What is Supervision?

Most spiritual directors adhere to a Code of Ethics, which is entirely voluntary and not regulated by the state. One of the ways we hold ourselves accountable to God and our directees is by receiving regular supervision.

Supervision can be provided by an trained supervisor or by a peer group of other spiritual directors. Spiritual directors take to supervision  a question or concern related to a specific spiritual direction session or to their practice of spiritual direction in general. Because our Code of Ethics also requires strict confidentiality for directees, no names or clear identifying characteristics of directees are shared in supervision sessions.

Generally, the following types of situations are taken to supervision:

1) The spiritual director is concerned that he is somehow “hooked” emotionally   either by the directee or by a topic that arose in a session. Spiritual directors must be able to respond in freedom to the Spirit of God, not be working out their own issues at the expense of the directee. Therefore, he decides to consider this concern in supervision.

2) The spiritual director feels something in the session may be an invitation from God for her. However, she needs to stay focused on the directee’s relationship with God during the session and save a more thoughtful  exploration of her own life with God for supervision.

3) The spiritual director is blown away by the power, love, and grace of God active in a spiritual direction session. Because of confidentiality constraints, he has no one with whom to share this testimony to God’s goodness. However, he can take this story to supervision to be celebrated and savored together.

4) The spiritual director needs technical help or just desires to keep improving her spiritual direction skills. Unsure how to handle a referral to a counselor or how to report a potential case of abuse, she can consult a supervisor or peer supervision group.

Because I have found supervision to be extremely helpful, I make use of both a trained supervisor and a peer supervision group. Since completing my year-long training as a supervisor through Together in the Mystery, I am available to provide supervision to spiritual directors, both in groups and individually.

The Initial Interview

unsplash-logoChaz McGregor

First, I recommend contacting and interviewing at least two, hopefully three, different spiritual directors. Pray throughout the process. Ask God to lead you to the best spiritual director for you at this time.

Keep in mind that spiritual direction involves a lot of freedom. Spiritual directors are trusting God to lead you to them and from them in keeping with God’s timing and desire for you as a unique individual. Spiritual direction is a tool in God’s hand–a tool God may pick up or put down on your behalf at various times in your life. Be free to let God lead. The initial interview will help you discern whether or not and with whom God wants to use this tool on your behalf at this time.

By convention among spiritual directors, initial interviews are free. Generally, the initial session lasts about 1 to 1 1/2 hours and involves a lot of relaxed talking back and forth.

This conversation is your opportunity to ask all kinds of questions of the spiritual director—Where did you train? What is your own faith like? How did you get into this? What is your prayer life like? What is direction going to be like generally? What do you believe about….?

Usually, directors will also be asking questions like—What are you looking for in direction? What would you like to share about your life right now?  The first session is really the only time spiritual directors talk much bout themselves at all. From then on the focus of conversation would be on you and God.

Every director has their own fee suggestions. Ask the spiritual director about recommended fees (often a suggested donation scale) during this interview.

You don’t need any specific resources to start spiritual direction. The spiritual director may make suggestions periodically of books, and I occasionally loan books out to directees also. However, you would not need to come with anything but your desire to know God more.

Preparing for a spiritual direction session, including the initial interview, can be done in any number of ways. Prayerfully reflect on recent life experiences, particularly those experiences which seem to stand out in some way (whether pleasant or unpleasant). The following questions may also be helpful:

  • Where have you felt aware of God’s presence and activity in your experience?
  • Are there any places needing discernment?
  • Are there any places of stuck-ness or holding back?
  • Are there any places where God feels absent?
  • Have you had any experiences of prayer that you would like to revisit with a spiritual director?
  • How might you express your deepest longing for God and your deepest desires for life these days?
  • What questions emerge from your day to day journey with God?

There is no part of your life that is irrelevant for work with a spiritual director, but you are “in the driver’s seat” about where the conversation goes and what you tell the director.

Confidentiality is always extremely important in the Code of Ethics of spiritual directors, so you can be assured that the director will keep everything discussed completely private. The only exception to confidentiality would be if the spiritual director believes you to be in danger of harming yourself or another, or if a child or elder has been abused (in keep with the reporting laws of your state).  Even the names of directees is confidential information not to be shared by the spiritual director with anyone else. However, you are free to share the name of your spiritual director or whatever happens in the sessions with whomever you desire.

After completing your initial interviews, pause and pray, waiting for God to confirm which spiritual director is a good fit for you at this time. Then contact that spiritual director to set up your first session if the director also senses God leading you two together.

What is Spiritual Direction?

“So, what is spiritual direction?”

At times, the easiest way to answer this question is to say what spiritual direction is not. A spiritual director is not a counselor or psychotherapist, not a life coach or personal trainer, not an accountability or prayer partner, not a pastor, and not the same for every person. Spiritual direction is not pushy, and not even very directive!

So, what is spiritual direction? Spiritual direction is an ancient Christian practice that is very effective for spiritual growth. Generally, the director and directee meet monthly for about an hour. According to the Mennonite Spiritual Directors Association, “Fundamentally a ministry of prayer, spiritual direction is a one-with-one relationship in which directors accompany others on their journey to mature faith in Christ.” Key words here are “prayer,” “relationship,” “accompany,” and “Christ.” Spiritual direction is helping another person fulfill their desire to really know our triune God. All else is “loss” in comparison to “knowing Christ” (Phil 3:8).

According to the Evangelical Spiritual Directors Association: “Spiritual direction is a safe place to explore your questions and concerns about your life with God. A Christian spiritual director is a trained listener who will accompany you as you share about your spiritual journey, helping you notice God’s presence and activity along the way, as well as your personal reactions and responses. Hospitable, confidential, and grounded in biblical truth, spiritual direction is a ministry that helps you grow in prayer and live into your calling as a follower of Christ.” Key words here are “trained listener,” “your life with God,” “notice” and “hospitable.” Good spiritual directors are not trying to instill their own theology but to create a hospitable listening space in which God patiently, lovingly, persistently forms you to be all He specifically and carefully designed you to be (Ps 139).

God is always communicating with us. The spiritual director helps the directee hear, see, feel and recognize our self-revealing God. As we see how God is already active in our lives, our relationship with Him deepens; we see all of life more clearly; and we get glimpses of how to follow Him and how to allow Him to love us. The personal relationship with Jesus of which we have heard so much and the abiding and passionate love for God we have always desired finally come to life.

For Christian spiritual directors, Jesus is central to all of life. This unchanging foundation will come out as they do spiritual direction, particularly in faith that God is self-giving, good, holy, unchanging, and untiringly communicating with the directee. However, there is much freedom in direction because there is much, much trust in God alone as the Director. This freedom shows up in multiple ways. For example, directees may be offered options of ways to pray, but directors do not “check up” to see if they did it.

Spiritual directors trust that directees will continue to move toward God (as much as they are able, often in fits and starts) as God is speaking and inviting them. It is not a director’s job to make that happen, just to accompany, support and cheer the process. However, it is a spiritual director’s job to be a careful and care-full listener and to pray often for their directees.

So, who would benefit from going to a spiritual director? Oh, that answer is much easier…Anyone who wants to grow in relationship with God! Spiritual direction is particularly helpful at times of transition, for discernment and decision-making. However, meeting with a spiritual director is also an opportunity to see God at work, reflect on life experiences, understand oneself better, explore hopes and dreams, and especially to offer time and hold open space to hear God’s voice.

Pastors, priests, and ministers often benefit from spiritual direction because they are so prone to busyness, resulting in spiritual exhaustion and neglect of their prayer life. Spiritual direction provides them a safe, confidential place to ask God questions and a pause for listening to God’s answers. However, new believers and seekers also encounter God again and again as they turn their minds and hearts to find Him. Our God desires to be found.

Starting spiritual direction can be a frightening endeavor, as can any decision to really know God. A lot of courage is required to intentionally invite God to enter and indwell us—mind, heart, spirit, and body. We experience an unsettled feeling, wondering what in the world this holy yet forgiving, unmanageable yet attentive, huge but tender, unfathomable yet fatherly God has in mind for us. However, in taking the risk to know God better, we learn new ways to “Be still and know that I am God” (Ps 46:10) and to join with the Apostle Paul in declaring, “For me, to live is Christ” (Phil 1:21). We experience afresh God as our refuge and strength and the lover of our souls.

So, what is spiritual direction? Perhaps the best answer to this question is found by responding to the invitation Jesus so often gives us, to “come and see.”

My Story

Born in Africa to long-term missionaries, I was raised to serve God. Back in the States at age nine, I walked the long aisle forward to forgiveness in Jesus Christ to strains of “Just As I Am.” As a teen, I remained faithful to God by staying active in youth group, witnessing to my school friends, and carefully avoiding obvious sin. Sadly, I also became judgmental of those who did not.

However, by the end of college, loneliness, failures, and the stresses of young marriage convinced me to the core that I was no better than anyone else. I deeply wanted more of God in my life, and I wanted to live more of my life for God.

My husband and I became steadfastly committed to a local church, to our four daughters, and to each other. Both physicians, we served God in the United States, Zambia, and Honduras. Through thick and thin, hardship and joy, premie nursery, broken bones, blood clots, grief, and busy middle-class American lives, we read our Bibles, attended prayer and sharing groups, and taught Sunday school and youth group.

Generally, I was joyful and grateful for family, church, and friends, for gradual growth in the Lord, for God meeting all my needs in Christ Jesus (Phil 4:19). But sometimes I still wondered, “Am I obeying the first and greatest commandment as God intended? Do I really love God? Do I really love others? And exactly how should I be serving Him?”

When our youngest daughter left home for college, I found myself unexpectedly lost. For twenty-five years, I had worked very part-time as a doctor and very full-time as a mom. Now I was forced to “retire” from parenting–the job I had loved and the one in which I was fully vested. In the ensuing months I quizzed God, “Who am I now? What next? What more?”

Eventually, though unsure of the end goal, I enrolled as a Biblical Studies major at nearby Evangelical Theological Seminary. Of one thing I was sure–ministry, which I thought meant being a pastor, was not my goal. The life of preaching every Sunday and tending a flock of unruly congregants was not my calling. However, gradually, from interacting with my professors and fellow students, I came to understand that ministry was much more than pastoring. My professors ministered to us students in the midst of teaching; and fellow students were already ministering— as chaplains, InterVarsity staff, social workers and counselors.

In many ways, I discovered I also had been ministering all along—to our daughters, the youth group, our church body, my husband, our houseguests, my patients, my friends, and even to God. After all, ministry is service and servanthood. Furthermore, all work done “as for the Lord and not for men…is serving the Lord Christ” (Col 3:23-24). Yet God had another, quite unexpected ministry ahead for me—spiritual direction.

I had heard of spiritual direction but felt hesitant and even leery of this unfamiliar practice. Then I met the spiritual formation professors at seminary and got a glimpse of how God was using spiritual direction to infuse new life and facilitate spiritual growth in His beloved children. Two years of spiritual direction training at Kairos School of Spiritual Formation combined with a Master’s in Spiritual Formation at Evangelical Seminary to form me into a new kind of minister–a spiritual director.

As a spiritual director, I teach people how to pray, how to hear and see God’s activity in their lives, how to interact with God’s Word with both heart and mind, and how to love God and others by intimately knowing Him and experiencing His love for them.

Through meeting regularly with my own spiritual director, I am slowly learning to live more consciously in the presence of our triune God so that my hands and my voice become more completely God’s. I am slowly learning to surrender more courageously to God’s love and to love God back more fully. God is answering some of my questions, but I am slowly learning to live in the dark, trusting God with what He does not answer. And I am slowly learning to seek and know God, not just what God gives and does.

Thanks be to God that I am learning (however slowly) through the gift of spiritual direction!

The PAPA Prayer by Larry Crabb

P: Present yourself to God without pretense. Be a real person in the relationship.  Tell Him whatever is going on inside you that you can identify.

A: Attend to how you’re thinking of God. Again, no pretending.  Ask yourself, “How am I experiencing God right now?”  Is He a vending machine, a frowning father, a distant, cold force?  Or is He your gloriously strong but intimate Papa?

P: Purge yourself of anything blocking your relationship with God. Put into words whatever makes you uncomfortable or embarrassed when you’re real in your relationship with Him.  How are you thinking more about yourself and your satisfaction than about anyone else, including God and His pleasure?

A: Approach God as the “first thing” in your life, as your most valuable treasure, the Person you most want to know.  Admit that other people and things really do matter more to you right now, but you long to want God so much that every other good thing in your life becomes a “second thing” desire.

That’s what I call relational prayer. And I’m coming to see that it belongs in the exact center of my prayer life–for that mater, in the center of my entire spiritual journey. Nothing has relieved my confusion over unanswered prayer requests more than the realization that relational prayer must always come before petitionary prayer.  Relate and then request.  Enjoy God and then enjoy His provisions, whatever they are…

The PAPA prayer is the best way I’ve discovered to develop and nourish the relationship with God given to me by Jesus through His life, death, and resurrection.  Relational prayer provides the Spirit with a wide open opportunity to do what He loves most to do, to draw me into the heart and life of the Father and to make me more like the Son.

Usually when I pray the PAPA prayer, nothing happens–at least nothing I can see or feel right away…Praying the PAPA prayer [is] simply a way to come to God and learn to wait, to listen with a little less wax in our spiritual ears, and, most of all, to be relentlessly real.

—Quoted from the book The PAPA Prayer by Larry Crabb, pp. 10-11.