Most people don’t even know what spiritual direction is. I don’t blame them because I didn’t either. At a crucial time, I needed help. My mother pointed me to a website and I chose a spiritual director because I liked his white beard. Little did I know, that unknown bearded man would one day give the message at my wedding on the hottest day in August. Since that time of naïveté, there have been many questions people ask: “What is it? Is it just therapy? Are they certified?” The only answer I needed was given to me on my first day. My spiritual director, Joel, said, “it’s a misnomer. I don’t direct you. I help you see where the Holy Spirit is guiding you.” Ever since that day, spiritual direction changed my life.
Our focus was always on God. Each visit, after our creased-smile greeting and first sips of Throat Coat® tea, we lit a small candle and breathed together. In silence, we inhaled and exhaled. In and out. In and out. With the direction, “we do this to anticipate, acclimate, and acknowledge God’s presence,” the duration of silent breathing was up to me.
Joel, who has sported the white beard ever since, became an official spiritual director at Sustainable Faith’s School of Spiritual Direction. So yes, he is certified. From the way I see it, Joel’s job is to listen, give wisdom, and provide the best written prayers someone can find. I liked the prayers he borrowed from Guerillas of Grace by Ted Loder so much that I bought it myself–– it compliments my copy of How The Grinch Stole Christmas nicely.
Spiritual direction fills the gap where many people feel an emptiness. It provides a space for mentorship. Long ago (and in some places still), humanity used to walk barefoot on the grass, living as a tribe. Out of necessity and tradition, tribes had clearer mentorships. Our modern society could take some notes. A place where the younger and the more experienced can explore difficult questions, feats, and feelings. A place without the pressure of talking to a parent–– in this context, a place where the Holy Spirit can dwell. Like learning how to track wild game, tracking the Holy Spirit is a skill to be learned (I have much to learn). Joel once told me that following the Holy Spirit “isn’t a motorboat, it’s a sailboat. Learn to adjust your sails where the wind is blowing.” I believe that feeling “the wind” is easier where this quote rings true: “for where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there” (Matthew 18:20).
The hardest part of spiritual direction is bringing it home. Sitting down in a creaky chair and lighting a cream-colored candle isn’t the same without your mentor. The spiraling leaves outside tempts your wandering mind. Joel would sometimes say that one day I wouldn’t need him. It’s easy to forget that a mentee will one day no longer need their mentor. Honestly, I don’t know if I’m at that point yet.
Regardless, breathing in and breathing out will always help, even if I’m alone with a lamp. I often forget that the whole point of spiritual direction was to direct me toward the Holy Spirit. Ultimately, as clichéd as it sounds, the Holy Spirit is my spiritual director. My ego doesn’t even want a director. My ego wants to be unique, special, and never in need of help. My ego never wants to light the candle.
Joel once told me that if he ever wrote a book, he would call it God Hits Straight With Crooked Sticks (I hope I’m remembering this correctly). When I first heard that, I said, “what does that even mean?” He smiled and said, “God uses everything. Everything you do in your life, he uses. Especially the mistakes.” I get down on myself. I want to be a perfect mahogany piece of wood, but deep down, I know God uses my imperfection. According to the Bible, I should be bragging about my weakness: “for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weakness, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Corinthians 12: 8-9).
Maybe, because I feel so weak at times, that means I’m a strong person in Christ. For at least today, that’s what I’ll lean into. From the first day I started spiritual direction, I wanted to be a spiritual director myself. One day I will be. It’s powerful to hear about someone else’s mistakes–– it takes vulnerability. I’ve felt so lucky to hear those moments of weakness from my mentors; maybe one day I’ll share those moments of vulnerability with my mentees. Until then, I’ll continue lighting the candle.
Cover image by Isaac DeBoer
Isaac graduated Calvin in 2019 studying English, secondary education and recently finished being an English teacher for the past few years. He’s currently a resident director at Hope College while also taking classes so he can become an art teacher. Isaac loves movies and lighthouses more than most things.