Q: Dear Father John, How should I prepare for a meeting with my spiritual director?
A: Preparation for spiritual direction can be divided into three parts.
1. Remote preparation. Preparing for your next spiritual direction starts during the last moment of your previous spiritual direction. By making a note of the key insights that you received during direction, and by identifying some concrete actions you will work on, you create your own spiritual map for the coming month.
You can capture the insights in meaningful phrases, like “discouragement never comes from God” or “I am impatient because I am arrogant.” You can capture concrete actions in motivational phrases, like “I spend the first three minutes of my commute thanking God for today’s blessings” or “When I come home, I give the first ten minutes entirely to my wife” or “When my friends start to gossip, I change the topic.” Put these phrases in your planner, your journal, your home page – wherever you will be sure to see them regularly. Don’t leave spiritual direction without this map. (By the way, it is not necessary to invent new points in every spiritual direction, but sometimes changing a word or two on a previous phrase can refresh it for you, or sharpen it. Also, your insights and concrete actions should be connected to your “program” or “rule” of life; you should perceive the connection clearly.)
2. Proximate preparation. The day before your spiritual direction, take some time to sit down and look over the map you made after the last spiritual direction. Asking the Holy Spirit for light, analyze the following areas, making notes where relevant (e.g. I really made progress on this point; I made no progress here, and I am not sure why; this crisis came up and it totally derailed me…). Remember, always include the question “Why?” as part of your analysis. The analysis will leave you with things to report and questions to ask. This will be the agenda for your spiritual direction. (Your spiritual director may suggest alterations to the following list; it is meant to be a reference point.)
A) The general state of your soul since last spiritual direction
B) Difficulties or failures in your moral life since last spiritual direction
C) The effectiveness of your motivational phrases from last spiritual direction
D) Progress on and results of the concrete actions chosen after your last spiritual direction
E) The main points of your program of life, if they were not covered in C and D.
F) Challenges and progress in your prayer life, if they were not covered in C and D.
G) The quality of the key relationships and responsibilities of your state in life, if they were not covered in C and D.
You will not necessary have a lot to say to your spiritual director during each spiritual direction regarding every single one of these points. But as you go through them you will identify those points that you really do need or want to address. This proximate preparation, the calm and prayerful analysis of these areas, is like cleaning out the garage: it refreshes your soul and motivates you to look with enthusiasm towards the coming month of spiritual work.
3. Immediate preparation. A few minutes before your spiritual direction, make a visit to our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament to put everything in his hands. If the Eucharist is not nearby, say a prayer to the Holy Spirit to guide you and your director. Make sure you have the notes from your proximate preparation. Finally, call to mind the real goal of all spiritual direction: to discover more clearly God’s action in your life, and to equip you to respond generously to what he is asking of you.
PS: Dan has a new book out on Spiritual Direction that you can find more about at www.NavigatingtheInteriorLife.com. It is scheduled to release later this year. In it, you will find more helpful information on this topic and spiritual direction in general.