Several people have asked me why I opened a spiritual direction practice instead of a counseling practice. Honestly, I’ve made my life more difficult. Why would I choose to be a spiritual director when I have a master’s degree in counseling and 15 years experience as a counselor?
Several years ago I ordered all the materials I needed to become a licensed professional counselor, and right before I started the process, I stopped. Something didn’t feel right. My inner voice was telling me to be a spiritual director instead. But why? How can you start a spiritual direction practice when the general public is not really sure what spiritual direction is?
Counseling can be a very powerful experience. I know people who say it has changed their life, even saved their life. As a school counselor every day I saw the need for it, and the small changes and sometimes, huge transformations it caused. I am grateful to have been a part of it for so many years. But in my experience there was always a point where it stopped, where it couldn’t go any further.
Counseling was great for helping people to make better choices and to change faulty thought patterns, but there seemed to be few answers in counseling for deep grief, the kind of grief you feel when you are holding the hand of someone you love as they take their last breath or when you sit across from your doctor as she tells you that your cancer’s back. Counseling can help a great deal with these situations, but there is a place where it leaves off.
Several years ago I was in the midst of a health crisis. I was severely fatigued and no doctor could tell me what was wrong. I looked perfectly normal on the outside, but inside I was in turmoil. Sometimes when I climbed the stairs to go into work, I felt like I was trying to drag two lead poles up the stairs where my legs should be. I worked and slept and worked and slept. Doctors ran countless tests on me. I tried different diets, supplements, you name it, but nothing helped. I started envisioning my future if this trend continued, and it was frightening.
As a counselor I knew where my thinking was faulty. I knew it was unhealthy to fall into this pattern of hopelessness. I knew that I was experiencing anticipatory anxiety about the future that was causing me great harm. But the truth is I wasn’t just experiencing irrational thinking. I was feeling deep grief at the loss of my healthy body and the possibility that I may never get better and I may never know why.
When I shared all these feelings with my spiritual director, she listened closely and then said, “How about feeling hope for your future instead of fear?” I can’t explain it, but through her words, something in me clicked. I knew she didn’t mean that I just needed to think more positively. She meant that I could choose to hold onto the hope that something bigger than me is looking after me, loving me, taking care of me, holding me, always, but especially in the darkest moments of my life.
After that day I began to have hope, not just that my health would be restored but also that I would be all right even in the grief and uncertainty. I let go. I surrendered my health into the hands of the Divine. I slowly began building up my spiritual strength through prayer, meditation, solitude, walks in nature, journaling, and other contemplative practices. I came to a place where I loved and accepted my body in all its imperfectness.
I am grateful to say my health was slowly restored, partly due to simple acts of self-care I showered on myself, partly due to a synchronistic discovery along the way, and completely due to surrendering the outcome to a force greater than myself. However, what I gained was bigger than improved health. I was assured that nothing in life could diminish my spirit.
I became a spiritual director so I could start where counseling leaves off. The place where we realize that everything in our life has meaning, even in the grief and tragedy. The place where we are full of gratitude even when the world would tell us we have nothing to be grateful for, where mystery and miracles surround us every day, where there is room for deep sorrow but also deep healing and transformation, where we are held by an invisible source when the world seems too heavy a burden to carry, where we know we are never really alone, unloved, or forgotten, where there is always, always hope.