60 minutes long. If this happens long distance, most people use a service like Paypal for online payments, and of course a check in the mail always works. But you know, it’s going to cost you in other areas. Any time we get serious about changing something in our lives, the change can be uncomfortable, it can be challenging, it can be squicky before it gets to that peaceful-awesome-so-so-cool place that we’re all going toward.
Is Sare taking on spiritual directees right now? As of the publishing of this blogpost, yes I am. By the time you read it, it’s anyone’s guess. Email me or leave me feedback through any of the feedback portals on this blog and and I can contact you and let you know if I’m taking on new directees. In addition to that, my own fabulous spiritual director, Melissa Roberts, is taking on directees at the time of this post and you can find her information through her website. (In addition to be a fabulous human being, Ms. Roberts is also the author of the Everything Guide to Stress Management.)