by Dan Heavenor
Where are you, God? This is a question that haunts all of us at different times in our lives, pastors included. Psalm 10:1 says, “Why, O Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” We have all had those times when God seems completely uninterested and uninvolved, when our prayer is dry, when our relationship with Him seems empty and one-sided. For the pastor, this reality can be especially worrisome. Pastors are supposed to help others who are struggling with God. But who helps the pastor? Who will listen to the pastor who is struggling to know God’s presence in their own life, whose prayer has become static and dead, who is questioning their spirituality in ways they never have before? One can read books, listen to worship music, try many things, but what is really needed is someone who will listen prayerfully and attentively to our heart, our questions, our fears, our loneliness, our cries of brokenness and abandonment, and help us discern the Spirit, to know His love and to simply be with us as we stumble along our own spiritual journey.
The ministry of spiritual direction is a ministry of companionship: one person walking with another, listening for the movements and presence of the Spirit in the actual day-to-day life of the other. It is not primarily about learning. It is not about “solving our problems.” It is about the encounter with God. It is a focused relationship that seeks to open us up to the reality of His presence, to receive His immense love and help us respond. We can often see well how the Lord is moving in someone else and inviting them into greater intimacy. To see the same in ourselves can often be elusive. Spiritual direction can be beneficial as we walk through spiritual dryness and darkness but can also be helpful through the more regular and “everydayness” of our spiritual lives. We were not meant to walk the spiritual journey alone. We all need companions along the way.
Pastors are in a unique and difficult situation. It is not easy for them to share deeply the realities of their own heart. They feel a responsibility to their people who look to them for encouragement and comfort for their spiritual lives. The pastor’s spiritual life is inextricably tied to their livelihood like few others. When a pastor is struggling spiritually or questioning God in deeper ways, what does that mean for their job performance? “Can I even be a pastor and feel the way I feel?” The stress and temptation to remain silent can be overwhelming.
Spiritual direction has a long history in the church, kept alive through the ages mostly in the Catholic and Orthodox traditions. The Protestant world, though, is beginning to see the advantages of spiritual companionship for our unique journey with God. There is no agenda in the spiritual direction conversation except to discern the Lord. There are no expectations except that the Lord is present and active and that He is the one primarily responsible for the relationship. There is a simple faith on the part of the Director that God is always at work, always present, even in the darkest of times, even in months of prayerlessness. There is awareness that the Holy Spirit is the true Director and that He desires to relate in love to His friends. The participant is free to share anything without fear of judgment or simplistic “answers” that attempt to fix and solve.
Pastors give of themselves all the time. It is their job to give, to minister, to pray for others, to help in times of grieving and suffering, to teach, to encourage. Spiritual direction for pastors seeks to allow pastors to receive, to be listened to, to be prayed for, to simply be who they really are beneath all the expectations and “face” of ministry. Spiritual direction listens for the gentle rustling of the wind of the Spirit that is always there, always inviting, always whispering, “I’m right here. Won’t you come and sit at my feet?”
Dan Heavenor, a graduate of Regent College, has worked as a pastor in the Vancouver area and is now in bi-vocational ministry as a spiritual director, retreat leader and bus driver. Dan lives in North Vancouver with his wife, Andrea, and their four children.
If you would like more information about Spiritual Direction please email Dan Heavenor at [email protected] or call us at 1.888.5.CLERGY for information on finding a spiritual director in your area.