What Happens in the Process of Spiritual Direction?
Updated: May 16, 2022
There is a need to know what is taking place in a spiritual direction session.
So what actually happens in a spiritual direction session?
Spiritual direction is a conversation with someone who is trained to listen to the Spirit in you. In your time with them, you can talk about anything – from experiences of God to struggles and joys in everyday life. Spiritual direction is not counselling or therapy, although the conversation may touch on aspects of these. It does not require that you have a firm grasp on theology, but it will explore how the Christian faith impacts daily life and what it means for you to be on a journey with God.
Although spiritual direction sessions are conversations, they are different than conversations we might have with friends or family members. The person receiving guidance knows that they are speaking with someone who has an inner listening and awareness of God’s presence through experience and training, which sets them apart from other people outside of this context. The director listens deeply for what the Holy Spirit may be saying through what is shared as well as through their own intuition and spirit (Romans 8:26). They discern together how God may be at work in their lives and how they might respond accordingly.
The goal of spiritual direction is to facilitate growth in the life of someone who is seeking to live with greater integrity and fullness.
The goal of spiritual direction is to facilitate growth in the life of someone who is seeking to live with greater integrity and fullness. Spiritual direction creates space for you to explore your relationship with God, self, others, and the world. It is a place where you can look at your life honestly and question how God might be inviting you into deeper spiritual growth.
At St. Catherine University we offer both student spiritual direction programs as well as community spiritual direction programs. Both are designed to help create environments where questions of spirituality can be explored within a context of safety and acceptance. These programs also provide opportunities for connection and reflection with other people who are on a similar path in their own lives.
Spiritual direction seeks to help each person grow deeper in their relationship with God and with others through intentional reflection.
Spiritual direction seeks to help each person grow deeper in their relationship with God and with others through intentional reflection. One way of thinking about it is that spiritual directors help directees reflect on their lives so as to help them grow in their relationship with God. A part of the spiritual director's role is to ask questions that help the directee reflect on their life, but ultimately we are trying to encourage you to begin reflecting more regularly, more deeply and intentionally, in your every day life--not just during our sessions together.
The directee's story contains a deep longing for God that the director models how to listen for, ask about, and reflect on.
This is one of the most fundamental things that happens in spiritual direction. We listen for, ask about, and reflect on the deep longing for God that lives within us all, even if it is often covered over by other longings and desires.
Most people are not aware of this desire for God or the ways it manifests in their life. Spiritual directors help directees become aware of it by noticing what energizes them and speaks to a longing for God within them. Spiritual directors also offer questions to ask that will bring clarity when you feel conflicted or unsure what to do next.
Finally, spiritual directors reflect back how the Spirit is at work in your life, sometimes highlighting connections between your own story and the story of Jesus or the story of God's people recorded in Scripture which can give confidence that you are not alone on this journey but have companions along the way.
As the story unfolds, the director seeks to join the Holy Spirit who is already at work.
As the story unfolds, the director seeks to join the Holy Spirit who is already at work. The Holy Spirit is always seeking to make connections and bring healing. The role of the director is to listen for God's active presence in your life. One way you can help your director do this is by sharing stories from your past: when and where has God been faithful? What lessons did you learn? Did or do you trust in God's love and care? Remember that you are telling these stories not only to your director, but also to God!
The director points out resources within the directee's story as well as a connection between his/her experiences and teachings from scripture or wisdom traditions.
> The director points out resources within the directee's story as well as a connection between his/her experiences and teachings from scripture or wisdom traditions.
Directors will frequently cite relevant passages of scripture (whether you are religious or not) and/or teachings from other traditions that may speak to your experience. Sometimes this is done in an effort to connect the dots between what you're sharing with previous spiritual lessons, or it might be a way of pointing out how previous spiritual lessons can be applicable to your experiences now. The emphasis here is always on the directee's experience, but these resources are meant to be helpful guides for recognizing God's presence in those experiences.
The director also serves as a guide for helping the directee recognize when important moments have happened during their meeting time together. It could be something small like noticing where there was more energy in a conversation; it could have something to do with physical sensations, like tears or goosebumps; it could even be as simple as recognizing that some interesting thing was said that sounded like something else they said earlier in the session—either way, this is part of the "charting" process that helps each person become more aware of God at work in their lives.
Frequently, there are areas in the directee's story that emerge that contain suffering and pain -- past, present, or anticipated -- where he/she may feel stuck, in need of healing.
This is where the director listens to you, gently and compassionately, yet attentively, because sometimes we don’t know what is troubling us. Then the director may help you figure out what your next step might be in this area, if anything. The director may also pray with you.
You are not alone in this process by any means; God himself is present as well! As Augustine said: “For he himself has said: ‘I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee;’ therefore we can confidently say: ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear what man shall do unto me’ (Hebrews 13:5-6).
As opportunities arise, prayer becomes an important option for exploring deeper connection with God.
If you're interested in learning more about prayer, a spiritual director can help you with that. Prayer is another way for us to connect with God. Spiritual directors are not "prayer experts", but they can help you develop skills for entering into conversation with God, and through prayer, we have the opportunity to explore our connection with God and our truest self. When one of my clients tells me she's decided to embark upon a prayer practice, I ask her about what has led her to this decision and what she hopes to gain from it. Then as opportunities arise during sessions, I will suggest ways in which prayer might deepen our process together. For example, if a client is struggling with a difficult decision or relationship challenge, I might invite them to try listening for God's voice or guidance on the matter. If they'd like to try this option the next time we meet, they should come prepared to share their experience and how it impacted their understanding of themselves or the situation at hand.
Spiritual direction sessions are both holy and practical experiences guided by the Holy Spirit who wants you to come alive into your truest self in Christ.
Jesus said, "I have come that they may have life and have it abundantly." John 10:10
Spiritual direction is an opportunity for you to open up to someone who will help you grow in your relationship with God and hear his voice more clearly. In spiritual direction, the Holy Spirit guides the conversation and helps me see what he wants to show you about your life.
In spiritual direction sessions, we will talk about your relationship with God, but also spend time in silence listening for what he has to say. You may share stories of how God has been at work in your life or struggles that you've had that feel like obstacles between you and God. I will listen as attentively as possible, asking questions along the way because I want to hear both your story and what God has been saying to you through it all. It would be easy for me to offer advice or try and solve the problem if there is one but my goal is simply to help guide you toward a place of deeper intimacy with Jesus Christ so that he can work through any problems or challenges on his own terms in his own way.