Are You That Kind of Person?

Anxiety+GirlIt’s a bone-chilling evening in the winter of 2012. I take a seat as a first time participant in a small group at my church based on the principles of deep listening.

My brow furrows as our facilitator talks about an intensely meaningful interaction he had had that week with his spiritual director. I think to myself, “What the heck is a spiritual director? And what kind of person would need one of those? Whoa, this guy must be either REALLY lost … or REALLY into this spirituality stuff.“

More than a year later, I take a seat in the Wellspring information session after Sunday services. Our minister tells us that Wellspring participants are required to meet monthly with a spiritual director.

Soon after, I am accepted into a Wellspring group. And just like that, I have become The Kind of Person Who Needs a Spiritual Director.

After interviewing two potential candidates, I choose as my spiritual director a Catholic laywoman. Hmm. Imagine this: I, a card-carrying UU who thinks chalices are for lighting, chose her, a card carrying Catholic who thinks chalices are for drinking out of. How could this ever work?

Well, it more than works. Spiritual direction has provided me with a cherished source of growth, support and challenge that has truly changed the way I live my life every single day.

I meet my spiritual director in a peaceful room in a Catholic retreat center. It’s always up to me to decide how we start, so I come armed with a poem or short reading. It’s always up to me to decide how we end, too. Once, in an act of great UU bravery, I asked my spiritual director to say a prayer for me, and it was lovely.

In between – you guessed it — it’s always up to me what we talk about. Sometimes we talk about an idea we’ve been exploring in my Wellspring group, such as “what does it mean to give yourself over to a power greater than yourself?” Sometimes it’s a theme from a sermon I’ve heard at church — a theme such as grace. Sometimes it’s a big question I’m wrestling with personally, such as “what is my life purpose, anyway??!”

But as wonderful as the sessions are, my wise and humble spiritual director says, “The magic is not in the spiritual direction; the magic is what happens between sessions.”

And she’s right about that. In between our sessions, I frequently hear her gentle voice as I go about my daily activities. It sounds something like this:

  • When I am worried that things won’t turn out exactly as my structured and planful mind decided they should, she reminds me to focus on intention and to let go of attachment to a specific outcome.
  • When I harshly judge others, and mostly myself, she challenges me to just stay curious.
  • When I throw myself into projects at the expense of my own sanity, she offers up the seemingly contradictory ideas of healthy boundaries and compassionate detachment.
  • When I so frequently turn into that superhero Anxiety Girl, who is able to jump to the worst possible conclusion in a single bound, my spiritual director whispers in my ear: “What if the opposite were true?”

The poet Denise Levertov writes, “You are given the questions of others as if they were answers to all you ask. Yes, perhaps this gift is your answer.”

Spiritual direction is a place where questions become answers, and answers become questions. This is the gift of spiritual direction. And no matter what kind of person you are, that gift is a treasure.

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