How to find a spiritual director
Sparked by a suggestion from yesterday’s comments, I remembered that I’ve been meaning to write this post for a long time since it’s something I’m asked about frequently.
First of all, I can’t encourage you strongly enough to prayerfully consider getting a spiritual director. I’ve been meeting with mine regularly since this past summer, and have found it tremendously helpful to have someone specially trained in this area to help me grow in faith. In fact, many if not most of the major spiritual lessons I learned last year were the direct result of conversations with my spiritual director.
I contacted the religious brother in charge of spiritual direction for our diocese and asked him some questions that might be helpful to anyone considering getting a spiritual director:
How do you find a spiritual director?
Start by either asking your priest if he has any recommendations or calling your diocese’s main office and asking for references from them. Most priests would have some good references (that’s how I found my spiritual director), and many diocese have someone who keeps a master list of everyone in the area who has received training to be a spiritual director. It is highly recommended to find someone who has received formal training in this area (I believe most of them go through a two-year program). Also, if you happen to live near a place that offers spiritual retreats (many monasteries do, and some diocese have their own retreat houses) there would almost certainly be a spiritual director there.
Unfortunately I’m not familiar with the spiritual direction system in other denominations, but…
Do Catholic spiritual directors only meet with Catholics?
Not necessarily. Christians of any denomination are welcome to get in touch with Catholic spiritual directors; it would be up to the individuals involved to discern if they felt like it would be a good fit. There’s no “rule” that one has to be Catholic to meet with a Catholic spiritual director.
How do you find someone who’s a good fit for you?
It’s perfectly acceptable to meet with more than one spiritual director until you find someone with whom you click. It’s important to find someone whom you feel very comfortable with since you’ll be discussing important issues with them.
I did have to meet with more than one person before I found someone who was a good fit. After meeting with the first person, I had a rather lukewarm feeling and wasn’t particularly excited about the idea of scheduling another meeting. But after one meeting with my current spiritual director the peace of the Holy Spirit was palpable and I could not wait until our next meeting — that’s how I knew she was the right person for me.
Do they charge a fee?
Almost never. From what I understand it’s not technically forbidden that they charge a fee, but I’ve never heard of one doing so.
How often do you meet with them?
That’s up to you and your spiritual director to decide. I try to meet with mine once a month.
How can those of us with lots of little ones make it happen?
It’s definitely harder for those of us with children to arrange spiritual direction meetings, but I think that sometimes it’s people in our phase of life who could benefit from the guidance of a spiritual director the most. If you don’t have help with childcare, consider turning to another Christian mom and asking her if you could barter some babysitting duties with her so that you could make this happen (after all, you wouldn’t mind doing it for one of your friends, right?) Or, depending on the ages of your children and the location you meet, you may even be able to bring them.
Also, you may want to consider just telling the spiritual director you contact your problem with finding childcare and asking him or her for suggestions. They might be able to work with you to meet at a time and place that would work within your constraints.
Bottom line: I strongly encourage you not to let a lack of childcare dissuade you from seeking a spiritual director. I’m sure that if you pray for God to show you a way that you can make this happen he will show you a path that works for you. Again, I think that it is often we busy moms who could most benefit from regular spiritual direction.
What do you talk to a spiritual director about?
A general answer would be “how to grow in holiness.” You might talk to them about discerning where God is leading you in a specific area of your life, how to have a more fruitful prayer life, how to cope with spiritual dry spells, how to resolve a moral dilemma that’s causing you stress, etc. Spiritual directors don’t give you orders to tell you what to do, but rather offer gentle suggestions, insights and things to consider in order for you to make your own decisions.
To give you some real-world examples, some questions I might ask my spiritual director would be:
- “I used to love praying and received great consolation from it, but now my prayers are really dry and I have to force myself to do it. Sometimes it even feels like I’m talking to myself. Is this normal? Is there anything I can do about it?”
- “I find myself constantly plagued with unnecessary, irrational worry about issue X. How can I overcome that and better trust in God?”
- “In prayer a while back I got the idea that I need to stop being such a perfectionist about parenting, that I need to relax and stop trying to do so much. But now I’m wondering if that was the voice of the Holy Spirit or the voice of my inner laziness. How can I better discern what God is telling me in that area of my life?”
A final note
From my own experience, finding a spiritual director was a bit of work. It’s definitely awkward (for people like me, anyway) to start calling around and setting up meetings with people you don’t even know. That was a big mental block I had to overcome. Then I was bound and determined that I wanted a priest or a religious brother or sister as a spiritual director. When my priest gave me the phone number of a local laywoman who is trained in spiritual direction and strongly urged me to consider her, I didn’t plan to call — I was that sure that I didn’t want a layperson. But then something nagged at me about it, and I decided to just set up one meeting to see how it went. As it turns out, she could not have been a better fit for me, and I am thrilled to have her as my spiritual director.
So to summarize the lessons I learned from my own experience: just pray, pray, pray for God to lead you to the right person; be open to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, even if he leads you in a direction you didn’t expect; and be willing to put in a little effort — it will pay off in a big way when you finally find the right person!
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