Spiritual direction is like going to school to learn and also going to the doctor for check-up and, if necessary which is actually the usual case since we would likely have some spiritual ailments of one kind or another, for medication or therapy. At the very least, spiritual direction allows us to receive words of comfort and encouragement in times of difficulties.
The things to learn in our spiritual life are plenty, even endless, and it’s not just the quantity but also the complexity of these things that simply require us to avail of this help.
There are challenges, issues and clarifications to tackle. Virtues have to be developed, vices to be rid of. The art of spiritual combat has to be learned. All these, which can be tedious and complicated, need spiritual direction since we are bad and unreliable directors of our own selves.
Besides, the things to learn in our spiritual life affect us in real time, 24/7. They actually cannot be postponed, although it’s also true that they can be attended to, reworked or restarted anytime. They also are things that would last our whole lifetime, and, in fact, would bring us beyond time. The other things are only temporal.
Our spiritual life is the most important aspect of our life, since it connects us to the root and ultimate end of our life, who is God. It serves as the hidden foundation or the heart of all the other aspects of our life—personal, family, social, professional, etc.—giving the energy, direction and meaning to their development.
While its needs may not be immediately felt as other needs like our physical, biological, professional needs can be more directly felt, our spiritual needs actually occupy the most important place among all our needs. Neglecting them would remove the ground on which the other needs stand.
The problem that we have is that we are not quite aware of this fact. It’s actually a shame since it seems we are now increasingly more aware of our physical, social, economic, professional needs, yet we seem to remain ignoramuses with respect to our spiritual needs.
We need to make some drastic changes in our vision of things. We cannot continue acting like little children or spoiled brats who only see the externals without considering the internals, the standing building without considering the foundation on which it stands.
In spiritual direction, we talk and bare ourselves to someone whom we can trust because of his experience, his training and formation, the purpose of his office, and a discernible personal concern for us. He can be anyone actually, either a priest or layman. The important element is that there is mutual trust between him and us.
We have to learn how to trust our spiritual directors, or if we are the directors, how to trust our directees. Spiritual direction is a wonderful occasion to learn and live trust and confidence, which are so necessary in our life. Without them, we would be greatly handicapped.
Obviously, this trust has to be based ultimately on our trust in God. We have to be constantly aware that our spiritual direction is extension of God’s providence over our spiritual life. There will always be some imperfections in the way spiritual direction is carried by us, but we just go to it more out of our trust in God than in ourselves.
And so we have to develop the proper dispositions. Humility is indispensable. It enables us to recognize our abiding need for this help, keeping us away from the usual tendency to feel ourselves self-sufficient as to be able to do self-direction.
Sincerity is of course another requirement. Let us always try to be brutally frank about ourselves, calling a spade a spade, but doing all this in charity. This can only happen if our sincerity is based on God.
Let us also remember that sincerity is not only the ability to bare the things to our spiritual director, but also the eagerness to carry out the suggestions and pieces of advice given.
We also need to be patient, because in things spiritual one day can mean a thousand years, and vice-versa, a thousand years can also mean one day. In short, we can hardly give deadlines. We need to have the infinite patience of God.