What is Spiritual Direction/Companionship?

Spiritual direction/companionship is a series of conversations in which one person comes alongside the other to help her listen for the words and work of God in her life. A spiritual director usually has special training in the art of listening, communication skills, and a deep understanding of many of the ways in which God has communicated with people throughout history. This includes knowledge of the Scriptures, of church history, of spirituality, and of psychology.

What Happens in a Spiritual Direction Meeting?

Depending on what is comfortable for the client, the director may begin the meeting in one of several ways. She may offer a prayer or meditation, then sit in silence until the client feels ready to begin sharing what’s happening for them; or, sometimes the director begins with the simple question, “How has it been going since the last time we met?” Often there is some time for general conversation as both director and client transition into the session. As the client shares, the director will be listening, and from time to time will ask questions or make observations about the sharing. The director will “pace” the meeting, creating space around the sharing that seems to be tapping into the client’s connection with God. The director is there to validate and encourage the client, but will never judge, command or exploit. Based on the client’s sharing, the director may make suggestions about spiritual practices or experiences that the client may want to explore in the month between sessions.

What Does the Client Do?

The client shares about her relationship with God, or perceived lack thereof (as much or as little as she feels safe to share). Anything that is in the realm of one’s spiritual life is appropriate to share in these sessions.

Questions a Spiritual Director May Ask:

“How would you like to begin?” Spiritual direction sessions are about and for the client. Anything she wants to talk about in relationship to her connection with God can be shared safely in this space. The spiritual director is not an “answer person” but will provide a space to explore the questions and issues that are of interest and concern to the client. 

Over the course of several months, the director may ask questions about the client’s ongoing experience of God, perhaps exploring such questions as “When have you experienced the most closeness to God, and to yourself?” “When have you felt most disconnected from God, and from yourself? What has that looked like/felt like?” “What do you think God is up to in your life right now?” “Are you sensing God asking or telling you something in this season of your life? How are you responding?”

Suggestions a Spiritual Director May Make:

Sometimes a director will suggest specific kinds of prayer, or perhaps highlight a question that the client may want to keep before God during the coming month. Suggestions about ways to practice the presence of God, to grow in discernment, and to explore issues of calling/vocation may also be made. A director may encourage the client to practice a specific spiritual discipline, such as journaling, for a season.

How Often Does Someone Meet With a Director?

Typically, one meets with their spiritual director once a month. The time is used to reflect on the client’s experience in relationship to God during the past month (or longer). The director and client may explore together what the client’s prayer experience has been, or talk about other matters that have influenced her experience of God.

How Can Spiritual Direction/Companionship Help Me?

Spiritual direction is an utterly confidential setting, giving the client an opportunity to explore with someone safe and non-judgmental the real issues of her spiritual life. The director is not there to “fix” the client, or to make the client “holier,” or to tell her what she should do or be. Rather, the director is there to help create a sacred space which will facilitate an ongoing conversation between the client and God, and to provide another set of listening ears for the words and the work of God in the client’s life.

How is this Different from Counseling or Life Coaching?

Counseling is often past-focused and concerned with the relationship dynamics in one’s life. All relationships, but especially the primary relationships with family, can be explored in a counseling context. Spiritual direction, which also focuses on relational dynamics, is concerned specifically with relationship with God: who one is in relationship to God; how one communicates with God (both “sending” and “receiving”); what God’s call or purpose is for one’s life; etc. Life Coaching is typically goal-oriented and future-focused. Spiritual direction is not a discipline that is oriented toward solving problems but is about being present to the holy and growing our inner life with God.

Is this a Christian Practice?

Spiritual direction has been a part of the Christian church since the first century, and while having undergone a series of shifts in its focus, has been seen as a necessary component for Christian growth and nurture. That said, people of many different faith backgrounds – or even no belief system at all – find spiritual direction to be a safe, supportive space in which to explore their inner life.

What are the Key Assumptions Behind Spiritual Direction?

  • God is already at work in the client; the spiritual director does not “make” this happen.
  • The task of the spiritual director is to be attentive and listen deeply for what God is already doing in the client’s life.
  • God works in the earthly stuff of creation, through emotions, memories, imagination, and intellect.
  • The director’s primary goal is to help others mature and grow into the likeness of Christ by helping them discern God’s presence themselves. The director comes alongside the client to listen and pay attention, and by so doing, assists the client in discerning God’s will and work for herself.
  • This work takes time. The spiritual director is a sort of gardener, or midwife, for the client, who is herself the garden or expectant one within whom God is already at work.
  • Spiritual direction requires a humble and teachable spirit. God’s Spirit alone provides instruction and guidance, and together director and client listen and seek to follow God’s lead.
  • Spiritual direction is spiritual, not just emotional, support.
  • Spiritual direction is not authoritarian or hierarchical, but focuses on the client.
  • Spiritual direction involves listening, not answering.
  • Spiritual direction brings increasing awareness, not quick or habitual responses.
  • Spiritual direction leads to reflection and discernment, not problem solving.
  • Spiritual direction is like being a companion on a journey, rather than guiding someone to a pre-determined place.

“We’re all just walking each other home.”  ~ Ram Dass

*Content on this page is excerpted from the work of Rev. Dr. Catherine C. Gregg and Rev. Dr. Douglas H. Gregg, co-founders of Christian Formation and Direction Ministries.