All relationships have a lifespan, and the relationship between a person and their spiritual director is no different. It is a shame when people hang on with a spiritual director out of a sense of duty or obligation. If you find you are no longer growing in the way you had hoped to grow spiritually with your director, then it is time to say goodbye. And it doesn’t have to be terribly awkward or sad for either party.
As one who has been a directee longer than I’ve been a director, I’ve ended a few spiritual direction relationships. In the best of cases, it was a meaningful closing session. In one case, I ended abruptly with no desire to discuss my reasons.
If a spiritual director needs to end a relationship with a client, our Code of Ethics[i] demands that we “bring the relationship to a satisfactory completion, perhaps with a ritual or ceremony and/or a review of the time shared (p14).” But, “when directees terminate, directors freely and graciously release them with no attempt at discussion (p15).”
It has been my experience (and that of many directors I know) that most directees who end with a director simply cancel an appointment and do not reschedule. Which is fine.
If that doesn’t feel right, what are some tips for saying “it’s over” to your director?
- Speak the truth in love. If you want to share your reasons for ending the relationship, then, by all means do. If you are unclear about your reasons or don’t want to share them, you are under no pressure to speak about them. If your director presses you, remind them of the Code of Ethics imperative that they “freely and graciously release them with no attempt at discussion.”
- End it in a way that feels comfortable for you. For some this will be a final closing session. For others it might be simple email, phone call or written letter. Again, you don’t have to give a reason unless you want to.
- Ask for a referral if you need one. It may seem strange to ask the director you are leaving for the name of another director but it’s useful. Spiritual directors in a region usually know of others to refer to. If you are willing to talk about what you need in a new director, this can help us help you find the right person.
- Offer to pray for the spiritual director you are leaving and ask him or her to continue to pray for you. Just because the monthly sessions are ending does not mean the bond you have built over time can’t remain strong.
- If the relationship has been good, keep the door open. You may find another spiritual director that is right for you for a season and later you may want to return to a previous director. Or you may just want to take a break from spiritual direction altogether with the option to someday return. Most spiritual directors will welcome you back—no questions asked—if they have openings.
Spiritual direction relationships are as different as the people who comprise them. It may take some time to find a spiritual director that fits for you. Some people stay with one spiritual director for decades. Others (like me) have mostly long term directors but change every few years because I want and need a different approach. And others come to spiritual direction for specific time-sensitive purposes—a short term discernment issue, a personal retreat, or a requirement from a religious institution for one reason or another. How long you stay in spiritual direction and with whom is completely up to you. Live into that freedom!
If you are interested in being in spiritual direction or discussing some aspect of spiritual direction with me, contact me at email@example.com or visit www.teresablythe.net. Also visit my website for the Phoenix Center for Spiritual Direction.
[i] A Code of Ethics for Spiritual Directors is published by the Center for Sacred Psychology and may be purchased for $5.00 at the Spiritual Directors International online store at https://secure.sdiworld.org/store/guidelines-and-brochures/35-dove-code-of-ethics.html. This booklet aptly describes spiritual direction, the essential qualities to look for in a spiritual director, and ethics and boundaries in spiritual direction.