The field of spiritual direction harbors an unfortunate bias against young adults becoming spiritual directors. Some training programs will not consider anyone under 30 for admission and others reluctantly accept those in their 30’s but really believe that anyone under 40 doesn’t have enough life experience to be a spiritual director. The message is: wait until you are old to do this work.
Conventional wisdom holds that a spiritual director is someone who is “farther down the spiritual path” than the directee.
There are many problems with this assumption:
What does farther down the path mean? And how does one measure this?
Since when did age or life experience determine how wise a person was?
If spiritual direction is not about giving advice or sharing one’s own life experiences, why would our collection of experiences be an issue?
I’ve had spiritual directors who were elderly and I’ve had ones in their 30’s. Each bring gifts to the table but I cannot in all fairness rank the elderly any higher than the young adults. My most profound experience in spiritual direction was with a woman much younger than me who happened to be an excellent fit for me in spiritual understanding and faith. She had grown up in a loving, grounded family and developed a theology and spirituality in young adulthood that made her wise beyond years. If she had not become ill and died in her early 40’s I would still be meeting with her once a month.
What Young Adults bring to Spiritual Direction
There are many advantages to encouraging and training young adults to be spiritual directors. The ones who feel called to become spiritual directors display an openness to spiritual experience that is essential in a spiritual guide. They are willing to learn and demonstrate deep listening, hold a healthy curiosity and candidness about life, and lack a cynicism that generally comes with age.
A young spiritual director may bring a fresh, new perspective to a session with an older person and provide common ground and language when working with another young adult.
Young adult spiritual directors do need special care and tending from the spiritual direction community.
Supervision – It is imperative that a young person providing spiritual direction have a trained and experienced supervisor with whom they can continue to mature as a spiritual director. Supervision is designed to help the director come to terms with upsetting or overwhelming feelings and experiences in spiritual direction. Supervision helps the director maintain good boundaries and learn from situations in sessions that feel stressful or unhelpful.
Spiritual Direction – Since the bias against the young spiritual director remains, he or she will need to develop strength to push past it. It is essential they find a spiritual director who honors their gifts and can provide support and encouragement.
Community of Support – A young spiritual director needs to find a tribe — a group of people who meet for spiritual practice, ongoing spiritual formation and camaraderie. A peer group of other young spiritual directors can also be a confidential safe space for consultation and continuing education.
Getting Past the Bias
How sad to think that some young adults who have the gifts and calling to be spiritual directors are turned away just because they are not old. Spiritual direction formation and training programs that discriminate need to be held accountable. We need to question their assumptions and find out if they ever make exceptions, and if so, why? Perhaps they can be persuaded to greater openness.
The Hesychia School of Spiritual Direction in Tucson, AZ (where I work) accepts and has trained many young adults, and they are making incredible marks in the world of spiritual guidance. Their energy, understanding and use of technology, and varied perspectives on life help shape our school and are catalyzing new ways of doing spiritual guidance. All they needed was the opportunity and training.
Are you interested in being in spiritual direction? I have openings in my schedule for new directees—regardless of where you live. I can work by phone or Skype or if you live in the Phoenix metro area we can meet in person. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.teresablythe.net. Also visit my website for the Phoenix Center for Spiritual Direction.