Spiritual direction

New yoke series, part 3

“He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm.” Proverbs 13:20, NLT

When I first asked Mindy to be my spiritual director, she straight up said “No,” because she didn’t have time to add that relationship to her life. But over the next several months, she continued to say “yes” when I asked her out for coffee or asked her some questions over email or chatted briefly in our church’s lobby. Before Mindy knew it, she was my spiritual director! That was over seven years ago, and she has been a critical voice in my life and ministry.

In these past seven years, Mindy’s role in my life has become irreplaceable as I journey through the highs and lows of ministry and life. She has spoken into every major decision, counseled me on days where I’ve wanted to quit, reminded me of truth about who God is and who I am, helped me move beyond “stuck” areas in my soul, and challenged me to more fully use my gifts. While our ministry positions have not been in the same part of the country for the past six years, she has remained a consistent contact and encouragement.

Our personal relationships with God can become quite messy and confusing as we serve in ministry. If you’re anything like me, I need at least one other person to help me sort out ministry highs and lows, and maneuver through my own journey with God. That’s the role a spiritual director can play. [[For more ideas about other kinds of mentoring relationships, see Kara Powell, “Getting the Mentoring You Need.”]]

For this article, I thought it wise to go to the source of my spiritual direction and pick Mindy’s brain about why spiritual direction is so important to finding rest for our souls. Mindy Caliguire is the founder of Soul Care, a spiritual formation ministry (www.soulcare.com). She speaks and consults leaders nationally. Currently, Mindy’s “day job” is as the Director of Transformation Ministry for the Willow Creek Association.

Interview with Mindy Caliguire

1. Where can we find a biblical basis for spiritual direction?

So many of the directives for how we as God’s people would “be” with each other—the “one anothers” of Scripture—presume a level of intimate knowledge and God-ward orientation. Love one another, encourage one another, exhort one another…for any of those verbs to actually work, it presumes a deep level of being “known” in relationship with another.

One of the key roles a spiritual director plays is to help another person discern what is going on in their life with God. In 1 Thessalonians, Paul gives a challenge to the leaders of a community that implies this kind of spiritual discernment when he urges us to “…warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone” (1 Thessalonians 5:14, NIV). How can you know if someone is idle, afraid, weak, or just slow? On the outside, those four kinds of people look the same—they’re not moving, or at least not moving fast. How are we supposed to know if they should be warned, encouraged, helped, or simply met with grace as they move at their own pace? This is one of many examples of Scriptures that paint the picture of discerning, loving, intimate relationships that help people grow.

I think a similar biblical concept comes from the idea of shepherding. Perhaps “Spiritual Direction” is a useful moniker for a formalized relationship of shepherding – a spiritual shepherd intentionally provides spiritual care for someone else. In order to do that, they listen; they ask questions; they help us notice the activity of God in and around us.

2. Why is having a spiritual director critical to our spiritual development? What is really the big deal about spiritual direction?

Whether it is a formal spiritual direction relationship or simply a friendship that aids your life with God, I believe it is critical to have someone who knows you well and is helping you pay attention to the activity of God in your life. A spiritual director is often someone completely removed from the daily work of your ministry, and from that place of distance can really “be with” you objectively. Especially for leaders in ministries, whose time is so invested in helping others, this becomes one place, one relationship that is actually focused on the leader’s growth and health. It’s critical not to be alone in your spiritual journey. Being alone is dangerous for many reasons. It’s a big deal to have someone a bit further down the road who is helping you grow, who really cares for your soul, not just for what you do.

3. What’s the difference between a spiritual director and a mentor?

Depending on the relationship, they could be very similar. But when I think of a mentor, I typically imagine a relationship in which one person is focused on helping another acquire some key skills. This is also very helpful in various seasons of life. We need mentors for new moms, mentors for new employees, mentors for new levels of leadership responsibility. But the focus of a spiritual director is not the skill set of a directee’s work, but rather their experience of God and responsiveness to God. A spiritual director helps a directee notice, see, respond to, and ultimately experience God.

4. What are some good qualities of a spiritual director?

Again, whether formal or informal, some essential qualities for a spiritual director are a capacity for deep listening, discernment, an understanding of how authentic spiritual growth takes place, a comfort-level with the more difficult topics in life, and the ability to suggest next steps for the directee to pursue in deepening their experience of God. Directors help us name our experience, help draw out our confessions, and create a sacred space for our journey to be known and witnessed. I also appreciate spiritual directors who can really help me laugh at life! A spiritual director is someone who reminds me of the Kingdom, of God’s goodness, of the much, much bigger picture.

5. Describe healthy expectations about what a spiritual director can and cannot do for our growth.

Spiritual directors don’t cause us to go on a journey; rather, they join us on our journey. They can direct our attention God-ward; they don’t make us choose life or choose God. They can meet our story with compassion, encouragement, forgiveness, blessing, and challenge, but they can’t know our story unless we share it – the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Like a trail guide at the Grand Canyon, a spiritual director can take me on trails I wouldn’t have known about and point out dangers and vistas I would have been oblivious to. I would have missed the beauty and quite possibly been harmed by the unforeseen dangers. As a spiritual director gets to know me, that guide can take me on a path that uniquely fits my interests and capacity. But they can’t make me come to the Grand Canyon in the first place, nor do they move my feet for me, and they probably won’t hold me back from careening off the edge. They are a wise companion, but they don’t do the hike for me.

6. How do I find a spiritual director?

Not to be trite, but if you’re realizing you’d like to engage a spiritual director, please start out by praying for that person in your life. As you pray, you can also start researching and asking around. There are various directories that exist, and many ministries (including monasteries and retreat centers) are now keeping lists of spiritual directors who serve within their communities. If there are already people in your life who seem to embody the kinds of characteristics described here, you can also ask whether they’d be willing to enter into this kind of a relationship with you in an informal but highly intentional way.

Action Steps

  1. What, if any, experiences do you have with spiritual direction in your life? How have they brought more life and health to your life?
  2. Identify any areas in your life where utilizing a spiritual director could bring fuller life and healing to your soul.
  3. Explore the resources below for more on spiritual direction and finding a spiritual director:

Recommended Reading

  1. Dallas Willard, Renovation of the Heart (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2002.
  2. Mindy Caliguire, Soul Searching (Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 2008).
  3. Mindy Caliguire, Spiritual Friendship (Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 2007).
  4. Jude Tiersma Watson et al, “Sabbath Rest in a 24/7 City” urban youth ministry self-care toolkit.

Other Resources in this Series

Ignatian Examen

Activating and Resting

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