Need Help Reflecting? Try Spiritual Direction

By Mark D. Roberts

October 6, 2023

Article, De Pree Journal, Inner Work, Marketplace Leaders

I know people who are wired for reflection. They seem to have an innate capacity for wise and gracious introspection. They don’t get stuck in the pit of rumination, focusing on what’s wrong with themselves. Yet they don’t ignore parts of themselves needing healing and growth. They aren’t self-absorbed so much as self-aware, and this self-awareness helps them flourish both personally and interpersonally.

I’m not one of those reflective people. I tend to be more focused on ideas and actions. I reflect on the future. And, yes, I can easily fall into one of those rumination pits with their suffocating anxiety.

Sometimes, however, my reflective self flourishes. This can happen when I’m hiking in the High Sierra or drinking in the striking colors of fall in New England. Getting away on a retreat can help me reflect. Journaling can have a similar effect, especially on special occasions like my birthday or Thanksgiving morning. But, still, I often have a hard time reflecting when I’m alone.

My Experience of Spiritual Direction

Thus, for me, having a wise partner and guide in the reflection process has been a godsend. I mean that literally, a gift sent from God. I’m thinking of my spiritual director, Duane. For the past seven years, I’ve met with Duane every month. At first, we were in person. Then COVID hit and we met via Zoom. That experience taught us that we can have deep conversations without the craziness of driving in Southern California traffic. I’m so used to meeting with Duane online now that it feels as if we’ve been in person rather than onscreen.

I expect that you may be familiar with spiritual direction. Perhaps you’ve experienced it yourself. But if the idea is unfamiliar, let me note a couple of key facts.

First, though there are many varieties of spiritual direction, the kind I experience grows out of a long tradition of historic Christian faith. My spiritual director is an orthodox, trinitarian Christian who understands his role in helping me attend to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Second, the name “spiritual direction” can be misleading. While some spiritual directors are truly directive, giving explicit guidance and/or assignments to their directees, many spiritual directors are usually non-directive. They are partners in spiritual growth who help their directees listen to and be directed by God. Duane is this kind of spiritual director, though at times he will encourage me to think and pray about certain things we’ve discussed.

The structure of my time with Duane is pretty simple. After catching up briefly on life, Duane prays, asking the Lord to guide our conversation. Then I talk about the significant things that have been going on in my life. Sometimes my topics are obviously about my relationship with God. But I also talk about work, relationships, dreams, frustrations, fears, health, hope, rest, worship, church, and, well, you name it. Duane listens attentively, sometimes asking questions. Then, when I’ve said my piece, he will respond, often with more questions and usually with careful observations. He helps me see myself more clearly and see more accurately how God is at work in my life. Once in a while, I will have a significant aha moment. But, for the most part, my learnings are modest yet helpful to my soul. At the end of the hour, Duane closes in prayer, affirming God’s presence and grace in my life. Then we schedule our next meeting and that’s it until next month.

Now, you might be wondering why I need a spiritual director for this experience. Couldn’t a good friend be just as helpful? Or a pastor? Or a small group? I’m quite sure that friends, pastors, and small groups often serve in a quasi-spiritual director role and that’s great. But there’s something essential about the regularity of our meetings and the focus on what God is doing in my life. Most friends, pastors, and small groups aren’t in a position to offer this sort of service. Plus, Duane has been trained as a spiritual director and has years of experience. Thus, he is able to help me see things in myself and wisely attend to the Holy Spirit. In case you’re wondering, I do pay Duane and always feel as if I’ve gotten my money’s worth. We’ve met at least 70 times, by the way, and I have no intention of stopping any time soon.

Spiritual Direction Helps Me to Reflect

How does spiritual direction help me to reflect? Well, first of all, before meeting Duane I try to set aside a quiet hour for, you guessed it, reflection. I think about the last month and jot down notes about what has been significant. In this preparation time I often recognize significant things in my life that, frankly, I had not pretty much been ignoring.

Second, my time with Duane is filled with reflection. It’s not mere introspection, however. It focuses on my whole life, inside and out. Duane’s questions help me go deeper. And when I’m tempted to fall into negative rumination, Duane helps me remember God’s presence and grace.

Third, after meeting with Duane I see my life in a new light. I’m able to attend to things that matter, things I might otherwise have missed. I am better able to pray about what’s really going on in my life “out there” and in my life “in here.” Duane serves as a kind of coach for me, whose sessions help me live more thoughtfully and faithfully during the other 719 hours of the month in which I’m not talking with Duane.

I should be clear that I don’t believe spiritual direction is some sort of obligation for every Christian. There is plenty of freedom in Christ here. Yet I know from my experience, and that of many of my friends, that spiritual direction can help folks grow, not only in self-awareness but also in awareness of God’s gracious presence and guidance. If, like me, you’re the sort of person who needs help with reflection, then spiritual direction might just be the ticket.

How to Find a Spiritual Director

How can you find a good spiritual director? I’ve known people who have found an excellent director through a Google search. Often you can learn about a director’s approach and theology from their website, if they have one. But in my experience, the best way to find a wise director is through recommendations from trusted friends, pastors, or small group members. There are also organizations of Christian spiritual directors that might be helpful, such as Grafted Life Ministries – ESDA, Selah, or SoulFormation.

Though there is something special about being face-to-face with someone, these days lots of wonderful spiritual direction happens online. This means you are not limited to a director who lives in your area. When you first meet with a potential director, ask about their approach, their faith, their fee, and anything else that seems important to you. It’s essential that you find a director with whom you feel comfortable, even if sometimes what emerges in spiritual direction can feel uncomfortable. That’s why you need a director whom you trust to be a wise, gracious, honest, and caring companion in the walk of life.

Banner image by Muhammad Faiz Zulkeflee on Unsplash.

Mark D. Roberts

Senior Strategist

Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders,...

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