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Spiritual Direction is NOT Spiritual Friendship

Spiritual Direction is NOT Friendship

Spiritual friendships are invaluable to the life of a Christian and share many characteristics with spiritual direction. They differ, however, in a few very important ways. One key difference is that the emphasis of spiritual direction is the spiritual life. Spiritual friendships and mentoring relationships frequently include the spiritual life, yet they usually also have elements, activities, and interests that are peripheral (though sometimes beneficial) to the spiritual life. Another key difference is with respect to the intensity of the relationship. Using the personal coach analogy again, most athletes would never expect to have a friendly or passive level of accountability with a personal coach. Instead, they engage with a personal coach to be challenged, pushed, and encouraged toward concrete progress. The directee is ultimately in control, but when he or she seeks out a director, they are typically looking for a much higher level of accountability and direction than friendships often provide–even healthy spiritual friendships.

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


What is spiritual direction and my spiritual direction? What are my “blind spots” and how can I uncover them? What keeps me from all the spiritual riches Christ has for me? How can I better understand where I am in my spiritual progress?

Daniel Burke’s Navigating the Interior Life will give you the tools you need to understand how and why we grow and die in the spiritual life and what we can do about it.

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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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  • Sr. Judy Nielsen,OSF

    Good thought. Spiritual direction is missing the vital component of accountabilty and honest feedback for growth when the person seeking direction is making an effort to change the relationship into a spiritual friendship. Those efforts can slow or even stop spiritual growth if the director falls into friendship way of relating to that person the purpose of seeking direction may be lost.

  • Sharonagnes

    I have a spiritual director but I am having ahard time cultivating spiritual friendships. Any suggestions? I work 50 hours a week in a stressful job and have an hour commute.

    • LizEst

      Have you brought this up in direction?

      Many parishes have prayer groups, bible study groups, religious related groups such as the Knights of Columbus or it’s counterpart Catholic Daughters, the Legion of Mary, the various Sodalities, ministries to the homeless and hungry, St. Vincent de Paul Society, lay ministry of various forms within your own parish. Some of these have a large social component to them and they are all great ways to cultivate spiritual friendships.

      There are other groups that are very focused on the spiritual life, such as Third Order Carmelites and Franciscans, Lay Dominicans, Secular Augustinians, Marian Communities, the Order of Penitents, the Disciples of Jesus and Mary, Divine Mercy Teams, Opus Dei Collaborators, etc.

      If you are able to take a faith related class or course(s), that is also an excellent way to cultivate spiritual friendships. Why? Because, the people who attend these are just like you in seeking growth in their faith and spirituality. So, you already have a very strong basis for establishing spiritual friendship. That kind of growth helps renew and refresh our faith lives…and also helps relieve some daily stress because it reinvigorates the soul!

      God bless you Sharonagnes!

      ps. Always remember, you are also among spiritual friends here on this site!

  • Bernadette

    My retired pastor is my spiritual director for the past one year and one-half. There is a friendship that existed before the spiritual direction. I have wondered about that friendship getting in the way of him being objective enough to tell me the ‘way it is’ so to speak. Recently, he told me he had perceived some wrong thinking on my part but had been hesitant to say it for at least two spiritual direction appointments but finally he told me what he thought. I told him that I appreciated so much his honesty and how much his insight has helped me spiritually. I have an appt. with him today and I will discuss this with him that any correction for me is vital and that it will not affect my opinion of him in any way. I believe he already understands this but I will make a point today concerning this. He has been a wonderful help to me spiritually and I do want him to continue to help me. Thank you for bringing up this subject. By the way, I believe that retired priests can be a wonderful source for spiritual direction…they have more time on their hands and spiritual direction makes them feel vitally important.

    • Bernadette

      I just wanted to share that I met with my spiritual director yesterday and commented on how I did not want our prior friendship before he became my spiritual director to be a hindrance in advancing my spiritual life..that I did not want him to hold back anything that he might think would hurt my feelings. He immediately said to me that he is honest with me and that he is accountable before God for what he says and what he does not say. Wow! I now feel that he will keep ‘me accountable’ before God!

      • Your response is a perfect example of how I hope Navigating the Interior Life can and will be of benefit.

        • Bernadette

          Dan, I have one of your books on order, so I’m looking forward to receiving it. Thank you and God bless you!

  • This is spot on….I can’t wait now that I know I will get a Copy of this Book. God bless you, Dan

  • Jerry Lauber

    I think that your comments dis-credit the title of Spiritual Mentor. During mentorship training we were trained to avoid friendship relationships and are instructed on proper spiritual direction methods. Spiritual Mentors do hold the mentee accountable for that sessions resolution from session to session. Its not about the title, its about the training of the Mentor. To say that Spiritual Direction is not Spiritual Mentoring makes me wonder if the countless hours and expense invested is of any good at all.

    • No worries – this was a mistake on my part. I modified the title.

    • As well, in the book I make the distinction between Spiritual Directors, Spiritual Mentors etc. If you worked with the Apostles of the Interior Life in your program then you received fantastic and reliable instruction.

  • Guest

    I will be going for spiritual direction soon. I have some concerns.

    From what I’ve been reading, and what I have been feeling (fear, anxiety, restlessness, doubt if I should go ahead), spiritual direction is a very intensely personal thing I have to go through with a stranger (a priest alright)  if I want to improve my spiritual life, but then, I cannot be personal but treat this as a purely professional transaction the way we can’t be personal with our doctor who would probably have seen most of our physical selves. Am I right in thinking this?

    Being human, I would find it hard not to be at least a little personal –friendly, that is–to someone who would be helping me a great deal in the most important part of my existence on earth. Other than shaking hands and communicating regarding our SD meetings, what would be considered overstepping my boundaries in the relationship with my spiritual director? We give gifts of appreciation to friends; would it be offensive to do the same with my SD? If my SD can ask questions about my personal life (family, etc) outside SD, I expect not to be able to do the same, am I right? I just want to be respectful. It’s very hard to find a good SD and I wouldn’t want to offend one I have right now. I am married woman by the way.

    My second concern is, do I talk about previous sins that I have already confessed, in our forthcoming SD? I will be going for SD within a couple of months or so.

    • Dear Friend: I have written a post to answer your questions which will go up this week.

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