What Derails a Spiritual Director? The Hooks!

by Peggy Guiler








Posted by Peggy Guiler 


While speaking with a peer group yesterday we discussed the one thing which is most likely to derail us in our practice of spiritual direction, the hook. The one thing which sets our teeth on edge and draws us away from listening with the heart of the divine is when our own pain is triggered and we are hooked back into the place of fear and loneliness which that pain produces.

When I think of the hook I have a picture of Bugs Bunny being dragged off the stage with a large crook by some mysterious person behind the curtain. That is exactly how this crook makes me feel in my role as a spiritual director. Suddenly, when I am confident I am doing the right thing and putting on my best performance of doing the work of the Divine something drags me away, kicking and screaming and questioning my ability, my profession and my confidence.

For all of us, the hook may take different forms. In my case, it is the ignorance and intolerance of legalism in the church. It causes me great pain from personal experience of having the truth of the Bible distorted and used as a weapon to belittle, shame and ridicule me and someone I loved.
The result for me is that when someone I support as a spiritual director begins to extol the same sort of rigid, legalism I find it difficult to stay in the moment and listen to them. The anger rises. The pain jumps to the front of my brain. My own lack of forgiveness and my own judgments create a wall between us, albeit invisible, but present just the same.


As spiritual directors we have to know when to step back from supporting someone.  When our own experience interferes with the work of the spirit we must learn to recognize it, accept it and then find a solution to the problem.  Our first priority in that moment has to be the well being of the person in front of us.  Equally important is our own soul’s well being.  We have to make some choices.  

For the sake of both the directee and ourselves we may have to gently lead them to another spiritual director.  If we are able to catch ourselves and come back to the moment without the pain overwhelming the work the least we can do is to be sure we seek guidance and support for ourselves.  

The person we are supporting never needs to know about our struggle.  They are on their our journey and need to find the way without any guilt or burden we might place on them.  The bottom line of the Code of Ethics we follow is “Do no harm”.  That is our beacon.  

We all have those kinds of hurts in us which cause judgement and pain. We all hold some measure of unforgiveness for the hurts which have accumulated in our hearts. None of us is likely to ever be completely free of them but as we grow in our spirituality we begin to discover those things no longer have to control us. As we become more aware of ourselves and of the spirit of love we want to embrace and embody we become less controlled by the past and are more able to live for now.

This blog page is the joint work of the three Jubilee Programs in Canada.  Jubilee promotes spirituality and offers training in Spiritual Direction and spiritual formation.  Please feel free to contact us.