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Can I be friends with my spiritual director?

January 9, 2013 by  
Filed under Dan Burke, Spiritual Direction

Dear Dan, I just read your post on spiritual friendship. I will be going for spiritual direction soon. I have some anthony and paul Desert Fathersconcerns. 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, you are asking good questions. I recommend you read my book Navigating the Interior Life – Spiritual Direction and the Journey to God. All the proceeds from those books distributed through our site go to help those who can’t afford to purchase faithful spiritual literature. In it, I outline and answer all of the questions you ask here along with many others. In the meantime, here are a few quick answers to your questions (we also have an endless number of posts on these topics under the Spiritual Direction category):

Question: Should I give gifts to my spiritual director?

Answer: Absolutely as you are led by the Holy Spirit and by charity in appreciation for their assistance.

Question: Am I right in thinking I can’t be personal?

Answer: No. You can and should be personal. The post on spiritual friendship you read was meant to make a distinction between spiritual friendship (low accountability) and spiritual direction (high accountability among other key distinctions). The post was not meant to discourage a personal connection with a spiritual director. That said, a good director will generally keep a healthy distance in order to allow for objectivity and appropriate boundaries. A good directee will avoid pushing these boundaries.

Question: What is “overstepping my boundaries” with my director?

Answer: To cover the obvious first, any expression of intimacy, emotional or physical, that should be reserved for your spouse alone (or would-be spouse), would be an overstepping of healthy boundaries. As well, we need to respect the fact that our director needs to maintain an objectivity that can rarely be achieved when we are overly friendly in the relationship.

Question: Should I ask my director about their family life?

Answer: No. Good spiritual directors are generally extremely busy. You should be ready to sit down as soon as you meet and pray, and then begin to seek direction about your progress in prayer and virtue.

Question: Should I talk about previous sins already confessed?

Answer: It depends. If you are struggling with breaking a pattern of sin, this would be an appropriate topic of conversation in spiritual direction. Also, you might need to reveal important instances or patterns of past sins with a director who may not be familiar with the history and state of your soul. Let your director lead you in what you need to reveal.

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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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  • LSLinda

    My spiritual director does not accept gifts. If I want to show appreciation in any way, he suggested I make a donation to the parish or somewhere else, which I do.

  • Thank you, Dan.  Your Answers to our “Family Member” are direct, short and precise.  And by the way, I have no doubt many of us will heave a sigh of relief after reading them.

  • LizEst

    I’ve baked cookies and bread. They are always readily and enthusiastically accepted.


    I’m still struggling to find a Spiritual Director I can connect with. My main issue is my available time (I work M-F) and not many of the SDs seem to want to do weekend hours and I prefer reserving my evenings for my family.  I will keep praying to be led to the right person.

    • Becky Ward

      If one evening a month is more than you can fit in your schedule, do you have the ability to take half a day off once a month? 

  • Guest

    Father Bartunek has also just published his second online retreat, “Troubled Hearts: A Retreat Guide on Peace of Soul”.

    • LizEst

      That’s good to know. Thanks for reporting that, Tiffany.

  • I just had my first spiritual direction meeting and he is a deacon as the priest directs priestly and religious vocations. I am not sure about bringing up sins since he is not a priest. I do however go to confession weekly as well because dealing with some unresolved traumatic issues. I am a married woman. The meeting went very well I was frank about my past and present. This is a new journey in which I am not sure asto how it will go.

    • LizEst

      Patricia – this is wonderful news! May God bless you richly for “putting out into the deep!”

  • Dorcelia

    In the above, there is mention of a post on Spiritual Friendship. I am interested. How do I get to it? Thanks. God bless.

  • I have just had my first meeting with my soon to be spiritual guide and confessor; a priest.  I gave him a copy of Dan Burke’s book to read and I am to reflect and pray for a month before we really get into the “nuts and bolts” of things, to make sure I am comfortable with him.  This was his request.  Liz’s idea of baked goods is a good one as I know the priests appreciate anything homemade.  I appreciate that this priest will be taking time with me for both confession and spiritual direction..a double bonus.  I will be waiting to hear how he likes the book!  I know I did…

    • LizEst

      Jackie – that’s wonderful news that you’ve had your first meeting with your priest spiritual guide. You are the second person here that has reported that today! May God also bless you for “putting out into the deep.”

  • Guest

    Thank you so much, Dan.
    I will try to get your book. I appreciate your website and reading through it is something I like to do every day and so far it’s been a very big help at this point in my life.

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