Almost every time I tell someone I am a spiritual director a confused look washes over that person’s face. Rarely do I receive a look of recognition or understanding. I have come to expect this reaction. So I imagine that if you are visiting my site for the first time you are wondering, what is spiritual direction? Well, depending on whom you ask you will get a different answer to this question – just like many religious or theological questions. But you are asking me, so I am going to explain spiritual direction not from a historical perspective for you today, but from an experiential one, one that involves crayons.
My first experience with spiritual direction was the result of a friendship that began the summer after my senior year in high school. I became friends with a young woman named Katy at a summer intensive educational experience focused on interfaith dialogue and service called E Pluribus Unum (out of many one). We formed a fast friendship and decided that we were kindred spirits. Several years after we met she decided to become Catholic and she began meeting with a spiritual director whom she described as a spiritual mentor. She encouraged me to find a director near me and try it because she thought I would really benefit from the experience.
I was in my second year of seminary at the time and it seemed like the opportune time to have a spiritual mentor so I did some research and found a local director who would meet with me. The director happened to be a Catholic nun named Mary, of course. (Are all nuns named Mary?) So I began meeting with this woman who was, to be honest, exactly what I would expect a nun to be. She seemed peaceful, centered, wise, kind, and interested in my relationship with God. I really didn’t have too many expectations about our meetings. During my first session with Mary she told me that our times together were mainly about her listening to me discuss my relationship with God, to tell her about my prayer life, to discuss any struggles I was having, and for us to pray together. I thought, “Ok, I can do that, no problem.” I have always been a pretty open person about my life.
To be honest the first few meetings didn’t seem special; no bolts of lighting and no grand revelations about God or the universe occurred. Honestly, Sister Mary didn’t really even talk that much. I wasn’t too sure we were “doing” all that much. Then one day we started talking about crayons. Yes, crayons. Somehow during the conversation I began telling Sister Mary about this container that my godmother had at her house. It was an antique bin with different sections that organized my markers, crayons, pencils, and pens. She taught me from a young age to put each item in its right place, but if I am honest she probably didn’t have to tell me more than once or twice. I told Sister Mary that when I colored in my coloring book, I could not stand it when I colored outside of the lines. It ruined the whole picture. Sister Mary asked me, “Why does it ruin the whole picture?” I sat for a minute to reflect on her question. No one had really ever asked me that before. I just thought that was obvious. But when I thought about it I did have friends who didn’t mind drawing all over the page – I thought they were weird. I looked at her and simply said, “I don’t know, it just really bothers me. I don’t like it!”
Sister Mary smiled. She looked at me and asked another question. She said, “I see. And what about those crayons and markers? What would happen if they got mixed up or dumped out all onto the floor?” I looked at her and shook my head, “Nope, I wouldn’t like that either. Everything has a place.” She smiled a wry smile again. “I see,” she said. “Well, that’s very interesting Lauren.” I thought to myself, really? Is it really that interesting? Then Sister Mary said this to me, “Do you think that the way you feel about coloring books and crayons has anything to do with your relationship with God? Do you think you feel like you have to be perfect, you have draw inside the lines to be acceptable to God? Do you think God will love you if you are messy?”
Wow Sister Mary. You got that from crayons? Dang. And that was the moment that my faith and honestly my life changed from spiritual direction. Sister Mary saw right through me to my heart and named one of my biggest spiritual struggles – as I sat in that room, tears streamed down my face. Perfection was something I expected of myself in every aspect of my life from crayons, to coloring books, to my faith. I knew it was unattainable, but I strived for it anyway. I thought that if I went “too” far outside of the lines that God would give up on me – that I would be useless for service in this world. Honestly, it is just about the farthest thing from the truth. Just read a few stories from the Bible and you will see that God loves redeeming people who have colored WAY outside of the lines. Somehow I had missed that lesson in my twenty-two years of life. I needed Sister Mary to help me see the truth about God’s love and the lies about my crayons.
Spiritual direction is about having someone who can help you see your crayons and how they are impeding you from accepting the full grace and love of God. We are too close to our own stories sometimes. We need someone to ask us those questions that shift our sight just enough to help us see our blind spots. We need someone to remind us why we are loveable when we feel like we have sinned so badly that we just don’t deserve forgiveness. Sometimes we need someone when we experience a loss and it feels like resurrection is never coming. To me spiritual direction is all of these things and more. A spiritual director is a guide, a friend, an advocate, and an intercessor – the one who helps carry you to God in prayer when you don’t know how to carry yourself.
I believe that we can all use a spiritual director during parts of our spiritual journey. We can all use someone to help guide us along the path when we cannot quite see the way. Sometimes the path is simply too dark. I have been there, in the darkness. I know how it feels. I have walked through the kind of pain that makes it hard to breathe more than four or five shallow breaths at a time, but everyone still thinks you look normal on the outside. I have cried myself to sleep more nights than I care to admit. I have felt alone and misunderstood for years at a time. I have lost people that I have loved. I have questioned God. But, I have also walked through the darkness and found the light again. I have found God in the silence, in the waiting. I have found God in my moments of surrender. I may be a helpful friend to you for where you are on your journey right now. If you think you would like to talk to me about being your spiritual director, then please get in touch. I’ll be in prayer for God to be at work and perhaps we will have our very own “crayon” moment.