As a society, we’ve grown more comfortable with discussing mental and emotional health. We understand the benefits of counseling for anything from diagnosed disorders to mental health check-ins when we need to talk things out with someone.
But did you know that we can take a similar approach in our spiritual lives? A conversational format known as spiritual direction can help us grow closer to God and become more fully ourselves.
What is spiritual direction?
Simply put, spiritual direction can be viewed as a form of counseling in spiritual growth. It’s a way of working out how God is moving in your life and what He may be trying to communicate to you. This is done through personal prayer and conversation with someone who is trained to listen for the voice of God in your personal experiences. Instead of focusing just on ideas and Church teachings, spiritual direction focuses on your individual, personal relationship with God.
A spiritual director can be someone with a religious vocation (such as a priest or a nun) or a lay person (a Catholic who isn’t in religious life), male or female, single or married. He or she guides you to a better understanding of your relationship with God and serves as a sounding board as you build that relationship.
Like with counseling, spiritual direction can be short-term or long-term, and you are free to find a spiritual director who’s the right fit for you. Determining a good fit may take a few conversations with different directors until you find someone who you feel comfortable with and who works within a spirituality that fits your own.
How can spiritual direction help me?
Spiritual direction is for anyone and everyone! You don’t have to be at a specific point in your faith journey to meet with someone. At the same time, where you are in that journey will determine what benefits spiritual direction can have for you.
If you’re starting to build a relationship with God or coming back after some time away, a spiritual director can help you explore your curiosity and desire to begin this relationship and grow closer to God. He or she can provide resources that will help you go deeper and can serve as a point of reference for any questions you have.
If you find yourself in a rut when it comes to your spiritual life, spiritual direction can be helpful for you. A spiritual director can listen to your experiences, perhaps diagnose the reason(s) for this rut, and help you explore ways to change up your prayer routine or provide suggestions for how to jumpstart your spiritual life.
Finally, if you have a major life decision that you would like to bring to prayer, spiritual direction can help with that, too. Are you trying to decide on a career move? Are you in a relationship with someone who might be “the one”? Are you having a hard time with a particular friendship and considering taking space from that friend? Spiritual directors are trained in discernment and can provide tools to help you invite God into your decision-making, no matter how big or small that decision may feel.
The Ultimate Goal is to Grow Closer to God
When asked about the difference between spiritual direction and counseling, Fr. Bill Barry, SJ (a licensed psychologist and Jesuit priest) explained that he sees the difference having to do primarily with the focus on the conversations: “Counseling and psychotherapy focus on the difficulties people have in their personal and professional lives as a result of behavior patterns that have developed over time [...] spiritual direction focuses on what happens when a person attends to the relationship with God.” While an individual’s personal and professional experiences do play a part in conversations during spiritual direction, the ultimate goal is to build and grow a relationship with God and to bring Him into those areas of your life.