Hey, my friends. Welcome back to Let’s Encourage One Another.
Today, we are going to talk about something that might seem a little unusual, and that is written spiritual direction.
A couple of months ago, I did an episode that explored spiritual direction in general, and how we use direction to listen to God together, to attune ourselves to His presence and movement in our lives. And I answered several frequently asked questions when it comes to spiritual direction, like,
- When do I need spiritual direction?
- What do you do in direction?
- What does a session look like?
- What do I look for in a spiritual director?
If you haven’t listened to that yet, I invite you to go back and do that. It’s episode 25 of the podcast. I’ll link to it in the show notes below.
But today, I want to take it in a different direction, because I offer spiritual direction in a way that most others do not, and that is in written form. There are several reasons I do this, and I want to explore those with you today.
Why Written Communication?
First, I want to compare written spiritual direction with regular, in-person spiritual direction. There are advantages and disadvantages to both forms. I know this because my degree is in communication, and you can bet that we spent a lot of time discussing written, verbal, and non-verbal communication in all their various forms.
Let’s start with verbal, in-person spiritual direction. In a regular session, you and the spiritual director would be sitting in a room or on a video call together. You’d be able to see one another, to notice each other’s body language, to sit in the silence together and wait for God to speak. You’d be able to discuss something in real time, with the director asking questions and you answering as you are ready and able.
It is obviously much easier to pick up on when you might be saying something that you believe in your mind, but you don’t really believe it in your heart and soul yet. I’d be able to notice that by the way you say something, your non-verbal communication. It gives me clues as to how you are thinking and feeling.
You would also be able to read my non-verbal communication—see my facial expression and my look of care and compassion, hear my tone of voice speaking with gentleness and curiosity.
But what happens if you don’t know how to answer a question? What do you do if you don’t feel like you can close your eyes and pray and listen while you’re on a call with someone else?
This is what I discovered it was like with me when I met with a counselor. I didn’t always know how to answer her questions in the moment. I needed time to think. I felt like I was on the spot, under pressure to respond a certain way. And I don’t think that was intentional, it was just how I responded as a very introverted individual.
I wanted the questions and the insight, but I needed a safe space to think through things. Can you relate?
And so when it came time for me to do some research in my graduate studies and in my coaching program, I chose to focus on email communication as a way to transform and lead others.
While you lose out on the non-verbal communication when you use written spiritual direction, you also gain some other things.
Like time and space to prayerfully consider questions. There is no pressure to respond right away. In fact, you are able to take the time you need to bring something before God and listen for Him. Sometimes when you sit in a regular spiritual direction session, you feel disappointed or guilty because you don’t sense Him saying anything to you in that moment, and so you shrug and look to your spiritual direction for a sign as to what to do next.
But with written communication, you can set aside time in the mornings or time at night or one day a week to lift your questions before God and sit with Him for awhile, without someone else waiting for you to say something.
Also, I often found that I knew the big idea of what I wanted to say, I just didn’t have the words to express it. Yet if I sat down to write it out, the words found me, instead. I had time to think it through and formulate my thoughts, and if you’re an introvert like me, you know how important that time is.
Plus, you get a record of the whole conversation, something you can return to time and again, to pray through and remember how God has been working in your life.
Writing letters or messages back and forth provides a safe setting to put your thoughts on paper, sort to speak. To intentionally choose to be vulnerable and open. Because sometimes we are willing to share on paper something that we cannot yet speak out loud. It’s too sacred. It’s too personal. And that written form provides us a way to share in a way that doesn’t feel like it’s too much. Does that make sense?
Written spiritual direction also builds the relationship of trust between you and the spiritual director. You get to know one another better and learn how to “hear” the words they are writing.
And, of course, you have the Holy Spirit to help you see through the lines, too. To read what they are not saying, what they might be leaving out. It can actually be quite powerful.
Examples of Written Spiritual Direction
Now, it might seem all well and good, but can you really do spiritual direction through writing?
Yes, you can. I want to offer you some examples of what this might look like and assure you that written spiritual direction can actually be quite effective and transformative.
Though not directly called written spiritual direction, there are many examples we can look to see what this might look like.
Some of my favorite books are in the forms of letters, such as Winn Collier’s Love Big, Be Well: Letters to a Small-Town Church. In it, a small church is looking for a pastor, and they begin to connect with one of the candidates named Jonas via letter.
As the book description says, “When Granby’s pastoral search committee and Jonas connect through handwritten letters passed back and forth, something sparks between them—something so real and refreshing that even after Jonas and his family move to Granby, he continues the regular practice of writing letters to his congregation.”
Each chapter of the book is really a letter from Jonas to his congregation, and while it comments on the current happenings in the church, there are, woven in, sentiments that point people to God and invite them to listen for Him.
For example, in one letter he writes, “Attentiveness to our emotions may tell us where our heart is, but it cannot be trusted to tell us where God is. Only God can do that. And God promises to be with us whether or not we feel it—or understand it.”
Isn’t that so rich? Such a poignant reminder to, yes, pay attention to our emotions and what we can learn from them, but to rely on the truth that God is with us, even when we cannot feel Him.
What an important truth in spiritual direction. That’s what it’s all about—attuning ourselves to Him.
New Testament Letters
Similarly, even the quickest glance at our New Testament shows us that it contains letters from Paul and Peter and others to those in the church. Letters where they encourage and instruct, where they guide and rebuke.
These letters are some of my favorite things to read in the Bible. They are often so practical and personal. From one person written to another. Real people, going through real trials and experiences.
Like Paul’s letters to Timothy. Oh, how I love those. Teaching him how to appoint leaders in the church, yes, but also serving as a spiritual father to him in verses like 2 Timothy 1:5-6 (NLT) where Paul writes, “I remember your genuine faith, for you share the faith that first filled your grandmother Lois and your mother, Eunice. And I know that same faith continues strong in you. This is why I remind you to fan into flames the spiritual gift God gave you…”
In these verses, Paul calls out what he sees in Timothy—a strong faith—and invites him to “fan into flames” the gift that God gave him.
It would be much like me seeing a gift of compassion in you and urging you to use that to share God’s love with those around you.
Emails and Letters from My Own Life
Finally, I want to note that in my own life, there have been times when I used email or letters to talk things through with mentors or friends of mine. I would send them an email, for example, and they would write me back. Even though we saw each other in person and had the chance to talk, email would provide me the best place to put my thoughts and questions together and give them a chance to respond.
I am just a quiet person by nature—which I know is funny to think about, considering I’m a podcast host and speaker. But if you put me in a room with people, even with people in my own family, I am generally the quietest one there. I’m just watching and enjoying being there, without much to say.
But words just flow out of me more easily if I write. That’s why I journaled so often growing up. It was a way for me to make sense of what was going on and think about it. That’s why I wrote to friends. That’s why pen pals can be so much fun, if you can get past the surface-level topics and dive into deeper issues and ideas.
How do you decide which one to try?
Because of these things, I have chosen to offer written spiritual direction and not just in-person sessions. I know that it’s a method that works better for me, and that it might be a good fit for you, as well.
So how do you decide which form to try? How do you know whether to pursue written spiritual direction or an in-person call?
Well, if anything I spoke about today resonated with you, if you found yourself nodding and agreeing with what I shared, saying “yep, me, too!” then written spiritual direction would probably be a really good fit for you.
If you would like to explore what this might look like, I invite you to fill out the interest form at lovedoesthat.org/spiritualdirection and I’ll get back to you and we’ll talk—through email, probably—about what’s weighing on your heart and if spiritual direction would be a good fit for you at this time, and we can work that out together. There is absolutely no risk to emailing me. At the very least, you will gain someone else to pray for you, whether we end up working together in direction or not.
So go to lovedoesthat.org/spiritualdirection and let me know how I can best support you at this time. You can also ask any additional questions you might have.
Now, I want to end with a little spiritual practice you can do on your own. And I’m going to relate it back to my interview with Joy Wendling about the importance of play for children. She said that “pure play” is initiated by the child, has no purpose, and they often get lost in their activity and are completely focused on that.
I want you to identify something that would be considered “play” to you. Something that is just plain fun, that you maybe lose track of time when you are doing it, that you find pleasurable. And then do it sometime this week. And really, just experience that moment of play and enjoy it and rest in it.
Okay, that’s all for today. Until next time…
ARE YOU READY TO C.A.R.E. COURAGEOUSLY?
Grab the Courageous Care Masterclass at www.lovedoesthat.org/care.
- Episode 25: What is Spiritual Direction, How Do I Know If I Need It, and Other Frequently Asked Questions
- Episode 29: Using Play to Deepen Faith, Develop Relationships, and Process Grief with Spiritual Parenting Coach Joy Wendling
- Book: Winn Collier’s Love Big, Be Well: Letters to a Small-Town Church
Friend, I’d love to encourage you as you encourage others. Here are two ways to get started:
1. SHOP ENCOURAGEMENT + SYMPATHY GIFTS
These are prayerfully-crafted gifts you can share with those you love as tangible expressions of care. Let your friend know she is not alone.
2. GET STARTED WITH SPIRITUAL DIRECTION
Interested in spiritual direction? Fill out this interest form where we can start to talk about what’s weighing on your heart and identify next steps you can take to discern God’s direction.