Carrie Soukup offers advice on getting started with spiritual direction.
Can you find a “spiritual director?” Can you find a person in-the-flesh-and-blood who gives you guidance that is uniquely directed to your situation in life, someone who can form, connect, and teach you in what is true, good, and beautiful? Is there someone who can bring the consolation of Jesus himself by listening, loving, and being a holy Christian (a.k.a. “little Christ”)?
Yes! If you find your heart in deep need – you long for growth, love and change – and know that you cannot do it yourself, be assured that God can and will – amply – supply for your desire. God has provided this kind of guidance for me many seasons in my life. Depending upon how you count, I’ve had between three and 10 significant spiritual directors for various reasons.
The most basic reason people seek spiritual direction is that someone says: I just want to grow.
I am committed to Christ in his Church and I don't have any particular problem or pressing question, it just seems like meeting with a spiritual director might be a good thing. I've heard others talk about it and since I truly am committed to my faith, I wonder what kind of growth could happen.
If this is you, wonderful! Here’s what I’d recommend:
- Start (or continue) going to Reconciliation often. By often, I mean once a month or more. This in itself has tons of spiritual direction. This is where LOTS of healing takes place. One of the main goals of spiritual direction is to sensitize you to participate in the work of God in your life. Put negatively, it is to remove obstacles to God (sin is part of that although not all). So, even just going to Reconciliation may be enough one-on-one direction for you. For me, year after year, Reconciliation is where I learn best to love, I learn best to forgive, I learn best to see God. It is the primary way God melted my anger. But I get it if you need more than just this (keep reading).
- Establish a beautiful, consistent, integrated and flexible prayer life. This will keep you open to the Holy Spirit and any direction that you receive in the confessional (or in person in some other fashion) will be able to take root. Establishing a rooted and sacramental prayer life is often a focus in spiritual direction. Helping moms grow their interior communion through a life of prayer is my favorite thing about being a coach because I know from experience how radically freeing it is.
- Read, read, read (or listen) to the truths of God. Read the Bible, read the saints, read something current and deep. Here is a list of my favorite and recommended authors. Immersing yourself in the truths of the Church is like watering a plant.
That’s it. It may not sound like having a spiritual director but, it is spiritual direction. Many religious orders and faithful Catholics walk on the road of life from one conversion to the next in this way.
Disappointed? You want something more personal? Or just plain more time? Or you have specific troubles? Ok.
- (Optional Step for More) The next step is to talk with a priest who you’ve met through Reconciliation or heard speak at Mass. As you listen to the advice of the priest, begin to notice if your soul easily responds to his words. Consider whether this person would be good to guide you often. If not, try another parish or confessional time. If this is a priest whose words are bearing fruit in your life, do your best to keep going to Reconciliation with this person. Every time you go, say your name. Ask if he has time to see you for spiritual direction on a consistent basis. You could even recommend that it be only 15 minutes per month – linked with a reoccurring parish event. Many people go to direction for up to an hour but currently I only go for 15 minutes a month and it is still a very significant part of my growth.
If your local parish doesn’t work out, you could reach out to the prelature whose charism is spiritual direction! Opus Dei priests and co-operators are all throughout the world. Contact the Opus Dei center closest to you.
There are plenty of other reasons for seeking spiritual direction. Do any of these statements fit you? Try the ideas below the one that matches your situation.
I have a quandary.
There are ethical questions, about life, about the nature of God and theology, an unusual relationship that leaves me wondering what to do, a moral decision to make, a medical decision, a marital concern.
Ok, cool. I’ve been there too. For one thing, the Catechism of the Catholic Church helps a lot. So does Catholic Answers.
But perhaps you need someone to personally walk you through this quandary. You need to feel the love of God through his people. Ask your pastor or associate priest to help you. You can speak briefly after Mass or call the office to set up an appointment. You could also ask a Christian at church who seems involved and prayerful to “walk” with you as you research, pray and grow through this dilemma. Another option for medical issues is the: National Catholic Bioethics Center ; they generously offer free help and guidance. Check it out!
I am discerning God’s call.
What is my vocation? Should I marry this person? Is God calling me to the religious life? Should I move? Should I take this job offer? Is school my next step?
Oh, the Jesuits and their associates are good at this!!! These questions are discerned particularly well through an Ignatian approach to listening to the Holy Spirit. You could reach out to the province closest to you and ask if they have anyone who can help you to discern. If, however, you are discerning the religious life or the priesthood in a particular diocese then get in touch with the vocation director for the order or diocese. By the way, the Jesuits are the reason my husband and I decided to tie the knot. Thank God.
I am stuck.
While I very much want to love God and neighbor, I don’t seem to be able to do this in the way I feel I am called. There may have been a change that happened – even a while ago – that I’m not yet figuring out how to thrive in –a job change, marriage, a new baby, the loss of a loved one, a diagnosis, moving, new responsibilities. I might not quite identify that my lack of progress is linked to anything that has happened but I know that something in my soul is not thriving and I can’t seem to get out of this rut. I may need to be guided as to how to be a disciple in THIS situation and this stretch of the road.
While maintaining the three foundational elements of spiritual direction that I listed above (Reconciliation, prayer life, and spiritual reading), I have reached out to strong Christian friends a few times and asked them to have weekly half-hour phone conversations with me for a season in order to help me through a difficult time. I always feel better about honoring the other person’s time with a specific end point. It has been a great way to hear my own feelings received and reflected, as well as given me guidance from people who know me best.
You could also try the Pastoral Solutions Institute as recommended by ReverentCatholicMass.com: “Founded by Greg Popcak, the Pastoral Solutions Institute is focused on integrating Catholic theology and counseling psychology to include St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body.” This spiritual life coaching or counseling can be in person or over the phone.
I am determined to allow God to mold me: My days are full of prayer, and Sacraments (as life allows), and I am engaged in the mission of the Church. Although many virtuous habits are second nature to me, I am quite aware of my huge weaknesses and need of a savior. Yet, I know that God desires to transform His people from glory to glory. It is heaven that I want to be all for God. I might feel very joyful or maybe quite dry and blank but regardless, I am full of faith because the Holy Spirit Himself has poured it into my heart. I want help becoming more and more open to God’s movement in my life (removing obstacles) and to participating in the changing ways God works in me through contemplative prayer.
This kind of spiritual direction is best suited for those who are familiar with contemplative prayer. I think it takes a special kind of director – one who has read and prayed over the writings of St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Ávila. God Himself can guide you. Pray for it. You also may want to consider reading Fr. Thomas Dubay’s book, Seeking Spiritual Direction.
What has your experience been in seeking spiritual direction? Is there something I can help you with? Perhaps we can trade stories!
Copyright 2021 Carrie Soukup
Images (from top): Canva Pro; Pixabay (2016); copyright 2011 Holy Cross Family Ministries, all rights reserved; all others Canva Pro
About the Author
Carrie Soukup writes and teaches courses at GraceFinders.com, to help others connect intimately with God in and through the craziness of life. Author of two books on prayer, she has served as a curriculum writer, campus minister, high school theology teacher, and retreat director. On a great day, you can find her hiking, cycling, or eating chocolate with her husband and four children.