Her story was familiar to me. Having grown up as an active member of a church from her family’s Christian denomination, she continued to attend church as an adult with a group of her friends. She enjoyed the network of activities and the opportunities to do things for others through the projects the church organized. But she also felt a bit out of place. She didn’t believe many of the things that appeared to be important within the Christian faith. As much as she enjoyed the people at the church and the music, she didn’t find much depth in the Sunday service.
Some time ago, the minister preached a sermon about people who say that they don’t get anything out of church. The message was simple and clear: it’s not what you get out of it. It’s what you put into it. That caused her to get more involved in a few projects and put her doubts to the side – at least for a time. But she felt closer to God when she sat in her back yard, alone and in silence, than she did in church.
After years of holding these feelings to herself, she shared them with a friend. The friend listened empathetically. It was her friend who suggested that she find someone called a spiritual director. That was a term she hadn’t heard before. Her friend explained that it was something like seeing a counselor except that the spiritual director would be interested in helping her understand how she experienced God in her life. Eventually, this woman, whom I’ll call Gladys, made her way to my office.
Gladys was a warm and kind woman in her sixties. She found it difficult to talk about herself at first. But I assured her that anything we discussed was confidential and that I considered her experience as something sacred: not right or wrong, but unique and special because it was her experience of God’s presence.
Over the months to come, Gladys and I would meet every few weeks. She had kept a journal in the past about her thoughts and activities. I suggested that she try writing about things related to her spiritual life: beliefs about life, prayer, realizations, or special moments that touched her heart. When we met, she sometimes shared from her journal. Generally, we talked about the ways she was becoming more aware and comfortable with herself and her beliefs.
Many people confuse spiritual direction with counseling or therapy. Spiritual direction isn’t about solving a problem. Instead, it’s more about learning to be aware of the inner, reflective aspects of life: what we value, how we live by those values, what we ultimately believe about life, and, for those with a belief in God, how that belief influences life. Sometimes, a spiritual director may suggest a way to pray or a spiritual practice. But typically, a spiritual director focuses on what a person’s experience has been and supports ways for the person to build on positive experiences to help integrate life more fully. The term, “spiritual direction,” is somewhat deceiving because “the director” isn’t bossy or in charge but attempts to facilitate a process of integration in a non-directive manner. Most spiritual directors ask questions to help a person find his or her own answers.
Spiritual direction is found in all the great religious traditions of the world under a variety of names. The spiritual director is the elder, teacher, guru, or experienced person who is sought out by others to help discern a spiritual path. Today, the most common term is spiritual director. It’s a unique role that has grown. It has become more organized like other professions, including a professional organization (Spiritual Directors International), with a code of professional ethics, and basic standards for training and practice.
Over time spent with a spiritual director, Gladys came to an understanding of how she could best bring the pieces of her life together. She continued to participate in the church she attended with her friends because there were things that she valued: a network of friends and organized projects to help others. But she also was more intentional about her time alone and in silence. She learned about meditation and began to maintain a practice. She also began to attend a contemplative prayer group whose members were Christian and Buddhist, some of whom called themselves Buddhist Christians. Through both sets of activities, she found ways to support her inner journey, help others in need, and continue to enjoy her friends.
In a recent meeting with Gladys, I asked if she had any particular thoughts and insights about life. She laughed and said, “It took till I was this age, but as the kids say, ‘I got my groove’ and I like it.”
Dr. Kavar is available to meet with individuals for spiritual direction. His office is in Atlanta, GA. For those at a distance, Dr. Kavar is available via Skype. Spiritual direction is offered on a sliding scale fee.
© 2012, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.