Hey, my friends. Welcome back to Let’s Encourage One Another, where we talk about caring for hurting souls—whether that is your own or that of someone you love. My name is Kari Bartkus and I am a spiritual director who works with women who are going through a difficult season like grief, depression, anxiety, or loss.
Now, some of my favorite episodes on other podcasts are when coaches let you listen into a live session. You can hear them as they are talking with someone about an issue or problem that they want to figure out. And I knew that this was something that I would love to incorporate on my own podcast as a spiritual director. What better way to give you a taste of what it’s like than to let you listen in to a session?
But I ran into two problems. The first problem is that a spiritual direction session is a lot more personal and vulnerable than a coaching session often is. Because it deals with matters of the heart and soul. Places where we are struggling. Questions and desires we are bringing before God. Who would possibly be willing to have their spiritual direction session aired publicly for all to hear?
The second problem is that I offer written spiritual direction. So there really isn’t a live session that I could just hit record on, even if I could find someone willing to share.
What I’ve come up with is this: a sample written spiritual direction session that I have crafted based on very real problems and how I might respond in spiritual direction. For this, I have written both parts as a way to let you peek into what written spiritual direction might look like, realizing, of course, that personalities and writing styles come out with each person seeking direction. Some people write shorter emails, some longer. It really just depends.
My friend Teresa Huff, from the Grant Writing Simplified Podcast, has graciously agreed to read the directee’s emails while I read my response as the director. Imagine jumping into a relationship that has already been established, so there are no introductory comments or invitations as if we were just getting started. We are just diving in.
To offer you some background for this session, the client’s name is Pamela and she has been struggling something fierce with loneliness over the past year after her best friend moved away to a different town that is too far away to easily visit. She is now also an empty nester, with both of her kids going to college within the past few years. Her husband works a regular 9-5 job Mondays through Fridays and she is just feeling lost and alone.
Now, in written spiritual direction, I do “talk” a bit more than a regular spiritual director might, because that is my way of acknowledging what I have read, what the client has shared with me. If we were in person, I could communicate that through eye contact and nodding my head and things of that nature, but in email communication, I have to verbalize it. But you’ll note that I don’t respond to absolutely everything the client shares. Instead, I prayerfully and slowly read through the email, and I respond just as prayerfully and slowly, listening for God’s guidance, noticing what stands out to me, and finding ways to name it and offer invitations to move closer to God or to sense His presence in their lives.
Okay, so let’s see what Pamela might write to me as her spiritual director.
Written Spiritual Direction Session
Kari, life just feels… empty. Monday when Rich was at work, I started cleaning the house like I always do and when I passed the kids’ old rooms… I couldn’t go in there this time. I just closed the doors so I wouldn’t have to see that the kids weren’t there.
Normally I would call Stacy and see if she wanted to go get coffee with me, but with her gone, too, I didn’t know what to do.
I don’t know that I would say I was sad, necessarily. Not mad, either. Just… empty. Numb. Lonely.
I went out to the front porch and tried to write in my prayer journal for a bit, as you’ve invited me to do, but I just didn’t know what to write. I don’t know what to say to God right now. So I just sat there, trying to enjoy the warmer weather outside. Listening to the birds. Watching the squirrels pitter patter up the trees. One walked across the power line that goes to our house. I watched as neighbors came and went on their errands. And, again, I just felt so alone.
I know that God is here with me, and I’m so grateful for that. But I don’t actually sense His presence a lot. It’s more of a truth that I rely on. I feel like I just need a flesh-and-bones kind of friend right now. Someone I can actually see and hug and talk to.
I’m so thankful for your prayers and support in this season.
Pamela, thank you for sharing those things with me. For trusting me with that. With you. I imagine seeing the reminders of your children having grown up and moved out was bittersweet. I know how proud of them you are, for the people they are becoming. But even in the celebration, there can be grief. Even in the joy, there can be sorrow.
That’s why I like the word bittersweet. It encompasses both. If you find it helpful, I have a practice you can try. I would invite you to make two lists on a sheet of paper. On one side, list what is bitter about this season you are in, and on the other, list what is sweet.
Hold those two lists before God and just acknowledge both parts. Read them out loud, if that helps. What would be your prayer to God as you look at those two lists with Him? What do you want to tell Him? What do you want to ask Him?
Thank you, too, for your honesty in sharing that you know God is there with you, but you have a hard time sensing His presence with you. It’s such a powerful truth we can hold on to, that God is there with us, even when we cannot feel Him. I wonder… have you sensed His presence with you before? If so, can you tell me about what that was like? How did you know? What did you experience? I’d love to hear if you are open to sharing.
Seeking God together…
Kari, I made the two lists like you suggested, and right now, the bitter definitely outweighs the sweet. At the end, I wrote, “God, I don’t know how to taste the sweet again. Help me.” That was my prayer.
I know kids grow up and move out all the time. Parents get excited about having more time of their own. And I feel like if that was the only change from these past few years, I would have been okay. But with Stacy leaving, too… I am just really struggling with this. I don’t know where to find meaningful friendships. I love my Bible study at church, the ladies are friendly enough, but everyone is so different from me. It’s hard to connect with them.
Honestly, truth be told, as I’m writing this, I’m realizing that I don’t want to start all over with a new friend, getting to know one another and playing all the mind games about whether she really finds me annoying and just won’t tell me, or if she’s just being nice to me because she feels sorry for me, or getting up the courage to ask her to coffee. It takes too much time and work.
You asked about if I have sensed God’s presence before. And yes, a few times. I don’t know how to describe it except as a peace that just washes over me. There was one time when Joey broke his leg and I had to take him to the hospital. He was only two years old and was crying so loudly. But there was a moment when I was sitting with him on the hospital bed after they took the x-rays, his head resting on my arm, and the peace was almost palpable. I think he felt it, too.
More recently, Rich had to be away for work for a few days on vacation, and this was before Joey went to college, so he was still home. I am always anxious when Rich leaves. I get worried about his traveling and safety. But I was getting ready for bed and praying for him, and the anxiety went away and I just remember feeling so peaceful. I was that way for his whole trip. I just knew God was watching over him.
Wow, Pamela, what a powerful awareness: “I don’t want to start all over with a new friend.” Because, you’re right, it does take work to develop a friendship with someone else. Have you thought any more about that after you wrote to me? Are you still feeling that resistance to trying again?
I wonder… have you ever thought of God as your friend? Because Jesus calls us His friends in John 15:13-15. He laid down His life for us, His friends. Our obedience is a gesture of our friendship with Jesus. His talking with us is a sign of His friendship with us.
Thank you for sharing your experiences of sensing God’s presence through peace. It reminds me of the verse that talks about His “peace that passes understanding.”
In fact, that might be a good passage for you to meditate on, whether simply reading it every day or writing it out or reflecting on it through art or as you take a walk. Philippians 4:6-7 (NLT): “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.”
Use whichever translation resonates the most with you right now, or even look it up in a few different ones. I often find it interesting to see which words each one uses.
Maybe even see if you can hold those two ideas together: God is your friend, and so you can talk to Him about your worries and loneliness and not wanting to start all over with a new friend, and see if His peace finds you there in that place.
Again, I offer all this as an open invitation. Lean into what resonates with you, where God leads you. Let go of the rest. There is no pressure to respond to everything.
Know that I am praying for you, dear one, that you will be able to taste the sweetness of friendship with the Lord in a very real and tangible way.
Invitation to Written Spiritual Direction
Okay, that was a sample written spiritual direction session of a few emails back and forth. What do you think? There is more we could obviously address in our conversation together: maybe the need for her to grieve the loss of her friendship with Stacy, or grieving the loss of her children being at home, or past experiences where it was difficult for her to build friendships, or fears she might have of inviting someone new into her world. But that was a glimpse into what written spiritual direction can be like.
As I mentioned at the beginning, I settle into a different rhythm with each client of mine, based on their personality and writing style and even the time they have to engage with spiritual direction in this season, because it’s different for everyone.
But that’s part of the benefit of written spiritual direction, isn’t it? You’re able to write when you have the time and space to do so. When you can be quiet with your thoughts. When you’ve had time to reflect on what you want to say. And… you get a record of our correspondence so you can go back and review and see how God is moving in your life.
If this resonates with you and you want learn more about how my letter-writing style of spiritual direction works, you can go to lovedoesthat.org/spiritualdirection. I would be honored to walk alongside you for a season to see how God is moving in your own life, and maybe to sort through some questions or worries that are weighing on your heart right now.
Okay, my friends, that’s all for today. Thank you so much for being here with me. Until next time…
- Episode 25: What is Spiritual Direction, How Do I Know If I Need It, and Other Frequently Asked Questions
- Episode 33: Written Spiritual Direction: How Letters and Messages Can Create Space for God
- Episode 61: Perceiving God’s Presence and Love with Spiritual Director and Author Sharon Garlough Brown
- Episode 63: Using Christian Spiritual Practices to Draw Closer to God with Blogger and Writer Celia Miller
Learn more about Teresa Huff and the Grant Writing Simplified Podcast at www.teresahuff.com
INTERESTED IN WRITTEN SPIRITUAL DIRECTION?
I’d be honored to walk with you through a difficult season and help you discover God’s presence and work in your life.