Things Learned in Spiritual Direction

Mar 06, 2024 by Colleen C Orchanian

I am a spiritual director. Many people don’t know what that means so I’ll give a very simple definition. Spiritual direction is a process where one person assists another in recognizing the movements of God in their life. I meet with people regularly to talk with them about their prayer life, help them listen to God’s voice, and recognize attacks of the enemy. The people I meet with want to grow in holiness, have a deeper conversation with God and serve Him in whatever way they are called. I get to accompany them on this great spiritual journey.

Some of you may be doing that as well, even if you aren’t a spiritual director. Maybe the things I’ve learned will help you be a better spiritual companion. Here are seven things I’ve learned as a spiritual director.

Keep quiet! I love to talk, so it’s taken some time to get used to having a different type of conversation. A typical conversation for most of us is a give-and-take. Each person speaks about half of the time. Spiritual direction is different. I have to suppress my ego because this time is not about me. There were times when I remember thinking in my head – don’t talk. Just listen. I have become more generous in conversations, even when not in spiritual direction. I am more patient, less likely to interrupt (although that’s still a habit I need to control), and more willing to allow the other person to drive the flow of the conversation.
I cannot solve their problem. I am a good problem solver. I was an entrepreneur for over 25 years, and problem-solving comes with the territory. So when someone shares a problem with a family member or a ministry or a health crisis, I may have ideas for fixing things. I might want to be a financial advisor, a mental health counselor, or a project manager, but my role is as a spiritual director. I try to bring the situation back to God. I might ask questions like: How are you taking this to prayer? Where is God in this situation? Where do you feel an attack of the enemy? I have to keep my hands off the problem itself. This shift has been especially helpful to me when talking to my college-age son. He might call one afternoon frustrated with his workload and I want to tell him what to do to fix it. I’m pretty good now at holding back, and when I don’t, he will remind me that he doesn’t need my help. He just wants to let off steam.
It’s all about spiritual warfare. One of the classes I took in my training was Discernment of Spirits with the Avila Institute. It was a great class where we learned about the movements of God in our lives and the attacks of the enemy. At the time of the class, I had no idea how important this would be as a spiritual director, but I don’t think I have had a single meeting when I didn’t talk about spiritual warfare. I see a spiritual attack and point it out. I see how they resisted an attack. I help them discern if an obstacle comes from God or if it’s placed there by the devil. I can see now that we are fighting a spiritual battle every single day – multiple times a day. As we become aware of that, we can be stronger warriors.
Pray for them and ask them to pray for me. I am fighting the spiritual battle with them. I can’t do that without prayer. I pray for each person by name every day, and I ask them to pray for me. I need their prayers. I am on the journey as well and I want to continue to grow in holiness. I want to serve God well. I want to love better. And so I ask them to pray for me – a rosary a month if they can. I feel those prayers because I could not do what I do without them.
I am incidental. Any good that happens in a spiritual direction meeting is not my work. There have been times when I said something and as soon as I did, I knew it was the Holy Spirit and not me. I’ve had people say, “You told me this a while back and now I know what you meant.” I might not even remember what I said, but they heard it. That’s the Holy Spirit, not me. When it’s me and I think I have the perfect answer, I’ve had that shut down so fast because it was my thinking and not the Holy Spirit. I am thrilled – delighted – that I can be part of God’s work. I just have to get out of the way. 
We are on holy ground in spiritual direction. I learned this from my teachers, Tesa and Jeannette, with Heart of Christ Spiritual Direction. It may look like two people in the room, but there is a third person with us – the Holy Spirit. We begin by praying for the Holy Spirit. As we meet, I try to be open to the voice of the Holy Spirit so that I hear what He wants me to hear and say what He wants me to say. When we talk, there is a level of intimacy that isn’t typical in most relationships. I have to surrender my objectives and be docile to God’s desires for our time together. I’m talking to people about their conversations with God. This is a great privilege! We are surely on holy ground. My faith is strengthened by the witness of those I serve. I hear about miracles every day. That’s cool!
My job is to love. Actually, my job is to let God love them through me. I hope that each person I meet with feels loved in their time with me. If they tend to beat themselves up over small faults, I point out that they are listening to the voice of the accuser. I remind them that God loves them and forgives them and has grace to help them overcome their faults. If they haven’t been able to see God working in their life, I try to open their eyes, which have been blinded by the enemy. If they are discouraged, I try to give them perspective, always reminding them that God is present and that they are loved. I think this is the most important part of my work. If you feel loved, you feel God, because God is love.

There you have seven things I have learned as a spiritual director. What can you do with this? I hope that you will use these ideas to be a better spiritual companion to the people around you. We can all be better listeners. We can all be more generous in our conversations. We can all stop trying to fix other people. We can all love better. We can all pray for each other. We can all approach others as if we are on holy ground with them. We can all help others see God’s hand and hear God’s voice. We can all pick up arms together to fight and win the spiritual battle in life. If you have just one relationship like this in your life, you are blessed. If you have more, even better. Let God lead you to those precious relationships.

Questions for prayer:

  1. What can you do to have more holy conversations with others? What changes might you need to make in your conversational habits?
  2. Who can be a spiritual companion for and with you? How might you make this happen? If you already have that kind of relationship, how is it working for you?