September 10, 2009

Should I Fire My Spiritual Director?

Before we can speak of how to go about terminating a spiritual direction relationship, we must ask the prior question: should I fire my spiritual director?

The interior inspiration to get rid of one's spiritual director must be discerned closely. It can be an entirely legitimate invitation from the Holy Spirit; there are, after all, many demagogues, madmen, and creepy weirdos out there claiming to have good spiritual advice. On the other hand, we should not fire our spiritual director just because he or she makes suggestions that we don't want to hear or invites us into difficult but salutary discernments.

So, if we feel like ending a relationship with a particular spiritual director for any of the following reasons, we should treat this thought as a temptation against our spiritual progress:
  • Our denial about certain sins, attachments, or addictions is confronted, and we don't want to hear it.
  • We are invited to discern attachments to cherished religious practices, and we don't want to risk growth because we are comfortable with our current practice.
  • Our operative images of God are challenged, and we want to run from the interior panic and spiritual vertigo that necessarily ensues.
  • We are told that what we really need is not spiritual direction, but to see a doctor or psychologist.
On the other hand, there can be legitimate signs that the inspiration to fire our spiritual director is from the Holy Spirit:
  • He goes to sleep while you are speaking.
  • He does not remember your name.
  • He talks about fairies, imps, harpies, necromancy, or the city of Atlantis. Yes, these are all things I have either experienced or have been reported to me.
  • He spends more than a minimal amount of time talking about his own experience, or seems to relish talking about himself.
  • He is not at least as conversant with the spiritual tradition as you are. The director should be at least as well read in the tradition as the disciple.
  • He does not seem to take you seriously; e.g. 'that's not a (serious) sin, get over it,''That's not real prayer, get over it,' etc.
  • He has an observable negative emotional reaction to something you say. A spiritual director should be past the point when people can 'press our buttons' so easily.
  • He seems overly attached to certain patterns of practice, and wants to impose them on everyone; e.g. 'You must say three rosaries every day,' 'The first Saturdays devotion will fix you,' etc.
  • He makes suggestions that increase your dependence on him alone, especially if he is a priest; e.g. 'You should only go to confession to me,' 'I want you to attend my Sunday Mass each week,' etc. Some people want disciples for themselves, rather than for the Lord.
  • He does or suggests anything at all that is sexually suggestive or creepy. Yes, it happens. Trust your instincts.


Qualis Rex said...

I think you left out the one about breaking into show tunes twice every visit.

Also, the one where they want youu to pantomime or use charades through confession/penance doesn't work so well for me either.

Rachel Gray said...

You want to avoid this kind of thing as well.

Very interesting post. If you have time, Father, I'd love to know more about this reason: "Our operative images of God are challenged, and we want to run from the interior panic and spiritual vertigo that necessarily ensues." I'm not familiar with the idea of an operative image of God and how it might be challenged...