Docility in Spiritual Direction: why Following Director’s Advice is Good

I have a bit of my own foolishness to share with you today. In my book on spiritual direction (scheduled to go to print late next year through Emmaus Road Publishing) I offer the following advice regarding docility to our spiritual directors:

for post on docilityAuthentic docility is an essential ingredient in any successful spiritual direction relationship.  What is docility?  Docility is a humble readiness to follow God’s will for our lives.  This is sometimes expressed in the willingness to listen to and follow imperfect counsel from an imperfect person, and at times, even when we disagree or don’t completely understand.  It is critical to remember that we are in spiritual direction because we recognize that the human condition requires outside counsel to grow.  The fact that we are finite fallen creatures requires that someone help us to see the areas of our souls that we cannot see without help.  Even if our director is wrong on a particular matter (assuming the direction is not something sinful), we will most assuredly benefit from heading down paths that we would not have chosen on our own.  This simple exercise of taking unfamiliar paths will reveal things to us that we would have never been able to see without having been prompted to do so.

This past week I had to swallow the sometimes challenging medicine from my own cabinet. I sought direction regarding a specific challenge I was having in prayer and was disappointed when advised to purchase and read a book that covers ground that I have practiced and written about for some time.

As I walked out of the session, I was frustrated and wondering if I had made the right decision to seek direction from this particular priest. My pride was also wounded as he obviously was not aware that I was well beyond what he asked of me. I walked through the many reasons I should side-step his guidance. Then I remembered the bit of advice that I had offered above and in response to this uncomfortable memory, I reluctantly resolved to obey his direction.

I ordered and received the book he recommended a few days later. That day I began a slightly cynical but eager reading with the weak concession that God just might use this situation to answer my prayer for wisdom and clarity on the matter I wrestled with. As I read my smug irritation resurfaced, “Confirmed. Been there, done that, moved past it…” Still, with slight curiosity and resolution of docility in tact, I began to modify my morning prayer routine according to the book and his advice.

Following the recommended approach, the morning of this writing I decided to select familiar material from the reading of the day out of the treasure of Divine Intimacy by Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen O.C.D. The subject matter was again familiar but struck me in a way that it had not in the past. The Holy Spirit was clearly speaking to me about what I should pursue as a spiritual discipline for the coming year. My spiritual pride melted into gratitude and a delightful humiliation (at least for the moment).

The moral of the story: If we ask God to guide us through spiritual direction, we need to do what we are told. If we do, God will work in and through that obedience to help us to Him. If we don’t, we will likely miss his promptings and the blessings that would have come if we had followed.


Art for this post on docility: Christ and Saint Mina [or Menas], iconographer unknown, 6th-century icon from Bawit, Egypt, PD-US author’s life plus 70 years or less, Wikimedia Commons.

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