Summary of Spiritual Direction: A Guide for Sharing the Father’s Love by Fr. Acklin & Fr. Hicks

Overall: Fantastic book for both spiritual directors & directees! Lots of great tips on personal prayer too.

The Principles of Spiritual Direction:

1. Listening

The spiritual director’s #1 job is to listen like God.

“When we listen like God, in a manner that penetrates to the interior of the person and makes a person feel heard, understood, and loved, profound healing can take place” (76).

The spiritual director should be an expert listener, listening both to the directee and to God.

  • Self-emptying listening: Stay focused on the directee. Set aside your own curiosities and self-interest rather than interrupt and problem solve. Let them set the pace: “Like a father whose little child sometimes wants to hold his hand and other times wants to run ahead, the spiritual director should always strive to provide a stable and safe sanctuary for the directee to open up and share his heart at his own pace, in his own way” (73). This is a true act of love that can provide so much healing: “The directee may find all he needs in simply sharing himself, sharing his relationship with God, and being heard” (83).
  • Listening to God: Be prayerfully listening to God and vulnerably open to the “feeling” of God, which will allow you to “express the mercy of God in response to the directee’s experience” (82).

“Listening is the human means by which the vulnerable self-revelation of one’s interior is received and loved” (75).

2. Vulnerability

Spiritual direction thrives on vulnerability. Therefore, a spiritual director should always look for ways to lead the directee to greater vulnerability, with this basic threefold path to vulnerability always in mind:

  1. Information: “What happened?”
  2. Affective: “How did you feel during that event?”, or “How did you handle that event?”, or “Tell me what hurts the most about this,” or, “What would you say is the most painful part about that?”
  3. Spiritual: “Where do you think God was in that experience?”, or “What happens when you pray about that struggle?”, or “And what was it like when you brought that experience and feelings to the Lord?” “What do you think Jesus was doing when you were experiencing that?”, or “Where was Jesus when that was happening?”

The vulnerability of the directee:

  • “Spiritual direction requires vulnerability for it to be effective. If the directee only remains on the surface and does not share the more intimate parts of the heart, spiritual direction will remain shallow and lack the power of healing and transformation that it should normally have. For this reason, the directee will be well served if he starts the spiritual direction session with the things he wants to avoid or that are most difficult to share (rather than leaving those things until the last five minutes of the meeting, which is not uncommon). The directee should avoid the temptation to simply report superficially on what is happening in his life” (65-66).

The vulnerability of the spiritual director:

  • First, this needs to be a Christ-centred vulnerability, in which the director is aware of the presence of Christ and imagines how Christ’s Sacred Heart is being moved by the directee’s experience, allowing the “spiritual director’s heart to be moved, even pierced, by the vulnerable sharing of the directee” (53). The director should unite himself to the poor, crucified Christ, being content to remain feeling useless, helpless, and poor in the face of the directee’s experience: “There are many temptations in this process, for example, to fix the problem, talk the directee out of it, to try anxiously to fill any silences, or to find the perfect words with which to respond. The spiritual director will do best if he simply remains attentive, vulnerable, authentic, and poor” (80).
  • Second, the director’s warm and loving posture with eye contact can help facilitate deeper vulnerability. Words are always the secondary to presence.
  • Third, the director’s vulnerability to admit your uncertainties & mistakes at times can help elicit deeper vulnerability from the directee.
  • Fourth, a director should reverence, affirm, and bless the unfinished parts revealed by the directee with tender responses: “Above all, the director should love the directee right in the midst of where he is unfinished and reassure him that God loves him there even more” (61).
    • Examples: “I really appreciate your honesty,” or, “Thank you for being so vulnerable,” or, “Thank you for trusting me,” “Thank you for being so open and sharing. That took a lot of courage.” “You really have an excellent insight into yourself and what is happening inside of you.” “There is so much goodness in your heart and it comes out in all your efforts to do the right thing.” “I can tell how much you love the Lord.” If a person is in a very painful place, it can help to say, “God loves you so much in this place where you are right now,” or, “This is a very beautiful place in you,” or, “This vulnerable place is truly where the Lord lives in you.” Afterwards, especially if someone seems uncertain or is still hurting, the director can provide some consolation by saying, “What you just shared was so beautiful.” (105).
  • Fifth, the director can ask questions or provide short responses, but only for the sake of clarification and encouragement to help the directee vulnerably go deeper into his interior life and discover how God is working. “The more that the director can help the directee to draw conclusions and uncover interpretations and insights about his situation, the better. For this reason, rather than making a pronouncement, “I think that . . .” it is better for the director to ask a question such as, “Do you think that . . . ?” (97).

3. Prayer

Prayer is at the heart of spiritual direction because spiritual direction is all about the directee’s relationship with God.

As the spiritual director, pray at all times throughout the session, especially while listening. Remember, this is your most powerful tool.

Through prayer, the director tap into the healing power of God yet also remain poor and vulnerable, because “the power of not his but God’s, and the spiritual director is never in control of the outcome” (90).

During the session, if the directee does not bring it up, the spiritual director should always ask, “How is your prayer?” or “How much time are you taking for prayer?” or “Did you bring that problem up with God in prayer?”

At the end of a session, summarizing what the directee has said through some direct words and also a closing prayer can be a great blessing for the directee. You have the privileged opportunity to shine a light on God’s work in the directee’s life and to communicate God’s merciful love to the directee in a deep and powerful way.

At the end of a session, it’s also important to give “some homework” – to encourage the directee to take specific things into prayer.

4. The Basic Qualities of a Spiritual Director

We see the necessity for certain natural and supernatural endowments in a spiritual director.

  • At a natural level, he should be humble (aware of his own weaknesses & focused on serving the directee), prudent (able to identify the good and the right course of action to attain that good), and have a mature disinterestedness (holy freedom). He should be a patient and empathetic listener, learned in spiritual theology, and he should be receiving spiritual direction himself.
  • At the supernatural level, he should have a zeal for souls (supernatural motive for giving direction), a spiritual-mindedness (always going to the spiritual application of things), trust in divine providence (faith that God has brought the directee to you), and personal experience of the spiritual life and prayer (centred in Christ) (234).

“The spiritual director is not a guru who pulls magic phrases out of a hat, but simply a mediator and intercessor whose loving attention helps God to be more tangibly present” (5).

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