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Having Too Many Spiritual Directors

August 29, 2016 by  
Filed under Challenges, Fr. Bartunek, Perspective, Spiritual Direction



Dear Father John, I recently read something about having too many spiritual directors. Is there such a thing? How many is too many? Is it OK to have more than one?

It depends on what you mean by “spiritual director.” Strictly speaking, spiritual direction is an ongoing relationship in which the spiritual director serves as a special guide and companion as we continually strive to discover and embrace God’s will in our lives. From that perspective, we should never have multiple spiritual directors at the same time. Here’s why.

One Destination – Multiple Roads

First of all, our spiritual journey has one destination – greater intimacy with God, greater holiness – but many possible paths to that destination. Different spiritual directors will emphasize different aspects of paths. If you have two or three spiritual directors, one may say, “turn right at the light,” and another may say, “turn left at the light.” Both of those turns may eventually get you further along in your journey, depending on the subsequent turns that you take. But if you follow the guidance of the first spiritual director, and then go to a second one and follow their advice too, you may end up going in circles instead of making progress. In other words, it’s important to have consistency in the guidance that you receive, since there is no one formula for spiritual progress. Different spiritual directors will have different gifts and insights, just as different coaches have different styles of coaching – not necessarily better or worse, just different. For consistent growth, we need to follow consistent guidance.

A Meaningful Relationship

Second, since the essence of spiritual direction is the relationship we have with our spiritual director, we have to invest time and energy in developing that relationship. We have to go deep. We have to allow many spiritual directorsourselves to be known thoroughly, and that requires opening ourselves up in ways that are challenging and demanding. Having multiple spiritual directors impedes the development of this depth. In fact, many times having multiple spiritual directors simultaneously can be a subconscious tactic for resisting that kind of openness. I just go around to my different spiritual directors, telling each one of them what I know each wants to hear, and picking and choosing among their various indications according to whatever my personal preferences are. That’s a formula for spiritual stultification, not for spiritual growth. It can be an exercise in vanity and pride, not in humbly seeking the face of the Lord.

Not the Only Source of Input

DanielConversationDansLAtelierBut having a single spiritual director at a time doesn’t mean we can’t also consult with other people about specific questions or issues. We can have spiritual friends, mentors, people we respect and trust and consult – these people can also accompany us and support us in our spiritual journey. Those relationships are perfectly compatible with spiritual direction. In fact, speaking about those relationships with our spiritual director can help us appreciate them, discover how God wants to work through them, and live them better.

A good spiritual director will also know how to recommend other people to consult about particular issues – financial issues, marital issues, health issues, etc. A spiritual director isn’t an expert in everything. God will also use other people and other relationships to help us grow spiritually. Nevertheless, the spiritual director remains a special and consistent reference point, a relationship in which God promises to work in a particular way, a relationship that requires supernatural docility on our part.

Switching Spiritual Directors?

Your question opens up one other aspect of spiritual direction: How long should we keep the same spiritual director? Many times, the external circumstances of life require us to look for a new spiritual director – we have to move to a new city, or our spiritual director is no longer available to meet with us, for example. In those circumstances, the answer is simple – keep your spiritual director as long as you can. But other times Spiritual Direction - LudwigJohannPassiniEinErnstesGesprachSpiritualDirectionwe can come to a point in our spiritual journey where we feel that our spiritual director is no longer helping us. We feel a bit stuck. We no longer feel the same connection with our spiritual director that we used to feel. The advice and guidance that we receive doesn’t resonate the way it used to; it feels less relevant.

When this begins to happen, the first thing to do is a deep self-examination. Is there something in my heart that is causing this disconnect? Is there some unspoken fear or self-centered resistance that’s disguising itself as dissatisfaction with my spiritual director? It would be a worthwhile topic to bring up in spiritual direction, actually.

After this sincere and patient self-examination, we may still be convinced that we need to look for a new spiritual director. That can be fine. We have no obligation to keep the same one forever. On the other hand, frequently switching directors can be a sign of the same dangers present when we insist on keeping multiple spiritual directors simultaneously. If you find yourself perpetually dissatisfied with your spiritual director, maybe what needs to change is your own set of expectations. If you are in this situation, I can recommend another post on the topic [click on the title to access it]: Spiritual Direction Did Not Work for Me – Now What?

I hope these thoughts have helped answer your question. God bless you and keep you!

Sincerely in Christ, Fr. John Bartunek, LC


Art for this post on Having Too Many Spiritual Directors: A fork in the road Which way should I go?, Nicholas Mutton, 16 September 2007, CCA-SA 2.0 Generic; PORT-OF-SPAIN, Trinidad and Tobago (Sept. 21, 2007) – Father Joseph Harris, left, a Roman Catholic priest in Trinidad and Tobago, celebrates mass with Lt. Cmdr. Paul Evers, a Navy chaplain and Roman Catholic priest, aboard Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH 20), U.S. Navy photo taken by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Joan E. Kretschmer, 21 September 2007, PD-US work of the U.S. federal government;  Conversation dans l’atelier à Corneilla-de-Conflent (Conversation in the workshop in Corneilla-de-Conflent), Georges Daniel de Monfreid (1856-1929), PD-US, author’s life plus 80 years or less; Ein ernstes Gespräch (A Serious Conversation), Ludwig Johann Passini, by 1902, PD-US; all Wikimedia Commons.

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About Fr. John Bartunek, LC

Fr. John Bartunek, LC, S.Th.D, received his BA in History from Stanford University in 1990. He comes from an evangelical Christian background and became a member of the Catholic Church in 1991. After college, he worked as a high school history teacher, drama director, and baseball coach. He then spent a year as a professional actor in Chicago before entering the religious Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ in 1993. He was ordained a Catholic priest in 2003 and earned his doctorate in moral theology in 2010. He provided spiritual support on the set of Mel Gibson’s "The Passion of the Christ" while researching the 2005 Catholic best seller, "Inside the Passion"--the only authorized, behind-the-scene explanation of the film. Fr. John has contributed news commentary regarding religious issues on NBC, CNN, Fox, and the BBC. He also served as the English-language press liaison for the Vatican’s 2005 Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist. His most widely known book is called: "The Better Part: A Christ-Centered Resource for Personal Prayer". His most recent books are "Spring Meditations", "Seeking First the Kingdom: 30 Meditations on How to Love God with All Your Heart, Soul, Mind and Strength", and "Answers: Catholic Advice for Your Spiritual Questions". Fr. John currently splits his time between Michigan (where he continues his writing apostolate and serves as a confessor and spiritual director at the Queen of the Family Retreat Center) and Rome, where he teaches theology at Regina Apostolorum. His online, do-it-yourself retreats are available at, and he answers questions about the spiritual life at

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  • Nikki

    Dear Fr. Bartunek, Thank you for your post. This is the first time I have ever commented, but your topic is just too much of a coincidence to ignore. I have had the same spiritual director since becoming a Catholic in 2013. He is the pastor of a large parish and school and is very busy. I have been feeling very rushed for the past six months when we meet, and truthfully, I have not felt that he understands me. There is another pastor whose spirituality I greatly admire, that I hoped I could ask to be my spiritual director, if the direction ever ended with my current priest. Well, last month, I showed up for my monthly appointment and he told me he was too busy to meet with me. I asked him to just text me when he wanted to reschedule. Then I prayed and asked the Lord to give me a sign, that if he was not to be my spiritual director anymore, to not have him call to reschedule. Well, it’s been over three weeks since the missed appointment and he did not call. And the priest whom I had hoped to be my director actually called me last week about another ministry that I am involved in….and while we were on the phone I told him of my question. He was happy to accept me to direct, but my concern was if my current director happened to call to reschedule, I wasn’t sure of the etiquette. He has helped me greatly in these past three years, and although we never really connected on a personal level, I greatly respect and admire him. I asked the second priest if he happened to call, could I have two spiritual directors. He said that if my director called, he could be my “confessor” and give me spiritual advice, and I could also keep my first director. So, my question is, should I just call my director and tell him that I have found a new director…and how do I do that kindly? Or, should I not call him at all, and if he never calls me…is that an acceptable way to end our relationship? Or, if he calls, should I keep him as a director and go to the other priest as a confessor and to receive spiritual advice? Sorry this is so long! I look forward to your advice. Thank you and may God bless you!

    • debby_d_NJ

      Dear Nikki –
      Obviously, I am not Fr. John (!) but I would like to offer you my personal experience with a similar situation to your current one. The short version – seek this priest out and tell him. (See below for the long version!)

      In my 35 yrs as a Catholic (adult convert from Evangelicalism), I have had 4 directors. My first was not a formal SD relationship, but to this very day, remains a dear priestly friend and I trust him with my whole self. However, he was in an order and moved to England, then Texas, etc. so he advised me to seek another. He prayed for our Lady to guide me. She did (of course!) and the 2nd director I had for a few years. It was funny; just as I was beginning to be moved in my spirit toward a different spirituality than the 2nd one lived by (his order is from Spain and quite intense, pretty rigid), he was told by his SD that he had to let his spiritual children “go.” I had some personal grief but also the grace to know the TRUE DIRECTOR OF MY SOUL IS THE HOLY SPIRIT! He is Faithful and True, He is Love. My 3rd SD guided me for over 10 years, has helped me deepen my abandonment to Jesus and entrust all to our Lady. Only when he had to move was I released from his care. God is my soul’s True Spouse and has never left me an orphan or widow- He provides who I need as my soul is being formed. As a result of an open, honest and even painful communication with these different priests, to this day I am able to see and speak with each one with no angst in my heart!

      In your situation, I would advise that Charity and Humility must reign in your heart. In charity and humility, I would thank the priest who has been your guide and let him know that you have met another who has more availability/flexibility, and ASK HIS BLESSING to seek SD with this new priest. And yes, ask him if he would still be open to you coming for Confession as a parishioner would as the need arises. Tell him your gratitude and trust you have in his wisdom and guidance. And then Trust that God will move his response.

      SD is not supposed to be an Olympic Sport where Competition is in play. Yes, Directors are human beings, but for his sake as well as yours, speaking the truth in love and humility is fruit both you and his soul will benefit from.

      One more thing: as lay people, we must be aware of our weakness and human regard or inordinate attachment to our beautiful priests. Our needs are great. No one person can meet those of another, and we can begin to (inadvertently) idolize a SD. The enemy often works against us in this way to distract us from what God has for us. Ask Our Lady Mom to be the Guardian of your heart-mind-soul and be patient with yourself and others.

      May His Holy Peace be with you!

      • Boo

        Great advice Debby! Thank you!

  • hesychia

    Question: While I agree in consistency in spiritual direction, I would like to hear your “take” on spiritual direction and its connections to Confession. I do have a spiritual director I see once a month, but a confessor I see weekly. There are aspects of reconciliation that are spiritual direction, and I’ve shared some of those with my SD, who is also a priest, but since I strongly desire Reconciliation weekly and my confessor is diocesan, local, and extremely busy, I do not feel comfortable asking for more than 10 min. of his time per week, while my SD can usually give me an hour, but is too far away to meet weekly. Your thoughts?

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  • felicity knight

    Wish i could find just one…

  • Peter Aiello

    Even one may be too much if he is being used as a substitute for God.

    • LizEst

      Then, it is time to find a different one. But, yes, you do have a very valid point. Thank you, Peter … and God bless you!

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