Spiritual Direction for Young People
Mary Oliver in her poem, The Summer Day, poses the question, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
In our early years, adults usually make the important decisions for children, such as what schools they will attend; whether they go to church, mosque or temple as a family; what kinds of experiences outside of school (vacations, camps, clubs and sports, exposure to the arts and music lessons), chores and part-time jobs they will be exposed to.
At a certain point, however, these same young people will be making decisions that are key for them. What gives them the most satisfaction? Where do they love to spend their time, their energy? What makes them feel most alive? Who are the people who bring out the best in them? Parents and other caring adults would do well to pay attention to those things, to notice what they are naturally good at, but sometimes, adults are distracted. They might have their own ideas about what they’d like their children to do with their lives, perhaps follow in their footsteps, perhaps have the opportunities they missed out on as children.
The values and talents and aptitudes that children come into the world with are part of their inherent identity, but unless they are encouraged to explore these things, they might spend countless hours just drifting, watching and interacting with the many screens available to them on phones, laptops and video games.
Young people can ignore these bigger questions or put them off to a later time in their lives, and many young people do. It is relatively easy to go from one item on their schedule to another, taking cues from the society of peers, family, and culture that formed them.
But when the time comes, and it does for most of us, to wake up and look at where they’ve been, where they are now, and where they want to go, who and what they want to be, spiritual direction can be a place where those questions are honored and given the time and space they need to resolve or at least to intentionally acknowledge.
In one hour session at a time, in the company of a deliberately nonjudgmental listener, it is truly remarkable how a young person can learn to focus their attention and seek the answers that are in their own hearts and spirits, to seek the direction that their own spirit is trying to lead them in. Some young people have a name for that spirit, depending on their own affiliation with a religion or practice, but some may not. Some, because of experiences both positive and negative, have good reasons for how they name this invisible but very real part of them.
It’s not that the spiritual director knows best what is good for them, or even has any advice. It is more the opportunity to delve into their own hearts and minds in the company of someone who is listening deeply with them, who may ask questions but will never steer the boat. How refreshing it can be to be in the company of someone who doesn’t have a vested interest in one route or another, just the sacred curiosity and trust that the young person knows in their heart of hearts and will come to their own conclusions in time, given the grace of acceptance and compassionate presence.
I spent most of my young adult years trying to be the person my parents, then my role models wanted me to be, having given up on being myself. The self I knew was too flawed, too scattered, too timid and definitely not good enough to follow my dreams.
It has taken decades to believe that the person I was created to be has a place in this world that only I can occupy, and work to do that only I can do, work that can make a difference in the world I live in and care about.
I love to accompany others on their path to the interior life, that precious blueprint that will lead them on their way. Contact me if you are interested in spiritual direction. I’d love to hear from you.