I struggle with this question because there are so many different answers. Spiritual direction is personal–as personal as the closest loving relationships you have….and then some. If this article leaves you with more questions than answers, then you will have an idea of what spiritual direction is. Then, maybe your “why” will come into view.
As with any worthwhile endeavor, the tools of spiritual direction are varied and unique. The personalized nature of the relationship between director and directee calls for a customized approach.There are, however, a few tried and true tools that are used quite frequently in spiritual direction. In this article, I cover one such approach, called lingering, in detail, and future articles will discuss others in a similar degree of depth.
My Kindergarten Sky
My best answer to the question, “why spiritual direction?” comes from one experience of how spiritual direction brought me closer to God. (Interestingly, while the draw to and tools of spiritual direction are many, the goal of spiritual direction is the same for all: to deepen one’s relationship with God.)
When I was five years old, I was walking home from the bus stop with my mom. It was a beautiful spring afternoon, with the sun sitting high in a perfectly cloudless, blue sky. Mom was talking with another adult, and I wandered ahead by myself just looking up at the sky. In hindsight, I know I was actually marveling at that sky. I was taken with its shining blue color and the warmth I felt on my back. I was mesmerized and felt wrapped up in this perfect sky. I was suddenly filled with a happiness that overwhelmed me, physically and emotionally. I remember feeling a strong desire to share my happiness. I didn’t want to interrupt my mom but something had to be done about this palpable joy. It had to be expressed, so I whispered quietly to myself “I’m so happy!”
As a kindergartener, I had no idea why I felt so happy or what induced this strong feeling. I was just glad to experience it. And for years, every time I saw that flawless blue sky, I would say to myself “That is my kindergarten sky. God gave it to me on that day walking home from the bus. It’s mine.” I never forgot the joy I felt that day.
Over time, I came to assume it was God’s little gift to help me be happy. Blue skies seemed to pop up at moments in my life when I needed a little perspective or a smile.
In spiritual direction we learn to linger. We review impactful moments in our life and we invite God to look with us. At the beginning, a spiritual director may guide us through this kind of invitation if it feels new. Spending time in this way offers a multitude of spiritual gifts. The list is far too long, but here is one example:
Most of the time when I thought about my kindergarten sky moment, I would feel happy with the mere memory of the joy I felt. That lasting memory and perpetual gift of joy made it clear to me that God was somehow a part of it. But with my spiritual director, I was able to uncover an even deeper understanding of my kindergarten sky.
While God and I lingered in this moment, a natural curiosity arose. Did God give this sky to anyone else, or is it really just mine? Surely other people need such a gift. Did God find other gifts for them? And more importantly: why me?
While we linger, we also notice inner feelings. The question “why me?” evoked feelings of humility, peace, and gratitude. I lingered there for a long time. I learned to notice subtle thoughts, feelings, and ideas in God’s presence. My spiritual director’s companionship has been a comfort, a mirror, and sometimes a guide as my awareness grows. I doubt I ever would have noticed such depth without such a companion.
Lingering slowly brought about a clear realization. All those years ago, what I experienced was not God’s little gift to me. It was God. Somehow, as a 5-year-old child, I bumped into God! God didn’t just share the sky with me, he shared his love of his created sky with me. Further lingering (over time) helped me to see that he shared his entire God-self with me too. Then, the overwhelming nature of my happiness made sense to me.
He shared joy with a child who had very little notion of God, beyond her obediently repeated bedtime prayers. I continue to marvel at how easy it must be for all of us to “bump into God”.
We are taught that God is always with us, but we don’t always know how to be in touch with that presence. As you practice this lingering, you become accustomed to finding God in the ordinary moments of your life. God becomes an everyday character in your story.
Deepening the Experience
My kindergarten sky was a spectacular experience, even without the benefit of spiritual direction. Indeed, it reflected an already very healthy relationship with God. However, now that I’ve participated in spiritual direction, this tiny moment continues to go deeper into my heart and draws me to a closeness with God I never knew possible. And that happened fifty years ago. Can you imagine how many other moments I have left to ponder? When it comes to closeness with God, there is always more!
Because of spiritual direction, I see that I have an actual relationship with God, one that is as important to me as my closest personal relationships. Indeed, as I grow closer to God, I learn to love better as a wife, mother, daughter, sister, and friend.
Spiritual Direction is a centuries old tradition in the Catholic church. Often it is misunderstood to be only for priests and religious who are “professionals”. However, this implies that God is only interested in a loving relationship with priests and religious! Hopefully, you see that this cannot be true, and that God desires a deep loving relationship with all of his creation. Spiritual direction, admittedly a hidden gem in the Christian faith, is for anyone interested in knowing and loving God better. No experience necessary.
Perhaps while reading my story a moment in your life came to mind that you would like to explore. This is a great place to start with spiritual direction, but not the only beginning point. As I said before, spiritual direction is personal. God will bring you closer using means that best suit you. His call could take the form of a cute childhood moment like mine, or moments of mature joy and pain. Lifetime transitions or simple curiosity could be the impetus. God is in every moment of our lives. Which moment stands out in your heart?