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Spiritual Direction Is NOT Wandering Around…

Spiritual Direction is NOT wandering around…

Wandering around is the opposite of a deliberate journey in a distinct direction. Spiritual direction that is directionless is a contradiction. Some modern conceptions of spiritual direction have reduced the director-to-directee relationship to one of a companion in spiritual meandering. This is not a picture of healthy spiritual direction. Spiritual direction that lacks direction is not direction at all. It may make the both parties feel good about one another, but if the desired end is not Christ and a specific path does not emerge for the directee to follow in order to better know and love Christ and others, then the relationship cannot rightly be called spiritual direction.

This is an excerpt from Dan Burke's 2012 book Navigating the Interior Life – Spiritual Direction and the Journey to God. To learn more, click here.



Art for this post on spiritual direction is not wandering around: Christ and Saint Mina [or Menas], iconographer unknown, 6th-century icon from Bawit, Egypt, PD-US author's life plus 70 years or less, Wikimedia Commons. Feature Image Art: from the cover of Dan Burke's 2012 book “Navigating the Interior Life — Spiritual Direction and the Journey to God”, used with permision of Dan Burke, all rights reserved.


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About Dan Burke

Dan is the President of the Avila Foundation, the parent organization of, the Avila Institute for Spiritual Formation, Divine Intimacy Radio and Divine Intimacy Radio - Resources Edition, Into the Deep Parish Programs, the Apostoli Viae (Apostles of the Way) Community, and the FireLight Student Leadership Formation Program, author of the award-winning book, Navigating the Interior Life - Spiritual Direction and the Journey to God, Finding God Through Meditation-St. Peter of Alcantara, 30 Days with Teresa of Avila, Into the Deep, Living the Mystery of Merciful Love: 30 Days with Thérèse of Lisieux, and his newest book The Contemplative Rosary with St. John Paul II and St. Teresa of Avila. Beyond his "contagious" love for Jesus and His Church, he is a grateful husband and father of four, the Executive Director of and writer for EWTN's National Catholic Register, a regular co-host on Register Radio, a writer and speaker who provides online spiritual formation and travels to share his conversion story and the great riches that the Church provides us through authentic Catholic spirituality. Dan has been featured on EWTN's Journey Home program and numerous radio programs.

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  • faithful123

    What do I think? I think the article is 100 percent correct! If not careful, a directee can go into Spiritual Direction session with bible in hand, and wind
    up talking of the state of the political scene, the ways of a co-worker who seems to be a bully, the ways of those who annoy…

    The directee can read a verse from the bible and speak of a word or phrase
    that popped out…and read from the journal on what that brought directee
    to see on living life and the director speaks not a word about our thoughts
    or how we felt when we came to that (ie: where we were with Jesus on

    When it appeared that a director was more analyzing what I was saying;
    at home I felt TENSE. Sometimes in the interaction, I got the SPIRIT
    message to the human words…so I assumed it was spirit direction but
    I think I finally gathered me and my director were on two different paths.
    Maybe he was too far ‘above me’ for me to ‘hear the Spriit’ speaking thru
    him OR maybe I was looking to him for answers to practical problems;
    OR words of encouragement to how I thought the Spirit was guiding me;
    (Directors can’t give encouragement, correct?) We have to know ‘inside us’
    our conclusions on proceeding in a certain way IS RIGHT)

    When the topic got around to how to hear others and act in accord to
    their words (transactional analysis) I guess I got the SPIRIT message
    clearly… I was being analyzed not directed … and it was time to go it
    on my own. Prayer, Eucharist, Confession if need be, and TRUST in
    God… LIVE what I know and TRUST GOD. And I’m not faulting my
    director… I may not have spoken what I was looking to achieve from
    the outset … or who knows… maybe THE SPIRIT wanted to show me
    that WHAT THE SPIRIT wants of me is CONFIDENCE to act … AND
    NOT ASK ‘can I?’ to someone else. Mature spirits don’t have to do

  • Abaalman

    I am “feeling confused” I was looking for a spiritual director similar to Padre Pio. I have not found him. Is it because I cannot recognize “The Holy Spirit”? I appreciated faithful’s comment below. I truly appreciate your website and use it every day. I am beginning to understand “redemptive suffering” and probably just need encouragement which my director gives. Like just keep on keeping on. Thank you again.

    • faithful123

      Thanks Abaalman, I hope my words did not confuse you. Spiritual Direction is a good thing for growing ‘in spirit.’ And, again, I think my
      difficulties with it recently, was simply THE Spirit wanting me to go it alone (well, not completely alone, He IS with us always) but, form myself I think I was using my director ‘as a crutch’

      that makes for another article on the spiritual direction series: Can
      a directee begin to use spiritual directors ‘as a crutch’ to acting IN SPIRIT? is it permissable to ‘go at’ that which we have learned thus far
      on the journey – without such guidance?

      Actually, perhaps that is what my director wanted me to get.

    • Becky Ward

      Hi Abaalman,

      For you and all – I am just finishing one of the books Dan recommended on this site, “Seeking Spiritual Direction” (How to grow the divine life within) by Fr. Thomas Dubay, S.M.

      IT’S AWESOME for both directors and directees!! I highly recommend it………he talks about self-direction and is very open and honest about this and many other spiritual direction issues.

      This man is plugged in to THE source………..thanks be to God!!

  • LizEst

    Thank you for this. It’s important for all to know.

    What, then, is a spiritual companion? I don’t mean a friend or acquaintance that one talks to about spiritual matter. I mean a professional who is called a spiritual companion.

    • Dear friend – I have a post coming up on this very question soon. Stay tuned and please tell your friends about us.

  • TeresaBenedicta

    Agreed. For the most part. My first… two years-ish of direction was somewhat meandering. Or at least it seemed like meandering to me. I was in my first two years of college, and was newly baptized. Looking back now (same director for about four years), I can see that there WAS direction, even though I couldn’t see it clearly at the time. He was slowly but surely teaching & leading me in prayer and in the spiritual life. He had a plan that I just didn’t see or know of.

    Within the past two years or so, I’ve been more aware of the specifically “directive” aspect of direction.

    • A New Heart

      I think a good spiritual director is wonderful; I also recall the words of a ‘saint like mom and dad (directors of my growth in childhood…ie: raise a child in how they are to go; when old they won’t depart from it) I am thankful to God that in addition to saint like parents; ‘shy me’ was given a couple (neighbors) who invited me to dinner,
      celebrated holidays, treated me like family and encouraged every good venture. In both parents and
      these folks; it was the Holy Spirit showing me the direction to go. (to be kind, to be patient, to think of others, and yes to pray without ceasing) My older friends were of the protestant faith; but Christian and Catholic even if they didn’t know it. Of course; I’m Catholic.

      Spiritual direction is a God Send of course; but I think we need to always remember; if we are ‘in the sacramental grace’ the Holy Spirit is wholly active in directing our every growing moment.

      • Dear Friend – good thoughts. You are correct it is the Holy Spirit. But the key question that follows this accurate assertion is, “How does the Holy Spirit direct us?” In your case He clearly used others in key moments of life. This is not “spiritual direction” in the proper sense but it is no doubt a reflection of God’s grace in working through others to lead you to Him. You have also rightly said when we are living in grace He leads. The question is how? Anyway – all good thoughts. Thank you for jumping in!

        • A New Heart

          Thank you for kind words yourself. When living in grace he leads. How? By faith in God we receive grace. The grace; is the God who is showing Himself to us in fleshly encounters. Now; in mid 20’s – I didn’t quite think of it so specifically. I believed ‘in God’ but what does that mean; to believe in God?

          I had a special God moment recently when at Mass my eyes went to the crucifix and I went up and down the vertical beam. This idea was presented in words but the words took on heart understanding this day. That vertical relating God up me on earth; all the good stuff (experiences, friendships, love of family, good health
          and ability to know right from wrong actions (good conscience) doesn’t just happen. It’s God leading us; ever so slowly to eventually say “aha…yes; God
          I believed by your gift of faith; I acted in good faith to always do good (not of my own power) I received by the good I did with sincere heart more ‘good’ (that my cup would overflow) Not that faith means we won’t have hard times (or a cross)

          That’s when the horizontal beam came to my eyes. That’s the back and forth human to human relating: the arguments, the
          making up, the agreements, the laughter
          the tears. The mutually human ways of
          ‘struggle’ to live the good to each other and help build the kingdom. To be sure,
          it’s the cross of life – generally. We have to do it; we have to pick up the cross and
          endure those others who like ourselves
          are imperfect, difficult, sometimes hate us,
          sometimes want us to fall back down to where they are at. We should be joy
          filled when we meet opposition for it’s
          God’s reminder of all he taught and that
          we are to not forget He is with us always;
          in the good and bad moments.

          Not a hair on our head will be harmed if we are in His grace. (no matter how difficult) How does he lead? He leads us
          when we trust fully. (not easy) Trust fully
          in His way of doing things; lean not on our human truths and understanding.

          He leads us along right paths when we place our full trust in Him. How could He not lead? If we are in a state of grace; we are one in Spirit with Him. Fully one. His ways are our ways…and His ways are always good. (even when on the surface look it looks bad)

          • Becky Ward

            This is a good reflection! 🙂
            I have been taught to think of the vertical beam as our relationship with God too. And the horizontal beam as our relationship with our neighbors……also very similarly to your impressions.
            However, I was also given to understand that unless/until the vertical ‘beam’ is correctly established, the horizontal “beam’ will not bear much fruit. Imagine if the vertical beam is absent……or badly tilted……the horizontal beam cannot be placed as it should be.
            Unless/until we love God with our whole heart, mind, soul, and strength, we cannot pass His love to others….we simply cannot give what we do not have.
            Since embarking on the journey of the interior life is the equivalent of entering unknown territory…….it is almost always necessary (and always wise) to have a guide (director) to help us progress along the path.

          • A New Heart

            All true Becky! Thank you for the affirmation.
            Unless God is #1 … all other relationships will be strained a bit. (a bit of arguing, disagreements) I had a spiritual director say those very words to me (regarding a difficult person encountered in my work) You can’t give what you don’t have. Of course; we can be giving much God love in quiet ways and the other ‘not have’ the sight to see Him. This is ‘the cross.’ If our peace is not returned; God has no problem with us shaking the dust from our sandles and going to the next town.

            Yes; a bit of spiritual direction of when to go forth; is a good thing.

            A priest said to me recently, that vertical beam is ‘always there’ (it’s our awareness of His presence and gifts that might be
            not fully understood) There are those who lack the sight to know God in action, there are others who flagrantly reject the God good things to follow their own whims or financial success, there are those we meet who have not the same understanding we have come to and so we must love as God loved us and correct with a gentle spirit, and tact…lots of tact.

            Agreed there’s all number of ways why the vertical beam is not perfectly straight. This is the first part of our cross as humans. We need to get the vertical straight in our mind; and then work on the horizontal relating with others. It’s ironic that while our Lord had many followers here on earth; his real friends were very few in
            number. Real friends. Lazarus, Martha,
            Mary his Mother and His beloved diciple;
            John. John He was closest to.

            I think the message of the horizontal beam is just that we get out there and connect with as many as possible; not intimate friendships but just a willingness to lend a hand if we see a hand is necessary.

            Popularity should not be the goal; but just as you said heart so in love with God that we love all other people; to such point we are just happy when such human kind steps in our path. However the Lord directs we show this one God’s spirit.

  • Becky Ward


    I spent two years in this kind of a relationship……..(companions on the journey)…….and felt bad for ending it (That’s the vanity (people pleaser) in me.), but as Faithful touched on below, THERE WAS A REASON FOR IT.

    The first principle in my faith formation program is “Nothing happens accidentally but everything is gifted providentially.”, and the second is, “Since everything is in the plan of God for you, everything has purpose.” When we BELIEVE this, it is utterly amazing what we see unfold right before our very eyes.

    St. John of the Cross in his precautions against the ‘flesh’ states, “The first precaution is to understand that you have come to the monastery so that all may fashion you and try you.” (All those who come into our lives are artisans. They are there to shape, fashion, form, and test us.) It took me a while to see that God does the same thing with us who live in the world. We must deal with people in traffic, clerks at the store, co-workers, bosses, teacher’s, children, family, fellow parishioners, ‘New Age’ spiritual directors, etc. and there are lessons we can learn from each and every one of these encounters if our eyes are open to see it.

    The family member who is contentious and has a ready come back for even the smallest spiritual comment I make………..strengthens me in patience and, in my situation, has forced me to learn my faith more fully…….which has strengthened my convictions, my confidence that God really IS working through me, and my courage and trust. Who gains? Me.

    NO, it’s not easy, but I know too, that when one member of a family has a conversion, all the rest must now look at their own lives and behaviors and it’s usually not a pleasant experience……….many lash out and provide plenty of persecution for the one following God. I think this is one of the biggest surprises in my faith journey, that my very large, close, Catholic family is also the source of so much suffering……….thank God for the grace of knowing it’s the devil at work, and for the ability to pray for them with deep sincerity.

    The spiritual director I mentioned WAS up front with me about his philosophy, but I was too new to the spiritual life and couldn’t understand what this meant. The Holy Spirit kept St. Teresa of Avila’s writing on this in front of me, and when the time was right………..and I had grown………He led me to find another director.

    I quote from this post – “but if the desired end is not Christ” – – we’re on the wrong path. This is so simple……….and yet so easy to lose sight of. Seek the TRUTH and keep our eyes on Jesus………….He won’t let us down.

    Finally, pray for our priests!! and that God provide more souls true to His Church to guide all those who are seeking Him.

    God Bless!

    • faithful123

      interesting what you said; when I tried to speak of a new understanding of the faith (that we assumed everyone already knew) Rather than be happy for me, it did indeed create some hostile time. MAYBE hostile isn’t the word…let’s say they tuned out. One thing I did wrong, I suppose is that I spoke my understanding via email. (I thought they’d read slow
      and say WOW…nice…never thought of that… GOOD GOING… something like that) I got the impression, they thought I was ‘attacking’
      them. NOTHING in my words mentioned them.

      The relatives were chronologically older and a spiritual director did point out that human folk have a hard time grasping that ‘the little kid sister’
      might be ‘at their level’ of understanding. (and the kid sister has a hard
      time realizing …maybe they weren’t so high up there after all)

      I guess that’s when I realized my words probably weren’t so evangelizing;
      and that I need to watch for the ‘boasting’ thing. ALWAYS we do put
      other first and we let OTHER feel ‘more important’ … with advice.

      Problem: this was how I was (shy and quiet) and then what they said
      was ‘why are you so quiet?’ So…I began to express my thoughts as
      they do… but… basically; they really didn’t want to hear.

      I think…led by the Spirit; if I speak it should be to ask questions of
      them…asking questions takes a humble spirit, it gives them reason
      to speak, then conversation (light) can ensue, this is how to make
      friends and influence people.

      • Becky Ward


        I can certainyl relate!! Especially about the speaking your mind part… family was the same way with me…..”You’re too quiet, you should let people know how you feel.”……….better to ‘offer it up’!!

        I’ve had my moments of wanting to force folks to accept the truth…………I don’t recommend that. 🙂 (OH!! Zeal 🙂 )

        I identify very much with Mary Magdelene and what she must have gone through…………….although in different ways, I was a pretty big sinner and suddenly do an about-face! I would have been skeptical of other family members if they had done this…..hate to admit that………….

        And so I find ‘new family’ here on the website and in the faith formation program I’ve been through……….and it helps a lot to know I’m NOT the only one who is experiencing this call to love God in a way I had never heard of……….and I pray for my family……….I know who likes to ‘push my buttons’ and I limit the time I spend in their company. For me this is avoiding occasions of sin………..the devil tries to tell me I’m being uncharitable or cowardly……….but it hurts!!….and until I have time to heal it’s an act of prudence to avoid a situation that will make things worse.

        It’s been almost five years for me and I can tell that people are starting to understand that this isn’t a fad………..perseverence, patience, fortitude, and great TRUST that God will do what I can’t…………

        I like your idea of asking questions……….that’s a good way to get people to think differently.

        God’s in charge!!!

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