It takes time and the power of observation, but those questions can be answered rather concretely.
The longer you see a spiritual director who gets to know you quite well, the easier it is for both of you to evaluate spiritual growth over time. Usually, the directee is the one who definitively names what they have seen happening in them as a result of spending time in spiritual direction. It is helpful, however, for directors to mention—from time to time—what they notice in the way of personal transformation of the directee.
Here’s what we look for:
- Evidence of “fruit of the spirit.” Paul named a few of these in his letter to the Galatians (5:22, 23): love, joy, peace, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness and temperance. When a person becomes more attentive to the Spirit, they exhibit more of these characteristics.
- A warm, loving, trusting relationship with God.
- Warm, loving, trusting relationships with others.
- Compassion for the needs of those who are poor, oppressed and outcast. Reaching out to them in hospitality. A passion for justice and peace.
- Balance between the inner, introspective life and the outer, other-focused life.
- An image of God that is in line with the Psalmist’s naming of God as “merciful, kind, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.”
- Discernment becoming a way of life.
It can be hard work to cultivate the fruit of the spirit in our lives and see growth. Some people mistakenly assume that spiritual direction is something we can add on to make a rich and comfortable life even more so. Then they are surprised and dismayed when they find that getting closer to God sometimes causes discomfort, at least for a while. It is not easy to take that “long, loving look at the real,” so for some people, spiritual direction is too difficult. The spiritual life is in many ways like the physical life—there are growing pains. The good news of spiritual direction is that the pain is not endless and the healing that comes from having an honest relationship with God leads to real comfort and real richness in life.
For more about spiritual direction as I practice it, check out my website. If you have questions or comments about the content of Spiritual Direction 101, please let me hear from you in the reply section below.