The goal of spiritual formation is what our Eastern Orthodox brothers and sisters like to call “theosis,” or union with God: Christ taking up residence so fully within us that, in the words of Paul, “it is no longer [we] who live but Christ who lives in [us]” (Galatians 2:20). This is a life-long process in which we slowly learn to surrender more-and-more of our lives to Christ, allowing Him to lead and direct every aspect of our being.
The problem is that we’re unaccustomed to following God’s direction and often unaware of His presence and action in our lives. Although Christ is always present – and communicates to us in and through all things – we often fail to listen. It’s as if we live in a self-imposed vacuum, unable to hear His still, small voice calling out to us to look where He’s pointing and follow His lead. This spiritual deafness is partly due to our fast-paced (I’d venture to call it “frantic”) culture and partly a result of our own sinful self-reliance. We’re so used to listening to ourselves – to our will and our wants – that it’s difficult for us to discern His voice; and with the endless array of distractions that come our way, it’s not surprising that we often miss His invitations – invitations that are embedded in the ordinary and the everyday, and which are particularly present when times are challenging and confusing.
The fact is that God wants to guide us – and He sent the Holy Spirit to do just that! – but we often need help listening and responding to this guidance, and that’s where the ministry of spiritual direction can be helpful. In the context of spiritual direction, we invite another person–a spiritual director–to help us notice and name God’s invitations and the ways He is at work in our lives. How, exactly, this happens depends on the spiritual director and the directee – each situation and relationship is unique – but all spiritual direction involves sharing, listening and prayer. It’s less about answer, and more about listening for God in the questions. It’s time intentionally set aside to reflect on God’s presence, in that particular moment and in moments in the past, in order to listen for what the Spirit might have to say. Ultimately, the goal of spiritual direction is for the directee to see more clearly how and where God is calling so that he or she might surrender more fully to His will (Thomas Hart, The Art of Christian Listening).
If any of this has struck a chord in you, perhaps it’s time to consider spiritual direction. I can’t promise that spiritual direction will “fix” your problems or automatically “form” you. Directors are not counselors, and there is certainly more than one way to learn to listen and obey God’s voice. But if you want a companion on the journey, a willing and active listener who will gently direct your eyes and your heart to Jesus, spiritual direction might be for you.