I am so grateful for the gift of spiritual directors in my life. I have had four in thirty-four years. Here are five things in particular I have benefitted from in that relationship since I began gong to spiritual direction in 1988.
- Helping me keep prayer at the center of my life. I believe this is the most important role of a spiritual director, as all else in the Christian life hinges on our daily fidelity to personal prayer. And there is so much in life that wars against this commitment, no matter how many years we have prayed. If you stop praying, the rest of Christian life unravels quickly.
- Allowing me a space for radical transparency. Not holding secrets in life, especially over things that stand as obstacles to me growing in love of God, neighbor and self, is imperative. Maybe even dire. My director once said to me, “The day you want to please me, make me think highly of you, or try to make me agree with you is the day we end this relationship.” Why? Because that will stand in the way of me and of him being radically honest.
- Helping me discern the voice of God. My directors have taught me so much about how to better hear God’s voice, and distinguish it from other voices. Their goal: to make me able to recognize, discern, accept and carry out God’s will. While they have challenged me in my decision making, sometimes hard, my directors have never told me what to do, made a choice or discerned for me. They have only challenged and empowered me to make good choices informed by faith and good judgment in conformity with my commitments and duties. And helped me identify my blind spots. When I hear people tell me that their directors told them what choices to make, manipulated or discerned for them their path ahead, or — worst of all to me — claimed to speak on behalf of God to them — “The Lord told me to tell you you should…” — I shudder.
- Helping me develop an integrated Christian character. All of the above three benefits my directors have offered me in many ways have this as the goal — helping me bring all aspects of my life into harmony with my catholic faith in Jesus Christ, to live a life of consistent and constant reform/growth into integrity. This is truly an ever-evolving project that always requires a fresh appraisal, new approaches with uniquely accentuated virtues (courage here, temperance there, prudence everywhere) that often are underattended.
- Keeping me accountable to commitments. In many ways this is the crown of the other four, as we need each other to remain accountable to our promises, commitments, obligations. When my director as a rule leads with the sentence, “So, how is your prayer life?” that lives with me the rest of the time. When I lose accountability, I become the master of rationalization and procrastination, which leads to disorienting moral and spiritual deracination. I easily and mostly imperceptibly lose my way.
And so I thank God endlessly for those (in my case) men who have served this role in my life, along with my wife, countless other friends, mentors and inspirations who have challenged me to become a man who is human in God’s image, i.e. Christ.
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