Editor’s note: this post was originally published on 10/10/2016.
Changing Spiritual Directors
Dear Fr. Bartunek, Thank you for your post. This is the first time I have ever commented, but your topic is just too much of a coincidence to ignore. I have had the same spiritual director since 2013. He is the pastor of a large parish and school and is very busy. There is another pastor whose spirituality I greatly admire, that I hoped I could ask to be my spiritual director, if the direction ever ended with my current priest. Well, last month, I showed up for my monthly appointment and he told me he was too busy to meet with me. I prayed and asked the Lord to give me a sign, that if he was not to be my spiritual director anymore, to not have him call to reschedule. Well, it’s been over three weeks since the missed appointment and he did not call. And the priest whom I had hoped to be my director actually called me last week about another ministry that I am involved in….and while we were on the phone I told him of my question. He was happy to accept me to direct, but my concern was if my current director happened to call to reschedule, I wasn’t sure of the etiquette. He has helped me greatly in these past three years, and I respect and admire him. I asked the second priest if he happened to call, could I have two spiritual directors. He said that if my director called, he could be my “confessor” and give me spiritual advice, and I could also keep my first director. So, my question is, should I just call my director and tell him that I have found a new director…and how do I do that kindly? Or, should I not call him at all, and if he never calls me…is that an acceptable way to end our relationship? Or, if he calls, should I keep him as a director and go to the other priest as a confessor and to receive spiritual advice? Sorry this is so long! I look forward to your advice. Thank you and may God bless you!
I am not sure there is a formal “etiquette” to go with changing spiritual directors. But I also think that you probably don’t have to worry too much about how to make this transition. I would suggest the following.
Go ahead and meet once or twice with the new priest whom you are considering as your new spiritual director. Do this before formally committing yourself to him as a new director. This will give you a transition period in which you can see more objectively if it really is a wise decision to switch directors – both of you can get to know each other. If what you suspect turns about to be true after those first two or three meetings, and the new priest is a better fit for you in this season of your spiritual life, then I think it will be fine for you to make the switch.
Depending on how your relationship is with your current director, you may want to make a special effort to inform him of this change, thanking him for all the help he has giving you through the years. It doesn’t have to be awkward; he should understand perfectly well that you feel it is time to move on. But, again depending on the relationship, that may not even be necessary, and you can simply make the transition and then mention it whenever the topic comes up organically with the other priest.
I would also reiterate that when we are receiving spiritual direction, it’s important to remember that we remain responsible for our own spiritual growth. The spiritual director isn’t called to take over our spiritual lives, just to be a special guide and objective reference point – one of God’s many instruments in our lives, though an important one – as we seek to grow in our relationship with God.
I hope this helps. God bless you! In Him, Fr. John
Art for this post on “Changing Spiritual Directors”: 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.