Together We Will Do the Work

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M-Diana2

They sit in the red leather chair or across the country, connecting with me through Skype. Either way, I settle deep into my hand-made, craftsman-style armchair in my small study, a lit candle by my side, my spirit ready and waiting.

They come to be heard, to be seen in ways that are welcoming and formational. I come to learn, to listen, to pray. And what we find is a kind of newness, a refreshing reminder of God’s presence and an ever-increasing willingness to do this good work. Together.

Spiritual direction is what it’s called. Companionship-on-the-way is what it is. Long a practice of the ancient church, surfacing in the 20th century in broader and wider corners of Christendom, this partnering together is holy ground, a sacred place. It’s where one person, trained in a variety of disciplines, prayerfully listens to the life of another, asking gentle questions, pulling out threads, weaving them together into a new idea or question. 

I am relatively new to the whole idea of direction. I first began to hear and read about it in the late 1980s. I learned that direction is not therapy, though it incorporates many ideas and even techniques from that discipline. It is also not pastoral counselling, something I did quite a lot of during the seventeen years that I was a pastor. It is its own unique animal, a thing unlike any other. 

I began direction for the first time when I moved to Santa Barbara in the late 1990s and continued with it for three years. I took a break from that process for a while until a new boss suggested I look into pursuing certification as a director myself. A seed was planted, deep in my spirit.

I prayed about that idea for over a year and came to the conclusion that before I could even consider becoming a spiritual director, I had to re-enter direction myself. And so I began to look, prayerfully and carefully, for someone new to meet with. I had done enough reading by then to know that I was drawn to the Roman Catholic traditions surrounding direction. I soon discovered a small monastery in a town 125 miles north of us, a place that offered direction and also provided training for giving it. 

So, I shot off an email. 

And never heard a word.

But fourteen months later, early in the morning of my day off, my cell phone rang sharply. “Hello, Abbot David here. You wrote about spiritual direction?”

I burst into laughter. “Well, yes, I did. But that was a LONG time ago.”

“Well, your message just got to me. Would you like to come and talk it over?”

And so began some of the richest three years of my life. Until his death in March of 2012, Abbot David and I met monthly in his small “Holy Spirit House,” situated in the hills of San Luis Obispo County. He was a leader in the Catholic charismatic renewal movement and founded a monastery in New Mexico that invited women oblates to live and work in community with men. He was also well-trained in world religions, depth psychology and his specialty, dream work—much like Joseph-and-the-sheaves, Daniel-and-the-king dream work.

Abbot David appeared in my life at exactly the right moment, just before two difficult deaths in my family, two vicious wildfires in our community, and as I was beginning to make important decisions about my own retirement. The work we did together changed my life in ways I cannot even begin to describe. 

I began to meet with directees while I was in training and still meet with a few of those kind souls who volunteered to be guinea pigs. Others come and go, as God leads, and the hours I spend with these good people each month are wonderful and rich. I am amazed at what they teach me, and how wondrous it is to watch God work in the lives and hearts of others. 

Among the many rich gifts of direction, this is the one that stands out to me now, after doing this work for five years: direction invites authenticity to the deepest level of the human spirit. 

With a skilled and empathetic director, there is freedom to admit failure, doubt, struggle. There is also generous room to celebrate growth, change, movement. 

And all of that is critically important to the primary call on each of our lives—the call to become fully human by making space for both the broken and the redeemed parts of who we are. You see, I believe that is why Jesus came. Not only to “cleanse us from all unrighteousness,” but to show us what it means to live an authentic human life.

And each time I sit in that handmade, craftsman-style armchair, that is the invitation I extend in Jesus’ name: Come, I will listen, I will pray. Together, we will do the work.

________________

Image credit: Jens Karlsson

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Diana Trautwein
Married to her college sweetheart for over 40 years, Diana is always wondering about things. She answers to Mom from their three adult kids and spouses and to Nana from their 8 grandkids, ranging in age from 3 to 22. For 17 years, after a mid-life call to ministry, she answered to Pastor Diana in two churches where she served as Associate Pastor. Since retiring at the end of 2010, she spends her time working as a spiritual director and writes on her blog, Just Wondering. For as long as she can remember, Jesus has been central to her story and the church an extension of her family. Not that either church or family is exactly perfect . . . but then, that’s what makes life interesting, right?
Diana Trautwein

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  • I have few words Diana, because I don’t know how to spell the sounds my soul makes reading this. Beautiful is the best I can do. And thank-you.

    • pastordt

      What a lovely thing to say, Debby. Thank you.

  • Thank you for opening up the door to give us an introduction to spiritual direction, Diana. I’ve long wondered what it’s like, what it’s for–but feel a little shy asking people about it 🙂

    • pastordt

      I am so very grateful for you invitation, Heather, to write about something so close to my heart. Thanks for being such a welcoming and gracious hostess to this whole topic.

  • Absolutely beautiful, Diana.

    Abbott David sounds like a gift and now are passing on this wealth of listening and drawing out goodness to others …

    I loved reading this from your heart.

    • pastordt

      Thank you, Idelette. And yes, he was a gift, one of the best in my life.

  • I love this, Diana. I love the diverse voices of direction and the beautiful ways of listening that it invites us all into. I’m aching as I step away from my direction practice for a few months for the joyful reason of welcoming our baby girl into our lives, because it’s such a powerful practice and ministry. Thank you for writing about it here.

    • pastordt

      What a grand reason to step away for a while, Tara!! Many blessings as you count down the days. Thanks for your affirming and gracious words.

  • JennaDeWitt

    Diana, I’ve had friends who loved their times in direction, but am not sure if it’s exactly what I need or totally not for me. haha Who would you consider the ideal candidate / in the right season for it?

    • pastordt

      Not sure there is an ‘ideal’ candidate, Jenna. But if you are feeling like you’re a.) at a point of transition in your life; or b.) wanting to deepen your prayer life; or c.) feeling a holy restlessness and wanting someone to help you discern what God might be up to – then direction is very much for you.

      • JennaDeWitt

        Thanks!

  • These are beautiful and inspiring words for someone who is just exploring the idea of finding a spiritual director – thank you.

    • pastordt

      You’re very welcome, Joanna.

  • David

    Diana I would love to Skype with you. My wife and I first met Abbot David at Pecos whe we went to train.. I met him again in Auckland where he ran a three week training. I would find it very helpful to have a conversation. David Balfour

    • pastordt

      Of course. Are you living in Auckland now? Haven’t a clue how to Skype that far!

    • pastordt

      We could begin the conversation by email or FB messaging, if you’re on Facebook. My email is dtrautwein at gmail dot com

  • Trisha Mugo

    I’ve never heard of direction before. It’s sounds like something I need in my life. How would I find more information about this?

    • pastordt

      See if there is a monastery or convent in your area that offers direction – either Roman Catholic or Episcopal. Or read through the list at Spiritual Directors International. I would suggest that you look specifically for Christian directors, as this kind of mentoring includes people from different faith experiences. http://www.sdiworld.org/find-a-spiritual-director

  • Holly

    “With a skilled and empathetic director, there is freedom to admit failure, doubt, struggle. There is also generous room to celebrate growth, change, movement.

    And all of that is critically important to the primary call on each of our lives—the call to become fully human by making space for both the broken and the redeemed parts of who we are. You see, I believe that is why Jesus came. Not only to “cleanse us from all unrighteousness,” but to show us what it means to live an authentic human life.”

    Oh Diana, I can only imagine the powerful and life changing work you must do in the lives of others through this work because I KNOW what you have done in my life.
    You gracious, loving and supportive heart has ministered to me through your writing, your comments and your all around encouragement.
    Meeting you in real like at Jumping Tandem only confirmed what my spirit already knew–that you are a woman who loves deeply, cares expansively and speaks life into those you encounter.
    I am so very, very rich to know you.

    • pastordt

      Thank you so much, Holly, for these beautiful words of encouragement and affirmation. I send them right back to YOU, dear girl.

  • Bev Murrill

    Wow, I didn’t know you were spiritual director, Diana, but now that I know, I can see you’re perfect for it. I have wondered about it too. I have heard of it here and there, and people have said it’s a wonderful experience. It makes me think. So beautifully written. Thanks. x

    • pastordt

      Thanks so much, Bev. It’s a rich, rewarding ministry, that’s for sure.

  • Lyn

    Spiritual Direction is something I have a lot of concerns about… I had been encouraged to speak to a woman associated with my church who helped with some aspects of my faith but failed to respond to my deepening depression (to the extent I didnt think she had recognised it, only to later say I’d ALWAYS been depressed). She was critical of me seeking psychological help and ambivalent about medical help. Her own spiritual director dismissed her failure by stating I was old enough to choose for myself – which to me showed a lack of understanding to how disabling depression can be, or the level of trust that is given. She has since appologised for hurting me but claims she did not do anything wrong & put in the same position would do the same thing. It’s 2 1/2 yrs of my life that hindered my faith & health. Spiritual Direction isn’t counseling & a thorough assesment of what a persons needs are is important to check that it is the right avenue. And that what is taught is in line with sound Biblical doctrine- some of what I was taught had on biblical basis but was more in line with eastern mysticism/ Buddhism.

    • pastordt

      Lyn, I’m so sorry you had this negative (although second-hand) experience with your friend’s spiritual director. Certainly, care must be taken to discern where any director’s faith commitment lies – which is why I recommend beginning to look through a church/convent/monastery. And as I said in this piece, direction is NOT therapy and should never be confused with it, nor should a director ever offer 2nd hand ‘advice’ about a person they’ve never met. As you never talked with this director personally, it’s a little tough to know what was actually said, but your friend certainly acted inappropriately in sharing anything of her direction conversations with you.

      One thing this essay didn’t leave much room for was the very important point of confidentiality. We are charged with the protection of the confidences entrusted to us, so a good director will never even let you know the names of her directees. If the directee chooses to share with a friend whom it is s/he sees, that’s fine, but to discuss what happens in session should be very carefully and prayerfully considered.

      I am so very sorry for this negative, hurtful experience. Please do not dismiss all direction because of this one unfortunate experience. You are absolutely right that in that initial couple of sessions, a director should prayerfully assess the person’s needs and if psychological help is needed, gently insist upon it. Sometimes direction can accompany therapy, but that is up to each individual. It should never be a replacement. BOTH are gifts of God for the healing of human persons.

  • fiona lynne

    I loved finding out you are a spiritual director! Just last week I started the search for a director to work with. The choice isn’t huge in Luxembourg but I’m hopeful I’ll find the right person – it’s been on my heart for many months now.

    • pastordt

      Many blessings as you continue your search, Fiona. I’ll pray with you for a good ‘match.’

  • Yep. You’re perfect for this ministry. And I forget that Skype is an option these days for so many discussions.

    • pastordt

      I was leery of it at first – and it isn’t perfect, with occasional interruptions and cut-offs – but it works better than I would have guessed. That’s how I receive my own direction these days.