A conversation with purpose

This is part 4 in my series on crafting a rule of life.  Thank you to all those who have been following along and commenting!

Last week I wrote about the three hours I spent in solitude, thinking about my struggles with anger and control and about their counterparts, gentleness and contentment.  This morning, as a follow-up to that meditative time, I spent one hour in spiritual conversation with a wise lady in my department at work.  I chose her as my conversation partner not only because she is an excellent listener–having made a study of this art, which doesn’t come naturally to anyone–but also because I’ve had a feeling (confirmed today) that she and I are very similar in some ways.  What I didn’t know until today is that she also has formal experience as a spiritual director, which is essentially what I needed her to be today.

I don’t know a lot about the practice of giving and receiving spiritual direction, since it isn’t something that evangelicals, with our emphasis on the priesthood of all believers, tend to do.  My basic understanding is that a spiritual director is a person who helps another believer discern the voice of God.  The spiritual director does not have the authority of God, but the directee agrees to follow the director’s advice unless it contradicts God’s revealed Word or becomes inappropriate for that person (which it shouldn’t, since the spiritual director is not chosen on a whim).  Before the director offers advice, the pair spend significant time in conversation together about the directee’s life circumstances, goals, and desires for spiritual formation.  The relationship usually extends beyond one session.  Each conversation may, as ours did today, begin with five minutes of silent focusing and end with a spoken prayer by the director.

If this all sounds too weighty, it’s helpful to think of spiritual direction as a form of mentoring.  That’s really what our session felt like today.  I’ll be honest; I enjoyed talking about myself for an hour, but this wasn’t just cathartic gut-spilling (not that there isn’t a time and place for that).  Instead, we focused on problem-solving.  If I said something like “I have a problem of calling myself a dummy when I make a mistake” (okay, that wasn’t hypothetical), my spiritual director would ask questions to help me arrive at a practical strategy for reducing negative self-talk.  When we finished, I felt like I had enjoyed a conversation with a good friend, and I also had some action items that I could begin implementing immediately.  (I sure do love action items.)

As to how spiritual direction will fit into my rule of life, I am not exactly sure, since this one depends on other people as well as me.  If the person I met with today is willing to meet again (she seemed to be), I’d love to establish a regular pattern of this type of conversation with her, in which we could periodically revisit the issues we talked about today, while also moving on to other areas of my life.  There’s also such a thing as group spiritual direction, which we practiced a few times during the Taking Your Soul to Work class.  In this version, small groups of three or four people take turns sharing, and the others in the group have the opportunity to offer advice.  No one person in the group has the authority; rather, all the members trust that the others are sensitive to God’s leading and will give good advice (not that they won’t ever be wrong).  I might try this practice with my friends or even a few co-workers.

What do you think about this spiritual direction/conversation idea?  If you have any thoughts about how to implement the practice, let me know!