Both of my spiritual directors over a span of 20 years have taught me a great deal. Here are the top three things that come to mind first.
It’s OK to be quiet together with someone. In the beginning I was quite chatty and my director seemed almost austere. But we were meeting at the altar of the church where he served and the sunlight would come through the stained glass and I could see the communion table behind him. I was amazed at these holy moments.
Let’s not go to the same room you always go to. My first director was extremely quiet and he rarely said anything truly directive in the 12 years we met. The exceptions were notable! One was when I spoke of a negative event in my life and said something like, “It’s probably my fault because . . .” Then (and it may have been the only time he ever interrupted me) he said, “Let’s not go to the same room you always go to.” He followed up with, “Might there be a valid reason you did this/felt this way?” (I’m not sure which.) The years of listening to me had made him aware of my tendencies, but I think he also ached over my tendency to think I was always wrong. That question, “Might there be another reason . . .?” taught me to explore resistance. Even if the reason I resisted something didn’t seem positive, there was probably a fear behind it that needed to be explored. Or maybe there was some wisdom behind it!
I really need my opposite. On Myers-Briggs, I’m an INTJ (Introvert-intuitive-thinking-judging). I’m a recovering high J (which isn’t about judging but about closure). Open-endedness and ambiguity are difficult for me. Both of my directors have been INFP (feeling-perceiving). They come at life so differently than I do. For a short while after my first director moved, I met with a director who as an INTJ like me, but it was very boring because every question she asked me was one I’d already hammered to death. I didn’t stay in that director-directee relationship long. What was good about this is that I saw that I really need people. We introverts are certain that we don’t. I saw that I needed them, and I even needed people who weren’t like me.
As I look at the three items above, they don’t look very profound. So I need to add that one of the best things about having a spiritual director is that there is someone else on the surface of this planet who knows all the dirt about you, all your fears, all your flaws, and still loves you and is committed to you. I don’t think I’ll ever “grow out” of needing one.
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Jan Johnson is the author of twenty books including Invitation to the Jesus Life and Abundant Simplicity and a thousand articles and Bible studies. She speaks at retreats and conferences, and teaches (adjunct) at Azusa Pacific University and Hope International University. Also a spiritual director, Jan holds a D. Min. in Ignatian Spirituality and Spiritual Direction. She lives with her husband in Simi Valley, California. You can visit her at JanJohnson.org.