Spiritual direction resembles the Emmaus story (Lk 24: 13-35). Everyone knew about His crucifixion, but rumors percolated among the disciples — that the tomb was empty. Discouraged and confused, two disciples walk away from Jerusalem when Jesus draws along side and walks with His friends, who fail to recognize Him. A few questions here, a little instruction there, many shared steps and lots of listening bud a trust and curiosity that impels them to ask Jesus to stay with them. All Jesus needed was an invitation! He goes in, and at table, takes the bread, breaks it, and gives it to them, whereupon their eyes are opened, and Jesus vanishes. Reflecting on and discussing the day, they ask each other, “were not our hearts burning within us as he spoke to us on the way?” Encouraged, these two rerouted back to Jerusalem, proclaiming the Good News, that “the Lord has truly been raised” to the infant Christian community. The spiritual director is to be like Jesus, spiritual direction to bear similar fruit, and the directee to maximize the encounter like the disciples did. This explainer offers five words to help directees get the most out of spiritual direction.
1. Know your purpose. Spiritual direction serves a unique and critical end. While coaching assists with specific goals, counseling resolves emotional and relationship crises, confession absolves sin under seal, and doctors treat for physical healing, spiritual direction expands the heart toward the Sacred. In other words, it facilitates the directees growth in relationship with the Lord with eternal life in mind. Goals, relationships, psychology, sin, and physical illness surface in spiritual direction as context for relationship with the Lord. However, spiritual direction alone focuses on how the directee experiences God and moves toward Him. How many become discouraged and lost for lack of support and guidance? For this reason, spiritual direction is regular, long-term and oriented to deepest desires. “What profit is there for a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his life” (Mk 8:36)?
2. Explore your interiority. Only when the directee leaves the linear and superficial, can spiritual direction be truly fruitful. Interiority is the ability to enter within oneself to assimilate and process thoughts, feelings, motivations, and memories (Frs. Acklin & Hicks, OSB). Exploring your interiority is more than divulging schedules, stories and ideas, even about religious things, but deepening to the heart. “The heart is our hidden center, beyond the grasp of our reason and of others; only the Spirit of God can fathom the human heart” (CCC §2563). It is precisely the manifestation of the heart, the encounter between God and directee, that spiritual direction assists. Fear of deepening is alleviated as the directee comes to know radical, unconditional Love. May you be strengthened “through his Spirit in the inner self …and know the love of Christ that surpasses all understanding” (Eph. 3: 16-19).
3. Speak your vulnerability. Just as the resurrected Jesus retained His wounds in glory, your wounds become glorious when given to the Lord. Great joy, delight, and success as well as hardest sadness, despair, and disappointment are as much the “stuff” of spiritual direction as prayer. Your history and ongoing life narrative offer contact points with the Lord in the measure of your awareness and responsiveness. Spiritual direction is maximized when you share those aspects of weakness, sin, and failure in need of healing and deliverance. If unsure of what to bring to the session, the directee ought to explore personal “prayer, relationships, ministry, sexuality, suffering, guilt, and death” (Frs. Acklin & Hicks, OSB). Exposing what is on your heart and in your life, by grace, restores identity and opens destiny. “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12: 9).
4. Walk your pathway. If a priest, deacon, religious, consecrated, or in a lay affiliation, you have committed to a specific life of prayer, sacraments, evangelical promises, and charism. Still, each directee needs to discern and walk a unique path to the Lord. Do you know yours? Traditionally, this was a called a “rule of life” or “program of life.” Presupposing a definitive “yes” to the Lord and with adjustments for different seasons of life, a pathway offers the best trajectory in a practical, personalized, and tested way so that sin and darkness diminish and virtue and holiness arise. You ought to include and revisit common denominators of every pathway: life of prayer and sacraments, discerning and fulfilling His Will, and exercise of discipline and love. “And your ears shall hear a word behind you: ‘this is the way, walk in it,’ when you would turn to the right or the left” (Is. 30:21).
5. Own your coachability. “Coachability” is a relatively new word, but sometimes preferable to “obedience” or “docility,” as it empathizes both teamwork and personal ownership of the effectiveness of spiritual direction. A coachable person is free, independent and proactive, yet focused, cooperative and receptive to feedback, in the spiritual direction session and with regard to applicable “take-ways” (items to remember or follow-through on). Within the context of spiritual direction, coachability is grounded in faith in the quasi-sacramental nature of spiritual direction (Frs. Acklin & Hicks, OSB). You are the one on the field, in the game, and running the race. With facilitation from the spiritual director, the directee pays attention to and acts on promptings from the Holy Spirit (you may want to note these in a journal or phone list). “Indeed, like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, house of Israel” (Jer. 18:6).