Have you ever been in an unfamiliar area and stopped to ask a local for directions only to find that the well intended helper begins to rattle off street names, turns, and landmarks faster than you can blink? Why does this happen? It really is very simple. Our chosen helper is very familiar with the area. He or she is simply working at a pace that makes complete sense to them; though almost none to us. The challenge is that even if our helpers are extremely benevolent, we will rarely find one who will recognize the glazed over look in our eyes and slow down enough to really help us to get to our desired destination.
In spiritual direction we have the same problem for both the director and the directee – particularly when the relationship is new. My wife recently went to confession at a local parish (it is a good thing she has a sense of humor) and the direction after confession was that she “get her life in order and start praying.” At this point in her life I can attest that she was praying at least forty-five minutes a day and well into a solid position in her spiritual journey. Why then did he give such poor advice? Simply put, he was moving too fast and did not take the time to really orient himself to her situation before he provided input. Now, granted, confession is not a great time to receive spiritual direction (especially right before mass as in this case), however, confessors and directors still need to be cautious with their assumptions.
Proper orientation takes time. For the director he or she needs to move slowly and prayerfully before offering feedback. However, the same is true for the directee. It is very important that the directee not expect the director to quickly get to the point and solve all their spiritual challenges in one sitting. Good experienced spiritual directors will never jump into giving advice without developing a relationship; without developing a solid understanding of the complex landscape of the soul they are seeking to serve.
For directors, be cautious of the dangerous rut of pat answers. Don’t miss the opportunity to really help someone to God because your many conversations are all blurring into one. If you are struggling to really connect with a person, don’t feel pressure to rush into a response. Instead, the struggle should be a signal that you too need to slow down, pray, listen, and wrestle to find clarity about the real issues at play.
Regardless of which side of the equation you find yourself on, the key is to slow down. For directees, ensure you are open and clear about the challenges you face. Don’t look for quick answers to complex questions. If you are not going to spiritual direction with Padre Pio, don’t expect a mere mortal to be able to understand and help after just twenty minutes of discussion. It may take months for you both to understand the Holy Spirit’s leading in your soul.
Seek Him – Find Him – Follow Him
Art for this post on spiritual direction orientation: map and compass provided by Dan Burke, unknown provenance. Feature image art: Ein ernstes Gespräch (A Serious Conversation), Ludwig Johann Passini, by 1903, PD-US author’s life plus 100 years or less, Wikimedia Commons.