Yeah, Me too. I was almost 50 before I was introduced to the terms “spiritual formation” and “spiritual direction.” By then I’d been a Christian for years. Up to that point expressions like “discipleship,” “spiritual growth,” “sanctification,” “Christian Education,” and “pastoral counseling” were the dominant nomenclature. Imagine my surprise when I discovered the long tradition of spiritual formation and spiritual direction when I went off to seminary.
Formation or Direction?
Are you wondering what the difference is between spiritual formation and spiritual direction? Spiritual formation is a noun that describes the entirety of Christian development into a life and person modeled after Jesus’ example. Spiritual direction is a verb. A spiritual director does spiritual direction, and the directee receives and responds to it.
In part one I talked about spiritual direction by employing the metaphor of working with a personal trainer to lose weight and become stronger and fit. However, not everyone is familiar with that world. In case that’s you, or in case you just want another way to look at the subject, let approach it from a different angle.
Spiritual formation is the lifelong quest of a roof that is completely open to God, no walls between us and others… and no elephants in the room! Spiritual direction is assistance we need to move in all three directions. Spiritual formation is deconstructing the house of protection we’ve been building for years that’s currently poisoning all our relationships.
Consider these verses that are central to Jesus’ teaching about life: Jesus tells a religious leader; …You must (1) love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ The second is equally important: (2) ‘Love your neighbor as (3) yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.” (Mark 12:29–31, The New Living Translation)
Jesus gave two commandments, but we see three directions that love must take. Now, the pachyderms represent our relationship with ourselves. This is stuff that’s present in our “house” but shouldn’t be! Elephants are always making a mess of things, are always in the way, taking up space and resources, and yet are ignored! Others know they’re there and you probably do too, but you’re trying hard to look past it, work around it, and pretend it’s no big deal. Elephants often represent things we’ve given up on and just accepted, even befriended.
A spiritual director is working on the same deconstruction. But additionally they have the gifts and calling that enables them to communicate their journey with others in a way that helps them progress in their shared adventure. Spiritual direction is spending time with someone whose “house” is less prominent then ours and learning how they got where they are.
Yes, usually, a positive picture accompanies building things up, and moving forward is usually soaked in the atmosphere of arrival and completion not destruction and reversals. But that’s just the problem. Spiritual direction is counter-intuitive to the culture, as is the entire life of the Christian. Relationships are the same. Both are risky, selfless, unpredictable, and unnatural business!