What is spiritual direction?

June 24, 2020 | 37 comments

In a nutshell, spiritual direction creates space for spiritual dialogue. 

As you allow time to pay attention to God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, you discover there is more to the conversation about your heart than you knew was bubbling just below the surface. Together, a spiritual director and a directee meet in the presence of Holy Spirit, to look, listen, discern, and move closer to the heart of the Holy Trinity. Within this sacred relationship, the spiritual director encourages the directee to delve deeper, to develop an intimate life with Christ. Just as a personal trainer at a gym helps a person’s body stretch and grow, a spiritual director helps a person’s heart and soul stretch and grow in areas of life with God, with self, and with others. 

This is not a counseling, discipling, coaching, or mentoring relationship, though all of those are good and holy relationships meant for healing and transformation. Rather, a spiritual director comes alongside to pray with and for you as you journey with Jesus. An atmosphere of attentiveness and examination perfume the time together.

Like a driver changing lanes, blind spots exist. A spiritual director’s role, like side and rear mirrors, GPS, maps, and traffic signals, enables you to notice and traverse the terrain of your own heart and soul. Perhaps a better name for a spiritual director would be a heart listener, one who comes alongside so your heart and the heart of God can more deeply connect. A good listener asks attentive open-ended questions, notices what brings joy or resistance, and delights in your growth as you find out more about God and yourself. 

But, you ask, what really happens in this monthly one-hour meeting between directee and director?

Imagine an hour devoted to your soul’s care, where you can bring up anything you desire with no expectations or agenda for the hour. Imagine a quiet beginning with prayer, silence, and/or Scripture. You inhale deeply, then sigh about all that has transpired below the surface.

All month you’ve noticed brilliant places of great joy or subtle places of great unsettledness. You recall caches of treasure or trash encountered repeatedly. You place them on the banquet table that is set for your soul, where you can simply ponder what God is up to in and for you. 

With the gentle but firm care of your director, you examine the treasure or the rubble, looking for how it intrigues or repels you. You notice obvious planes on the surface of the objects that draw your attention; your director probes with questions to enable you to notice what is beneath the obvious. You might encounter resistance and are surprised. You might discover delight and are also surprised.

What is the question beneath the question, the desire beneath the desire, the frustration beneath the frustration? Where is your breath shallow and your tension canyon-deep? How are you responding to what is on the path of your days? 

How are these encounters impacting your connectedness with your own heart, with God’s own heart? Where are you in denial? Delight? Disappointment? Doubt? Where are you dulled and where are you diamond-sharp? Where do you dance and where do you dawdle?

You pour out more than you knew you were holding in and you are amazed at the layers being unveiled. Before you know it, the hour is up. You have an entire new set of thoughts to mull over, new scriptures to go sit with, and a heart that is reshaped by the time devoted to its care. You note a few things you want to sit with over the next month and marvel at how God has shown up for you. 

Your spiritual director closes with prayer and you leave refreshed, rejuvenated, and full of yet more questions and wonders. You look forward to more dialogue with God about the Story of His heart for your heart.

What questions do you have about spiritual direction? Have you ever worked with a spiritual director? Did the tradition you grew up in have spiritual directors?

Leave a comment, and two of you will win an hour long session with Lane. If you’re a man, enter and win a session for your wife or female coworker.


Have you ever been unsure what to do when locals tell you things they feel safe telling you because you are an outsider? Or in over your head when expats come to you for unofficial counseling? This workshop is for you.

Photo by Akshar Dave on Unsplash

Lane Arnold

Lane Arnold

Jesus Lover. Joy Hunter. Teacher. Trained Spiritual Director. Life Coach. Author & Writer & Editor

Categories

37 Comments

  1. Avatar

    I think I first came across the idea of spiritual direction in the wonderful Starbridge novels of Susan Howatch. I longed for a spiritual director like the ones she depicted! Alas, I’ve never actually had that opportunity, but am glad that the idea is more and more welcome in the evangelical church.

    Reply
    • Lane M. Arnold

      Ailisha, the idea of spiritual direction has been around for a long time. I’m also thankful it is getting a warm welcome these days in new places. It’s my joy to walk with others on such holy ground.

      Reply
    • Avatar

      Spiritual direction sounds like such a gift to the directee and a gifting of the director! I wonder if I could keep my answers to such questions in the correct realm instead of treating the hour together like a counseling session. Are there ever seasons of life where spiritual direction is not appropriate (if, for example, some attention should be given to counseling/therapy), or might they work in concert?

      Reply
      • Amy Young

        Hi Audrey, the winners have been notified. I’m sorry your name wasn’t drawn . . . but the good news is that if you’re still interested in connecting with Lane, you can here: http://lanemarnold.com

        Thank you for your comment!

        Reply
      • Lane M. Arnold

        Dear Audrey, you ask such a good question. I find that there are seasons that my directees walk with both a counselor and a spiritual director as we are coming from different perspectives for the heart.

        If you’d like to talk further about this, reach out via my website or connect directly with Amy Young to get my email.

        I offer free first session conversations to explore what spiritual direction might look like with me and what might be what you are seeking in your particular season.

        Reply
  2. Avatar

    I hadn’t heard of spiritual direction outside of a few books and articles online. I don’t know anyone personally that has been through the process. But it sounds refreshing (and maybe a little scary—sometimes you want those blind spots to stay hidden, but that’s probably where the real work needs to take place).

    Reply
    • Lane M. Arnold

      Hannah, you captured the essence of spiritual direction when you said that blind spots are scary to confront yet that is where the real work of the heart happens. I hope you get to experience it as I find it is a wonderful treasure hunt for transformation of the heart.

      Reply
    • Amy Young

      Hi Hannah, the winners have been notified. I’m sorry your name wasn’t drawn . . . but the good news is that if you’re still interested in connecting with Lane, you can here: http://lanemarnold.com

      Thank you for your comment!

      Reply
  3. Avatar

    I had an injury last year that made it hard for me to communicate with God in some of my favorite normal ways – reading, praying while walking, and being with other believers. I bet spiritual direction could be helpful for believers struggling through big changes to how they usually hear from the Lord.

    Reply
    • Avatar

      A great description 9f spiritual direction. I’ve had a general, fuzzy idea of how spiritual direction is unique from counseling or mentoring. But this makes is so clear and sounds like the breath of fresh air that I have been looking for. I love the idea of examining the treasure or rubble together.

      Reply
      • Lane M. Arnold

        A breath of fresh air can indeed happen during spiritual direction, Abby. I hope you’ll give it a try to discover what you have that’s there to unearth for your heart!

        Reply
      • Amy Young

        Hi Abby, the winners have been notified. I’m sorry your name wasn’t drawn . . . but the good news is that if you’re still interested in connecting with Lane, you can here: http://lanemarnold.com

        Thank you for your comment!

        Reply
    • Lane M. Arnold

      Rebecca, new ways to hear from the Lord are explored in Spiritual Direction. Our God is so creative so it’s a delight to see how He meets His beloveds in the time of spiritual direction.

      Reply
    • Amy Young

      Hi Rebecca, the winners have been notified. I’m sorry your name wasn’t drawn . . . but the good news is that if you’re still interested in connecting with Lane, you can here: http://lanemarnold.com

      Thank you for your comment!

      Reply
  4. Avatar

    I have heard a few friends discussing spiritual direction. I appreciate this clear explanation. How would one go about finding the right spiritual director?

    Reply
    • Lane M. Arnold

      Tammy, I’m glad the explanation cleared some things up for you. Finding the right spiritual director is a great question. I think it involves dialogue with potential spiritual directors as well as discernment via prayer. As a member of this spiritual direction association, I know they provide a list of their members at https://www.graftedlife.org/spiritual-direction/find

      There are other groups you can find by Googling. Do verify that you are finding a Christ-centered spiritual director. Look at and ask about where the director gained their training and how long they have been offering direction. Also verify that they have a supervisor for their spiritual direction practice as that ensures they have someone overseeing their practice. If you’d like to talk more about this, feel free to connect with me via lanemathisarnold@gmail.com or at my website.

      Reply
    • Lane M. Arnold

      I’m glad my explanation helped. I’d be glad to talk to you about spiritual direction, Tammy.

      You can also go to https://www.graftedlife.org/spiritual-direction/find and see a list of spiritual directors. I’m a member of this group.

      If you google spiritual directors or spiritual direction, you can find more groups. Be sure to verify their theology, training, length of time they’ve been a director, and that they are under supervision. Spiritual directors come in every flavor of theology and training, so use prayerful discernment going forward. Most directors offer a free initial phone or video call to discuss who they are and what you are looking for. I do hope you’ll explore the possibility.

      Reply
      • Lane M. Arnold

        Tammy, one of my comments vanished so I posted a second one. Then the first one reappeared. So you got more than you asked for!

        Ah, the puzzling ways of technology!

        Reply
    • Amy Young

      Hi Tammy, the winners have been notified. I’m sorry your name wasn’t drawn . . . but the good news is that if you’re still interested in connecting with Lane, you can here: http://lanemarnold.com

      Thank you for your comment!

      Reply
  5. Avatar

    To be honest, I was not really sure what a spiritual director was. I certainly did not grow up in a faith tradition that incorpated spiritual direction or spiritual formation practices, but in the last few years, as I have read books like The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry, the Unhurried Life, & What Does Your Soul Love?, God has been growing me and challeging me to sit with Him, to listen, to practice sabbath (which I am still not very good at). Spiritual direction sounds like something that would breathe life into my weary heart!

    Reply
    • Lane M. Arnold

      Sarah, all of the books you mention do invite us to consider spiritual direction and spiritual formation practices. A spiritual director coming alongside you may offer just what your weary heart needs. I hope you will explore the possibility.

      Reply
    • Amy Young

      Hi Sarah, the winners have been notified. I’m sorry your name wasn’t drawn . . . but the good news is that if you’re still interested in connecting with Lane, you can here: http://lanemarnold.com

      Thank you for your comment!

      Reply
  6. Avatar

    I love this paragraph and the reference to a banquet table set for my soul! — All month you’ve noticed brilliant places of great joy or subtle places of great unsettledness. You recall caches of treasure or trash encountered repeatedly. You place them on the banquet table that is set for your soul, where you can simply ponder what God is up to in and for you.

    I am also considering (from time to time) how to declutter my soul, and that has been helpful for me. Thank you for this CLEAR explanation! I too have heard of others, including my daughter, meeting with a spiritual director, and there was definitely a tinge of wondering if this was healthy, if this was leaning the wrong direction. So many of the practices from the past were good in and of themselves, but like so many of us, got side-tracked or aimed the wrong direction.

    Thank you for stepping into this space, and inviting others to step into it as well!

    Reply
    • Lane M. Arnold

      Judy, I’m glad you are wondering about wisdom in spiritual practices as discernment matters in things of the heart. I hope you will come to the banquet table of spiritual direction and let God feed you some new delights for soul nourishment.

      Reply
    • Amy Young

      Hi Judy, the winners have been notified. I’m sorry your name wasn’t drawn . . . but the good news is that if you’re still interested in connecting with Lane, you can here: http://lanemarnold.com

      Thank you for your comment!

      Reply
  7. Avatar

    The tradition I come from does not have spiritual directors but is opening up to the idea in recent years. I love the idea of it and have been trying it for the last 6 months or so. It has not been quite what I expected, but I am learning and growing. I think it has the potential to be life changing. I am glad to see this is being talked about more widely!

    Reply
    • Lane Arnold

      Lynn, I’m delighted to hear it has been a good experience for you. What surprised you about it?

      Reply
    • Amy Young

      Hi Lynn, the winners have been notified. I’m sorry your name wasn’t drawn . . . but the good news is that if you’re still interested in connecting with Lane, you can here: http://lanemarnold.com

      Thank you for your comment!

      Reply
  8. Avatar

    Spiritual direction is something I’ve been curious about, but never have had any experience with.

    Reply
    • Lane M. Arnold

      I hope you’ll explore it, Phyllis. Keep being curious about it!

      Reply
    • Amy Young

      Hi Phyllis, the winners have been notified. I’m sorry your name wasn’t drawn . . . but the good news is that if you’re still interested in connecting with Lane, you can here: http://lanemarnold.com

      Thank you for your comment!

      Reply
  9. Avatar

    I’ve been growing in my learning of soul care over the last few years…but the closest I have come to a spiritual director is the Christian counselor I had for a couple years. It has been an area that I have thought more about pursuing, but was not sure where to start either. I’ve been intrigued by “soul care intensives” but the idea of a spiritual director seems more tangible for the long term…just like weekly sabbath is needed for finding rest in the long term, not just a spiritual weekend away.

    Reply
    • Lane M. Arnold

      Melissa, I find that God kindly offers healing in a variety of streams: counseling, life coaching, spiritual direction, soul care intensives, habits of spiritual soul care like sabbath. At different times of our life, depending on our situation, exploring new tools is a good and holy habit. I hope you’ll give it a try.

      Reply
    • Amy Young

      Hi Melissa, the winners have been notified. I’m sorry your name wasn’t drawn . . . but the good news is that if you’re still interested in connecting with Lane, you can here: http://lanemarnold.com

      Thank you for your comment!

      Reply
  10. Avatar

    Spiritual direction is a concept I had never heard about until two or three years ago, and have only read about it online. It sounds amazing, though I am still a bit unsure of how it all works. What is the main difference between spiritual direction and Biblical counseling?

    Lane, some of the words and phrases you used here and in Tuesday’s interview really connected with my heart and current adventures with Jesus. Journey, “invitations that take you to the deep heart of God,” “spiritual habits that bring forth new wonders”, “seen, loved, desired and claimed as Christ’s beloved.” Such beautiful thoughts to increase our desire for Him!

    Reply
    • Lane M. Arnold

      Paulette,

      In Christ-centered counseling, the agenda, set by the counselee, is often focused on problem-solving, crisis care, and healing from past wounds. The counselor is an expert in things that are psychologically-based while coming from a foundation of Scripture.

      In spiritual direction, the agenda is revealed by the Holy Spirit. The process focuses on paying attention to God’s movements in your life. The spiritual director is a listener, one who asks open-ended questions, and prays. Spiritual habits of the heart are often explored here. It is about deepening the heart connection with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

      Reply
      • Avatar

        Thank you for your explanation, Lane. It was very helpful.

        Reply

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This