What is a spiritual director & how can they help me?

If you are having trouble “listening” to God, a spiritual director could be just the person you need.

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Most us are well-versed in the practice of giving something up for Lent. We spend the time before Ash Wednesday considering the things that play too big a role in our life: the food, drink, activities, or attitudes that serve as a crutch, or get in the way of a healthy spiritual life.

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Even though Lent is a very old holy tradition, we might need this practice more than ever in modern times, suggests spiritual director, author, and podcast host Anita Lustrea. Because by giving up something we rely on or enjoy a little too much, it brings some much needed “inconvenience” back into our lives. (Lives that are otherwise full of one-click purchases, fast food options, and 5-minute hacks for everything.)

“We live in a culture of consumption,” Lustrea says. “We rarely say no to our desires. Those desires often drive us. Lent gives opportunity to say no to mindless consumption and thoughtless indulgence.” But, according to Lustrea, it’s not always easy to identify those consumerist tendencies: “We move so quickly, so we often can’t even hear our own thoughts other than the laundry list of items on our to do list,” which can make figuring out what actually is “mindless consumption” or “thoughtless indulgence” difficult.

Because of this, Lustrea promotes the idea of “taking on” something during Lent, too, rather than simply “giving up” something.

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But what can you add to your already busy days that will help you during this time of inward reflection? Lustrea suggests adding someone rather than something: a person who you can talk to regularly, who can help you “listen to your life” and gain some spiritual perspective.

“I’m a bit biased,” Lustrea says, “but I see Lent as an especially good time to engage the help of a spiritual director. Having someone listen to our lives is essential. A spiritual director is trained in the art of deep listening. A director listens to hear where the Holy Spirit is at work in your life and helps you respond to the invitations of God to a deeper relationship.” (But if you don’t have access to a spiritual director, you can consider relying on an trustworthy, insightful friend, or pastor to start these types of thoughtful conversations, too.)

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While engaging with someone else to “listen to your life” can seem daunting or embarrassing, Lustrea says the process helps you slow down. You’ll begin see what’s really important, and get perspective on life events that feel like crises, or just inside your usual daily routines. “As a person comes to direction,” Lustrea says, “they bring with them all of who they are—along with the daily aspects of life. Their high points as well as their anxieties and struggles.”

But the overall point of a session like this is to help yourself see God at work in all areas of life and to listen to what God may be “saying” to you. There’s an exercise that some spiritual directors recommend doing to help this process along, Lustrea says, encouraging their directees to read “a specific biblical story and encourage the reader to put themselves in the story with the use of their sacred imagination.”

Lustrea has seen the real difference this kind of exercise can make, even in her own life: “My spiritual director helped name what had kept me stuck and in a place of hurt and unable to move toward healing. As soon as it had been named, I saw how I’d been sitting by the side of the road much like the blind man in Mark 10. It was as if Jesus had just passed by and healed me. All because of someone listening to the deeper parts of my life.”

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And the benefits, though often personal and subtle, don’t end there. Lustrea says finding direction through talking and reflection can help you:

Deepen your relationship with God

Lessen the intensity of certain “vices”

Ease anxiety through prayer

Spend less time undecided, unmotivated, or frustrated

Move toward Christ

But like anything we give up or take on during Lent, deciding to speak up and/or seek out a spiritual director requires making a committed effort.

First, it requires effort to find one. Lustrea says to check with your local parish or diocese or Spiritual Directors International. Or, of course, ask around. Lots of people use spiritual directors and would be happy to refer you to theirs.

Second, it requires effort to work the time for this kind of reflection into your busy schedule. As Lustrea says, “Life will press in. We must choose to keep pressing in, leaning in to whatever the spiritual practice might be.”

But the effort, she says, is always worth it. “In I Corinthians 9:24-27 we read about the importance of training our bodies for the race. Choosing or being intentional about the discipline it takes to train and run a race is important. There is no chance of winning the race without it. If we aren’t intentional with spiritual practices, we forego the rewards.”

Caryn Rivadeneira
Caryn Rivadeneira

Caryn Rivadeneira is the author of five books and is a columnist for Her.meneutics and ThinkChristian. She lives outside Chicago with her husband, three kids, and one red-nose pit bull. Visit her at carynrivadeneira.com.

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