Updated: Nov 28, 2017
I believe that everyone and anyone can greatly benefit from Spiritual Direction at anytime. Yet, there seem to be seasons in our lives when it is especially fruitful. Let's talk about some of them.
1. (Spiritual) Isolation
We make sense of life, grow, thrive and make the most impact in the company of others. However, whether we wanted or not, many of us experience times of isolation from supportive, honest, loving community of spiritual friends. Solitude is healthy, and even necessary for maturing of our character and faith, but lengthy seasons of spiritual isolation make us vulnerable and weak. Experiencing spiritual isolation does not necessary mean that we are not part of a local faith community, neither is it always a result of our own choosing. I have come across at least the following people (or seasons) who frequently struggle with the lack of mature, spiritual companionship and who have been supported by Spiritual Direction.
Care-givers and spiritual leaders Those who are providing care and nurture for others often suffer from lack of fellow-travelers because of their role in the community or family. Others always look to them for strength and care or others’ needs put a physical time restrain for the care-giver’s ability for self-care. Examples of them are; mothers of newborns, care-givers of ill family members, pastoral leaders and missionaries.
Cross-cultural workers Some find themselves in a culture or situation where there is no presence of faith community within a physical reach or in the language they speak.
2. Transitions and Cross-roads
Another season of life that calls for a deep inner journey, closer attention to self and discernment of God’s movement, is a season of change. Whether it’s a change in geographical location, vocation, family situation or anything else that causes a shift to the ‘new normal’, we can greatly benefit from being accompanied by a Spiritual Director. Transitions are extremely rich times for spiritual growth and can tell us a lot about our beliefs, values and well-being. These are also times when we often long to discern God’s guidance and it can be very helpful to be able to engage in different ways of weighing and exploring the road ahead with a Spiritual Director who is personally removed from the situation and trained in various spiritual discernment exercises. New paths can feel risky and unsettling, it’s a gift to be able to pause and ground ourselves in Christ when all else is unknown.
3. Crisis and Deep Suffering
Each of our paths bring pain and suffering to us. No matter the depth of hurt, no one travels without a limp or a wound. Living a life of suffering is a central part of a maturing Christian’s journey. God meets us in special, transformative and intimate ways in the midst of our life crisis. Our lives are greatly shaped by the way we respond to suffering and what our experience of God is in those times. The cause or impact of the pain could be: physical or mental health crisis, vocational or identity confusion, divorce, financial or material crisis, loss of a family member, academic failure, natural disaster, war, abuse, culture stress, poverty and homelessness, the list could go on!
We are called to carry each other’s burdens and Spiritual Direction can’t and shouldn’t be our only place to sit with pain, yet it has proven to be a very meaningful and helpful place to many, including myself, to experience God’s grace, love, healing and comfort in the face of suffering.
As you have noticed by now, all of the above are more often than not closely connected. Each of the above also presents an open door for Faith Crisis or to use more positive word ‘transition’.
Transitions between Stages of Faith AKA 'Faith Crisis'
Sometimes other crisis in life lead to faith crisis and other times other way around. Faith crisis are often seen as negative, or even considered as ‘backsliding’ or losing faith all together by those who don’t understand the process of maturing of faith. Although faith crisis, when understood well and given space for, lead to growth and maturing of faith, they always have an element of discomfort, just like any transition does. Because of the nature of the crisis, it can be difficult to find a safe, equipped person to accompany you on the complex paths of such crisis, and large church community groups often cannot help process such deep personal needs. In addition, working with a Spiritual Director can help from getting 'stuck' and help to identify 'keys to growth' that help us cooperate with God. However, a note must be made here that by no means do we only experience one faith crisis over the course of our entire life, wrestle through it and move on. In contrary, as every relationship, so is our relationship with God constantly changing, growing and maturing.
If you wonder whether your relationship with God may be in a major transition; something old dying out of the way, giving space for a new birth, you might identify with some of the below.
Some characteristics can include:
Feeling often misunderstood, judged or criticized by others in your faith community
Confusion and questioning ‘previous personal theological truths’
Dissatisfaction about life, relationship with God, self (emptiness, 'Is this all there is?')
Sense of loss of calling, passion and purpose; indifference
Disappointment with the effect of spiritual disciplines that used to help connect with God
Loss of experiencing God’s loving nearness, feeling abandoned by God (could be experiencing ‘dark night of the senses’ or ‘dark night of the spirit’)
Feeling like constantly failing and falling short (a new awareness of one’s sinfulness)
Experiencing isolation or shame about one’s spiritual struggles and doubts
Sadness about the gap between what one believes about God and what one’s lived experience of God is
Some great books on the transitions between faith stages:
'The Critical Journey: Stages in the Life of Faith' by Janet Hagberg and Robert A. Guelich
'Mansions of the Heart, Exploring the Seven Stages of Spiritual Growth' by R. Thomas Ashbrook
'Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life' by Richard Rohr