By Sara Scheunemann

Tending Your Relationship with God through Spiritual Direction

A few Sundays ago, while away from home and visiting friends, I attended a church where the pastor encouraged us to have a “DTR” with Jesus. Comparing us to young couples on the verge of greater commitment in their dating relationships, he suggested it was time to “define the relationship” and deepen our commitment to God. Undoubtedly, many people in that congregation and in churches near and far need such moments of definition. As we grow in our life with God, we often reach points at which we must choose increased intimacy and surrender to God’s love. But my heart’s response to being challenged to a DTR was, “That is not what I need. I have been defined by this relationship for as long as I can remember. Jesus and I have moved past dating. What I need is advice about how to be married to him!”

I’m not a nun, but Jesus is my first love. The relationship I share with him is the most important in my life. There are all kinds of metaphors that I could use to describe it. Maybe because I am single and feel the void of a lifelong, committed marriage relationship, I am attracted to the image of God as husband (Isaiah 54:5). In ways that other metaphors cannot quite grasp, it expresses the depth of intimacy, love, commitment, and companionship I desire. Jesus and I are not dating; I am in this with him for better or worse. By his grace, I will continue to share my life with him to death and beyond.

Being married to Jesus is one of the best and sweetest of life’s gifts, but it is not always easy. When asked once if she were married, Mother Teresa replied, “Yes, and sometimes I find it difficult to smile at Jesus because he can be so demanding.” If Mother Teresa found it difficult to be Jesus’ faithful spouse, it is no wonder that we should as well. It can be challenging to have a relationship with someone who doesn’t come home for dinner or curl up on the couch with you at night, at least not in the tangible, physical sense.

Yet we know that God is always with us. God has promised never to leave or forsake us. God is lovingly present and at work in our lives every day — an ever-faithful husband who tends and nurtures our relationship, even in those moments when God seems distant. The ways in which God does this are myriad, but one that I have discovered in recent years, along with many evangelicals learning from the riches of the Catholic tradition, is spiritual direction.

I sometimes jokingly think of spiritual direction as marriage counseling for my relationship with God. It’s an imperfect analogy, of course, especially since counseling has connotations of crisis. The comparison works (in my mind, at least!) because spiritual direction provides the opportunity to talk with another person about the foundational relationship in my life. Together, my director and I seek to be prayerfully attentive to the Spirit’s presence and direction, so that I might deepen and delight in my relationship with God and surrender more fully to God’s will. Ultimately, the Spirit is the director, but it is helpful to have another person listening to God with me to discern God’s voice. At its core, spiritual direction is two people listening to the Spirit together as one of them shares about her relationship with God — all so that she might deepen her life in God and attentiveness to God’s presence.

Talking with my spiritual director often helps me see my relationship with God from a slightly different angle or brings clarity to a matter I have been mulling over for awhile. I’ll share one example. Periodically, I feel a longing for that indefinable “something more,” whether it is for all the things I think are missing from my life or for a new adventure. I recently talked with my director about my latest feelings of restlessness, wondering aloud if perhaps I should pursue something new or, alternately, devote myself to seeking greater contentment with life as it is. After I had finished sharing, she said, “Sara, I think what you’re describing isn’t so much restlessness as homesickness.” That simple comment reframed my perspective and caused me to rethink the root of my longing. She’s right. I am homesick, and while I can understand this feeling on multiple levels (most notably, my desire for the home I’ve always imagined finding in marriage), ultimately I am homesick for my eternal home with God. Her observation has me thinking more deeply about what it means to be at home in Christ in this life and the next. My ponderings and our prayerful conversation on this matter have only just begun.

As with many things, I think the best way to understand spiritual direction is through experience. If you have a sense that meeting with a spiritual director would be beneficial, then give it a try! Pray for the Lord’s leading to the right person. Ask your InterVarsity staff worker or pastor if they know anyone gifted in and practicing this ministry. Retreat centers also usually have staff who serve as spiritual directors. By God’s grace, I hope you will learn how God might desire to tend your relationship through spiritual direction.

About the Author

Sara Scheunemann lives in Marion, Indiana, where she serves as the program coordinator for the John Wesley Honors College at Indiana Wesleyan University and teaches spiritual formation practica. During the summer months, she travels to Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska, where she is a graduate student in their Christian Spirituality Program. She is a spiritual director and a runner, and she'd rather be found on a hiking trail than just about anywhere else.

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