Young adulthood is full of adventure and options. So much so that many young adults become adrift in a sea of possibilities. If you say “yes” to one option, you are saying “no” to others, and that can be difficult. Spiritual direction, especially when it’s focused on vocational discernment for young adults, can be a life-raft on that sea.
In my time as a spiritual director, I’ve been blessed to work over ten years with young adults in vocational discernment—helping them discover their “right livelihood.” Christian young adults sometimes wonder where and how God is calling them in the world of work. Seekers and those from other spiritual paths may describe their discernment as a quest to find a good fit, a good purpose and a sustainable income in the world.
There really is not a lot of difference in doing spiritual direction with young adults than with older people. The method of prayer, silence, deep listening, non-judgment and using open-ended questions to help the person find their own way is the same.
The difference is how open the spiritual director is to someone who has grown up in a digital world, lives comfortably and closely with technology, and who may need a lot of time and patience to navigate that stormy sea of possibilities. Young adult clients need spiritual directors who are comfortable with them “trying on” a lot of different paths in order to find what’s right for them. I have sat with young adults in vocational discernment who were looking at five or more possible options for graduate programs—and they wanted to do all of them! Yet as we talked about the concrete details involved in each one, new clarity would emerge. I’ve worked with young adults who said “no way” to a call to ministry and then had a heart-opening experience that helped them consider what they once resisted. (Many of them are now employed in a variety of forms of ministry.)
Young adults frequently need to discern issues around relationships. Yes, there can be a lot of drama in a young person’s life (I remember my twenties). Compassionate spiritual directors sit with the desolation of broken relationships, questions about sexuality and gender identity, and hold space for the anxiety that a young adult may feel about finding a life partner.
Here are a few tips for doing spiritual direction with young adults:
- They may want to meet you at a coffee shop for a session. This has pros and cons. A public place feels comfortable for them, but for an on-going direction relationship that will involve diving into deeper emotional waters, I recommend persuading them to meet you in a more private location, at least after that first visit. I’ve heard scary stories about private conversations being overheard—and commented on by outsiders—when direction took place in public.
- Emotions may run high. If you remain a non-anxious presence they get the message that it is just fine for them to “fall apart” in your presence. The best thing you can do is sit patiently and hold the space.
- I’ve encountered some young adults who don’t want to admit how important their romantic relationship is to them, and will try to be in discernment without considering the long-term relationship they desire. You may need to remind them that discernment requires that we take into consideration those other important people in our lives. And it’s OK to love someone and allow that love to limit your geographical location or otherwise shape your decisions.
- Young adults almost always appreciate when spiritual direction points them toward questions of social and economic justice. They love that St. Ignatius asks people in discernment to consider how their decision affects those who are weaker, poorer and less powerful. Questions about this will be rich and fertile ground in spiritual direction.
- Mention and promote your sliding scale. Many young adults are deeply in debt from student loans, low-paying jobs and the high cost of living. I’m happy to lower my rate to fit a young adult’s budget.
It’s tricky for an older adult, like myself, to make blanket statements about younger folks. What I’ve listed are just a few things I’ve noticed. I hope young adults reading this will add to the conversation, correct me where I’m off, and contribute to this list.
And I truly hope more young adults will enter spiritual direction as clients and then–if they feel so inclined–into spiritual direction formation and training programs. We all have a lot to learn from each other.
Are you interested in being in spiritual direction? I have openings in my schedule for new directees—regardless of where you live. I can work by phone or Skype or if you live in the Phoenix metro area we can meet in person. Contact me firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.teresablythe.net. Also visit my website for thePhoenix Center for Spiritual Direction.