Being a Spiritual Friend

2016 Los Angeles Religious Education Congress

Theme: Boundless Mercy

Name of Talk: “Spiritual Friendship: The Art of Receiving and Offering Gentle Wisdom”

Speaker: Dr. Robert J Wicks

On February 26th through the 28th I attended, what many people have dubbed, Congress. I’m not going to get into the details of what congress is or what it aims to accomplish. What I am going to do is share my own personal experience of the classes I took. I’ll be writing a summary of the entire event later on. But for now, I’m going to focus on one talk at a time. And the first talk was about how to be a good spiritual friend. I will preface this by saying this event is a mostly Catholic/Christian event heavily centered on spiritual health and the human relationship with Jesus Christ, God, and the Holy Spirit. You may not agree with the theology, but maybe we can agree on the heart of the message.

I’ll start off by saying that my team recommend I take this class. So when your own Confirmation team is telling you that you need to take a class on spiritual friendship, they clearly are trying to tell you something. I had never attended Congress before. And to sit in the large ballrooms and walk through the exhibitors section can be very overwhelming. But I was excited. I was ready to be “spiritually fed.” I was ready to be fed because I had been struggling. I was struggling with how to lead my Confirmation team. I was struggling to change myself into a better leader and example for my team to follow and learn from. When you spend six years teaching, you’re ready to learn again. I was ready to be a student again.

Dr. Robert J. Wicks (Availability: The Challenge and the Gift of Being Present) started off by saying there are four types of friends: the Prophet, the Cheerleaders, the Harasser, and the Spiritual Friend. His focus today was about being the Spiritual Friend. He gave us tools and advice on how to be a good spiritual friend. And this is the kind of person I am – I need tools, a checklist, goals, or a step by step breakdown of how things work. It’s a strength of mine and also my greatest weakness. I tend to interject. I’m rude. I’m crude. I want people to get to the point. All in all, I lack respect when I’m talking to people. I don’t listen. I’ve been told this many times. It wasn’t until Friday night that I truly understood the value of listening.

The first thing we need to understand is that we change. We’re different people in our 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s. Spiritual friends need to change. You’re spiritual director needs to change as well. It’s okay. A spiritual friend needs to be serious. You need to be a “soul friend.” A soul friend is nothing to joke about. Also, you may not like what you have to hear. You may not like to say what you have to say. But being a good spiritual friend requires us to be honest while simultaneously being compassionate and merciful, just like our “abba.” Of course, this is only a brief summary of what I picked up. I HIGHLY recommend you read Dr. Wicks’ books or listen to him speak. I’m not going to do his talk justice.

The other point we need to understand is if we’re going to be a good spiritual friend/director, than we need to know what makes us seek out soul friends. What is it they provide that makes them such effective friends?

The Art of Receiving

If someone is trying to tell you something, it means we need to wake up to it. If you’re being told you’re too bossy, too rude, too hard, too soft, too easy, it’s because you need to wake up to it! It’s damaging you and the people around you. We have to be willing to listen to what is being pointed out because it may be the thing that we’re ignoring most.

A good spiritual friend is contagious.  When you’re talking to your spiritual friend, do you receive peace? Do they create an encouraging and accepting space? What is your experience of them? Does this spiritual friend or director make you wonder why your faith isn’t like that? Not in a jealous way! Spiritual jealously won’t get you anywhere. Does this friend have an encouraging and contagious holiness that sparks a fire within you? Do you get a sense of awakening to God? Does your spiritual friend introduce you to the other half of your soul? If not, it’s time to find a new one.

Your spiritual director can only do just that: direct! In a great moment for metaphors, Dr. Wicks points out that your life has a unique terrain only you can navigate. His journey is different from others. Mine is different from yours. And yours is different from theirs. There is no map that can be given to you to navigate the terrain of your life. You must map out your own life. When we receive guidance from a friend we must accept that it’s just guidance.

The Art of Giving

Find that inner calm. If we’re going to be a good spiritual friend then we need to find out what brings peace to our lives. How do we get to that calm center? We get it through time and practice and receiving spiritual advice gracefully and wholeheartedly. We receive it by finding ways to navigate the terrain of our lives. We are already so (and I think his phrasing of it is genius) inwardly oppressed that it can be hard to receive advise. If you’re going to give advice to an inwardly oppressed person you need to reflect on what the person is saying. Just listen. No, really, listen! Shut up and listen. Don’t jump the way others jump. The best advisers are ones who listen.

Give the Spirit. You are a representation of God. Not just to those we advise or direct but to the whole world. And if we’re meant to be a soul friend then we need to offer presence. We need to offer safety. We need to create a space where our friends can have an opportunity to “listen to the melody of the Holy Spirit.” Don’t get in the way of the message.

Love. When we suffer we grow in ways we otherwise never would have. We must humble ourselves. Knowledge and humility leads to wisdom. Wisdom and compassion equals love. We must respond to what people need. That requires a radical openness that many fear. It requires humility. It requires that we listen. It requires that we love.

A spiritual person is a person of prayer, scripture, and compassion. They are a person that responds to the needs of others. They live a life wrapped in gratitude.

Final/Random Thoughts

Adopt a Gospel to find a personal connection with.

Teachers affect eternity. There is no way to measure what their teachings have effected.

Live a short distance from the body.

Be in the now. Not nostalgia.

And finally: learn to live completely without knowing all the answers to everything.