“…the spiritual director is not to be regarded as a magical machine for solving cases and declaring the holy will of God beyond all hope of appeal, but a trusted friend who, in an atmosphere of sympathetic understanding, helps and strengthens us in our groping efforts to correspond with the grace of the Holy Spirit, who alone is the true Director in the fullest sense of the word.” (Thomas Merton, Spiritual Direction and Meditation, p. 5-6)
My spiritual director has been a wonderful listener and has taught me many things over the years. She has become that “trusted friend” about which Merton spoke. In this short blog post, there is no way to impart all of the gifts she has given me, so I’ve let just a handful rise to the surface. These have all been critical parts of my transformation process. I am thankful for the gift of her presence in my life.
One of the hallmarks of a good spiritual director is their ability to listen well. Not merely listening, but being present while listening. In this way, my spiritual director becomes a kind of holy container for my thoughts, ideas, yearnings and stories. I get to hear my own voice in a non-judgmental atmosphere. Yes, she brings insight, but the act of me bringing my soul out into the light gets me half way there (or more). An attentive listener is a true gift. It is especially rare in our day-to-day culture. I do not take it for granted.
I am surprised every time my spiritual director reminds me of something I said years ago. She’ll show me how what I am saying now connects to a part of my story from the past. I love how she helps me to connects the dots. Sometimes I am too close to the situation to see the big picture. She helps me get up into the helicopter and get the full view. Being reminded of my own growth or finding a long held desire brought to life are a couple of ways that high-up view helps. A trustworthy person who keeps the long view of your life in focus is a great gift.
It is important to me is that my spiritual director has lived her own actual life with God. What she says to me comes from experience, not just from a book, because she is a woman of faith. Because of that, I know that she often sees right where I am and patiently waits. She can see where I am in my story, but she doesn’t give me the ending. She lets me find my way there so that the fullness of the transformation can happen by the Spirit. What a great gift to have someone who will hold space for me while I make my way through this truth, “He who began a good work in you will carry it onto completion until the day of Christ.”
I hate to admit how many times my spiritual director has had to ask, “Why are you judging that?” This comes up when I am making statements about myself that are less than encouraging. The question pops me back to reality and usually leaves me wordless. I pause and ask myself again, “Why am I judging that?” I have found that judgement is a surefire way to stop growth in its tracks. I cannot flourish under the weight of judgment. Discernment is one thing, judgment is another. What a gift it has been to learn, over time, to stop judging myself (and others) so that I can make my way to more freedom.
I love to think about things, analyze them and learn as much as I can. This is actually a good thing. But sometimes, in spiritual development and relationship with God, analysis is not the best first move. When I get into that mode, and my spiritual director can see that I am sucking the life out of something, she will gently say something like this, “Why don’t you simply experience this. Just be in it. Let it be what it is. Don’t over think it or analyze it. Experience it.”
Those two words, “Experience it” have taken me so much deeper into my relationship with God. As I have learned to rest more in his presence, to soak in a moment that he himself has orchestrated, my knowing of him has increased. That knowing that is beyond words, beyond intellectual faith. It is a settled-ness of heart, way deep down.
It is the experiential knowledge of God that is the firm foundation on which I stand. Even as I type those words, I feel like a kid at the bottom of a mountain trail. I look up and I see the top of the mountain. I have a long way to go, but I am excited for the journey. I love that I have time to continue to grow into this.
Again, I am certain there are more gifts to discuss, but these bubbled up to the surface and I’m glad they did. It is good to stop once in a while and be grateful for what you’ve been given. And I have been given much. Thanks, EC!
Here’s Merton again with a last word on how to “be ourselves” as we come to spiritual direction.
“…we can best profit by spiritual direction if we are encouraged to develop our natural simplicity, sincerity, and forthright spiritual honesty, in a word to “be ourselves” in the best sense of the expression. In this way, a healthy and widespread use of this important means to perfection will help Christians to keep in vital contact with the reality of their vocation and of their life, instead of losing themselves in a maze of abstract devotional fictions.” (Thomas Merton, Spiritual Direction and Meditation, p. 6)