As I have discerned whether or not to walk forward with formalized training [in spiritual direction], I have had to answer this question[:”What is spiritual direction and why is it important?”] multiple times already from curious (and skeptical) friends. My favorite answer, and the answer that seems to resonate most with those I’ve spoken, is that a spiritual director is like a hospice nurse and like a midwife. This philosophy has come from a conversation with Scott Buresh, which probably came from a conversation with his Spiritual Director, Bill Haley.
In our journey, there are things in us that must die, but the death process is uncertain, painful, and full of unexpected turns, but with another steady, prayerful presence, this can be experienced in a different way. I have experienced the death of my father and my father-in-law in the past few years. My father died at age 59, unexpectedly and immediately. My father-in-law also died at age 59, but from a battle with lung cancer over six months, which required hospice care. In hospice, my father-in-law’s caregiver’s purpose was to be present to him through his pain—through his good mornings and his long nights — she was able to do that because she had dealt with her own personal loss adequately so as not to impose personal experience onto his journey but was also intimately knowledgeable about the journey.
Spiritually, we have sins, addictions, habits, desires that stem from our very nature; God is building us into palace so He can come dwell more fully within us, rather than the fine cottage we thought He was building us into (C.S. Lewis), and suddenly the process of self-denial and being crucified with Christ feels more painful than we anticipated, the planned changes are uncertain, sudden shifts, and long, dark nights of the soul are difficult. When this comes, we need a spiritual hospice nurse who will walk with us in this pain, so we do not lose heart. We need someone there who will remind us that after we have continually crucified the self, we are actually more alive through the power and presence of the resurrected Jesus than we could have ever imagined. And there are also those things in us that are being birthed . . .
During the birth of my first child, Hannah, I had a midwife and a doula with me. These two women heard me for many hours and stayed with me during the birthing process, which was painful but good—they listened to me and asked questions to know how to support and guide, and they were experienced, thoughtful and wise. In short, I knew I could trust them. Spiritually, we sometimes need someone who has gone before, is thoughtful, wise, and willing to be with us, even when it’s not clear to us what’s happening just yet, but it is clear that “Aslan is on the move.”