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Perspective: Support to help us hear voice of God in our life

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By John Prust

Whether we’re referring to spiritual direction in its more formal sense or more broadly as informal faith-based accompaniment, spiritual direction is about helping us to listen for and follow God’s voice to find that place where, as Presbyterian minister Frederick Buechner said, “Our deep gladness meets the world’s deep hunger.”

Many assume that a spiritual director must be a member of the clergy or a religious order, and, while most priests and nuns would make excellent spiritual directors, at the end of the day a good spiritual director is someone “seasoned” enough in the life of faith to help others discern the “wheat among the weeds.” A spiritual director listens well and helps us to find that “still, small voice” of God in our own lives whispering beneath the din.

The word “direction” can be a bit misleading. Many prefer a term like “spiritual friend” or “spiritual accompanier” because, while a good spiritual director may convince you into thinking that they are “directing” you, they are really just helping you find the voice of God within. Jesus Christ is the true spiritual director, and the “spiritual director” points the way to Jesus, like John the Baptist.

God leads all of us to fulfill the greatest commandment, “to love God and neighbor,” but He calls each of us to do so in different ways and at different times in our lives, depending on the gifts that we have received. Whether married, single or ordained, how is God calling you to live out His mission to bring love and life to the world today? And who is walking with you right now to help you answer that question?

But finding a spiritual director isn’t as easy as looking at reviews on Yelp. Just like the connection between a mental health therapist and client, so much of a successful outcome depends on the quality of the relationship between the director and the individual he or she is directing. When choosing a spiritual director, you will want to ask questions like, “Do I admire this person as a human being, disciple and mentor?” “Do we share a sense of humor?” “Do I trust that they truly desire the best for me?”

It’s also important to discern what you’re looking for. Are you seeking a trained spiritual director with a professional background in theology and pastoral care, perhaps someone who can guide you through a modified version of the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises? Or are you seeking more of a spiritual friend or mentor? In the case of the former, you will want to find someone with credentials, maybe even with training in professional spiritual direction. The spiritual director may even expect to receive a stipend for his or her services because this is how he/she makes a living.

On the other hand, perhaps it is more of a spiritual friend or mentor that you’re looking for, someone you can meet with for coffee from time to time to chat about things spiritual and religious, or a peer who can help you stay accountable in your Bible reading or prayer life.

Whatever the case may be, pray to God for the right spiritual mentor or director for you, and don’t forget about people who may already be in your life right now, perhaps a priest, deacon or lay leader whom you especially admire and feel drawn to. Someone who reflects qualities you would like to have and learn from.

Each one of us, from Pope Francis on down to the most recent catechumen, need accompaniment, someone who can personally support us and cheer us on in our walk of faith. And as we are accompanied, so we too are empowered to accompany others.

John Prust is the director of the Diocese of San Diego’s Office for Family Life and Spirituality.

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