Merely Beloved: On Having a Spiritual Director

This post is part of a series on spiritual disciplines called Merely Beloved. I overlapped with Adam while he was doing his MDiv and I was working on my ThM. I think our first interaction was in a Tillich class where I bought liturgical cozies from him. He’s crazy creative and a prolific writer. For more information, click here.

I’m not that great at spiritual disciplines. Part of that is probably the fact that I’m not great at discipline. Some things have worked for me from time to time, in different seasons of my life, but I’ve also been resistant to anything that smacked of programmed or “ritualistic” requirements when it came to my faith. After college, and a few years of generally always feeling guilty that I wasn’t doing daily devotions, I wrote a blog post called “Why I’m Quitting Quiet Times.” I don’t think quitting quiet times generally enhanced my spiritual life, but it did help me with all the guilt that I was having from my four years at a private, Christian college.

But in the past two years, I have found a spiritual discipline that I enjoy, that I am very good at keeping, and that is the spiritual discipline of having a spiritual director.

Granted, it took a momentary crisis to get me to seek one out, but if nothing else good came out of that crisis, it would still be worth it since it drove me to realize my need for spiritual direction in my life.

Although, the fact that I’m married to a spiritual director, may contribute to the realization that I needed a spiritual director as well.

But I sought one out, and over the course of a year, was presented with a monthly opportunity to sit with someone for an hour each month, and reflect on my life, the joys and blessings, the challenges and frustrations, and look for where God was in the midst of all of that.

After a year or so, I realized that we weren’t really the best match when it came to the director/directee relationship. He came from the Catholic tradition and really enjoyed silence. I thought it was just awkward. So, upon the recommendation of my wife, I found another spiritual director. The only problem was that he was in San Francisco, and we were in Livermore (about an hour away). She told me it would be worth it, and so began my monthly pilgrimage to see my director. I’d jump on my Piaggio Fly 150 scooter and ride out to the closet BART (Bay Area Rapid Transportation) station. I’d take about an hour long BART ride into the city, and then I’d have about a mile walk, straight up those San Francisco hills, to his home for direction.

It truly was a pilgrimage, and it gave me lots of time to prepare for our conversation, and to reflect on our time together as I ate lunch at a wonderful little taqueria at the bottom of the hill, before getting on BART to head home. We still meet to this day (albeit, over the phone).

And so, I find myself joining the chorus of pastors and people in ministry who believe every pastor and person in ministry should have a spiritual director. Granted, there is a cost associated with that, and so my second hope would be that churches would build that into our terms of call and packages so that we didn’t have to go use a significant chunk of our professional expenses to cover this important piece of self-care, but that’s for another conversation.

For me, I’ve found spiritual direction to be very helpful, for a variety of reasons:

  1. It helps me become more aware. We all know that God is active and involved in our lives, working for the good of all things. But we don’t often think about it in the moment. At least, I don’t. And being in spiritual direction helps me to look back on my past month, and look for those moments of light and energy, those moments when God was working, when God was present. It also helps me to become aware of those times in my life were there was darkness, and try to figure out why that is.

  2. It helps to have a spiritual conversation partner. Hopefully we all have many people in our lives (partners, close friends, family) who we can have these types of spiritual conversations with, but sometimes it helps to have someone who is not your partner, and not connected to you in the same way that friends and family are. This person can be an objective presence in your life, someone who isn’t afraid to call your BS and offer you spiritual insight.

  3. It’s scheduled every month and costs money. As mentioned above, there is an expense to spiritual direction, and it varies depending on the director, whether or not she/he has a sliding scale, and what you’re able to pay. But, because it is a significant expense, I think that on some level, that helps both you and your church realize the importance of it. It’s actually an investment in your spiritual health, in your spiritual formation, and it’s something that you’re committed to and taking seriously.

Adam Walker Cleaveland is Associate Pastor at First Presbyterian Church of Ashland, Oregon. Adam blogs at Pomomusings, where he writes about youth ministry, theology and social media. You can find Adam online at adamwc.me, facebook.com/adamwc or on Twitter at @adamwc.

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