A Guide to Spiritual Direction

spiritual-direction-v3Two weeks into the New Year and your resolutions — if you made any — have either started you on a path to self-improvement or left you feeling not quite up to the challenge. Invariably, some people will make a New Year’s resolution to pray more often (or at all!), and the effort comes to naught when they realize they don’t really know how to pray, or, perhaps, even what prayer is. So, why not get some help?

We often hire personal trainers, financial advisors, even dating consultants, to meet our goals. Why not find someone to assist us with our personal relationship with God? We call that person a spiritual director — someone specially trained in the art of spiritual direction.

Essentially, a spiritual director — male, female, clergy or laity — is equipped to listen to and be a companion to someone else concerning their development in relating to God. As an example, take someone who has gone through a traumatic event. They might not be able to feel God in their life anymore; but a spiritual director can gently help them see God’s presence in those who have been a part of their healing, and can help them understand that God suffers along with us. A spiritual director’s job is to promote such mindfulness, to help people see grace at work in their lives.

How do I find a spiritual director?

It’s a lot easier than you might think. If you’re involved in a church, you might ask if there is a spiritual director on staff or if they might be able to recommend someone.  A second place to look is retreat centers, where on-staff spiritual directors run the retreats, and also see individuals for private sessions. You can also search the Spiritual Directors International website. Friends might know of good directors, but you should be mindful of conflict of interest — directors are unlikely to see two people who are in a relationship with each other (e.g., a husband and wife).

What should I look for?

Not every spiritual director is the same. You should find someone with whom you feel comfortable. I usually advise people to choose the person they can be most honest alongside. Directors listen to you in the spirit of confidentiality: they expect you to be completely honest; and you should expect it to be safe.

You should also look for a trained spiritual director. Directors typically have a master’s degree in spirituality, divinity or religious education with a concentration in spiritual direction. Some have gone through advanced training.

What’s it like being with a spiritual director?

Usually you meet with a spiritual director monthly for about one hour. Sometimes the director will start with a prayer; other times you may be asked to pray. The door is then open for you to share whatever might be on your mind. A good way to start is by enumerating the events of your past week, in particular the events you were most consoled by, the ones where you felt most alive or close to God. After that, list any events that were less than stellar, that caused you concern or sadness, or perhaps where you think you may not have been your best self.

Your director might ask a few questions and then make some recommendations for prayer, or to read scripture or other spiritual writings. Other recommendations might be more active, like participating in a service project or going on a retreat. In troubled times, a director may ask the question, “Did you pray about that?” and they will work with you to integrate regular prayer into your daily life. Mostly, though, this is a time for the director to listen, accompany and hear where you find the spirit of God moving in your life.

What else can I do for spiritual direction?

Taking a yearly retreat (a few days) or doing a “busy person’s retreat” (one day or even a half day) are additional practices that will help deepen your relationship with God. St. Ignatius had all of his priests and brothers do a 30-day retreat focused on his Spiritual Exercises. Still today, many retreats are based on some form of the Exercises.

Some spiritual directors may advise doing a weekend retreat where you explore the Exercises in a shortened format. Others may suggest you try an eight-day retreat when, and if, you have the time. Regardless, the Spiritual Exercises can help you pray and develop a more fruitful relationship with God.

What can I do every day?

Take 10 minutes to silently review your day. You can do this while driving home or walking the dog, or, most effectively, by finding a quiet place. St. Ignatius’ Daily Examen is a very helpful guide for daily reflection.

Mike Hayes is the Director of Young Adult Ministry in the Diocese of Cleveland and a candidate for the Diaconate. He’s also the host of 5 Questions with the Paulists and the podcast Question of Faith. Mike is one of the founders of Busted Halo and has worked with young adults his entire ministry career in retreat, spiritual direction, and campus Ministry. He’s the author of "Googling God" (Paulist, 2007) and "Loving Work" (Orbis, 2012). Mike and his wife Marion live in Lakewood, OH with their dog, Vito.