This summer while vacationing on the Florida coast with the family, I was the first in the water and quickly a good distance out. I was feeling the rip-tide when I heard my family hollering for me to come back to the beach. As I began to comeback toward the shore, a family near me said, “It’s a Manatee, he won’t hurt you.” And so, I stayed to greet the Manatee. He surfaced with his nose out of the water. It was if he were seeking me out. He was so gentle and peaceful.
The Manatees are always in the area. It’s just that much of life is lived without noticing. In addition you have to know what they look like. Noticing this big fella brought joy to the day. My daughter said it was one of her her favorite memories of the the trip. Spiritual direction is like that, you notice things never before noticed, when you take the time to journey intentionally with a soul friend. A spiritual director is simply a companion who helps another recognize and notice the presence of the Lord in the midst of life. The good or the not so good. The challenge as well as the joy.
While grateful for the theological training I received from both Kuyper College and Western Seminary–with more than 10 years in ministry I was beginning to experience a longing I did not really know how to address. I would read different books and devotional practices, different discipleship programs, all were good, but the itch remained, and try as I might I simply could not reach it. I needed something, but I didn’t know what it was.
In the midst of this, I found myself speaking with a woman who found herself in the midst of some of life’s bigger challenges. Asking her if there was anything I could to do support her, with uncommon conviction, she said to me, “If it were not for my spiritual director and my practice of praying with Scripture, I don’t know where I would be.” A simple statement, that resonated deeply within me. A few days later I contacted her and asked if she could introduce me to her spiritual director.
Thus, I ventured into a world I never knew, Spiritual Direction. What began that winter has become an essential ingredient to my everyday faith experience. This tradition that has become mine, had fortified me during one of the most demanding times in my ministry. In the midst of that time, a deacon asked if I was ok. I thanked him for his concern and I humbly admitted that while this was a very difficult time, I found real peace. The deacon offered with great reverence, “It seems like you’re good, strangely, it seems you have peace and real strength.”
While spiritual direction gave me peace and ultimately joy, the language of spiritual direction was new to me. While I was not sure what to expect, I quickly discovered that my expectations were inaccurate. I found that rather than searching for the better answers, my director was there to help me hear my heart and recognize God’s presence and live in God’s consolation.
I have found it to be edifying and rewarding, discovering the transformative power of Christ’s Word dwelling richly within me all along. His Word not only engages me, but it forms my life. While spiritual direction is not something common in the Protestant faith tradition, I have found it to be essential for my life. When all is said and done the growth and discovery resulting from spiritual direction brings joy, at least for me a joy not otherwise experienced.