After our talk at the Dynamic Women of Faith Conference we had a few people approach us asking about spiritual direction – what they should look for in an SD, how to go about it, etc. Both Tess and I at different times in our lives have had spiritual directors, and the good ones are few and far between. That being said, God always gives us what we need precisely when we need it, so with that in mind, the following, in my experience, are the qualities of a good spiritual director.
1. Loves the Lord, maintains a life of prayer
I don’t believe that spiritual directors must always be priests, or even male in general, but the one thing that we as Catholic Christians must be sure of is that the person directing us spiritually, psychologically, ecumenically, eschatologically, etc….must be a person of deep prayer and connection with the Lord – especially if your goals are to become a person of deeper prayer and grow in your love for God. Sometimes my SD will silently pause, for 30 seconds or even a full minute in the middle of our chats and close his eyes. It made me uncomfortable at first, but I realized recently that he’s praying, listening to the promptings of the Spirit, and he will usually ask a very pertinent question following that silence. It’s impossible to grow in your relationship with Christ if your director is not on the same page with you as regards your faith-life.
2. Cares, has a compassionate heart for people
I know this seems like a no-brainer, but I’ve seen many a nurse or doctor who are nursing or doctoring just for the money. Usually giving spiritual direction is an unpaid, thankless job so most aren’t in it for the money. Yet I’m sure there are people out there that do it for some other sort of personal gain. Not only that but I’ve seen some SD’s who have a hardness about them – people who don’t understand or have much compassion for the sinful human heart and end up hurting more than they’re healing.
3. Challenges you
We all need someone compassionate and gentle to build us up, but we also need someone who challenges us to kick the sin to the curb. That means that this person, if they’re doing their job, will make you uncomfortable at times, will disconcert and unnerve you, but they should also be helping you to grow and thrive while you’re working through your issues. It’s a delicate mix, but God has anointed people with this gift. They’re out there.
4. Has training
Sometimes, in rare situations, a person may realize they have a knack for directing people, but more often than not, the ability to direct a person spiritually or otherwise is cultivated through training. It is helpful if your spiritual director has basic training in fields like psychology, psychiatry and/or healing ministries such as Elijah House, however it’s not absolutely necessary. At the very least, a good director should have had some kind of training in the art of directing people, and the rest can be sought elsewhere if needed.
5. Readily admits when outside help is needed
It’s very important for you to see, and for your SD to admit, that they don’t know everything and can’t “fix” whatever ails you. They can only journey with you, and help you to notice stop signs and identify roadblocks. They (usually) can’t remove them altogether. That’s (usually) a job for God….and highly trained professionals.
6. And finally, as much as you’d like them to sometimes, a good spiritual director shouldn’t be concretely telling you what to do when it comes to life decisions. This person is not God and no matter how much you tell them about your internal life and struggles, they are not living your life. You are. The best they can do, and the most you can hope for from a good spiritual director, is for them to help you in the making of the decisions, to sit with you in your pain, point out ways to improve, identify serious issues that need to be addressed and help you to take advantage of whatever means are necessary to address them.
It’s unlikely that you will know if a director has all these qualities right off the bat, but find someone who has as many as possible, and the others will surface as you journey with this person. If you feel the Lord nudging you to seek spiritual direction, listen to Him. Pray about it. And then jump right in.
“…Since it is so all-important for you to begin this holy course of devotion led by a safe guide, if you heartily pray that God would give you such, He will supply your need in His own way; doubt not that He who sent an Angel to guide the young Tobias, will provide you with a good and faithful guide.” ~St. Francis de Sales