This past February, I started seeing my first couple of clients for spiritual direction. Sitting with people for accompaniment has really been a point of joy for me, even on days when I have a lot going on and it feels like a client session is just one more meeting on my daily schedule. It is a real honor to sit with my clients, to hold their stories with care, to be present to both their joy and pain, and to lift them up in prayer. I love this work.
I do struggle with imposter syndrome, though. I sometimes feel as though I have to be a certain kind of spiritual director, I have to say deep, profound things, or that I have to dress a certain way (I do joke about needing to expand my collection of chunky jewelry). Occasionally I feel as if I’m “not good enough” because I have off days, where I’m stressed or tired and I know that I am not being fully present, which can already be a struggle with my ADHD.
I had one such session recently. I’m in the process of preparing for a big cross country move to Denver, to finally close the gap between my partner and I, as we’ve been dating long distance for about a year. During this recent session, I went into the time occupied with lots of thoughts about the move and all the things I had to take care of. I felt incredibly self-conscious because it took me a little bit longer than usual to form questions and be fully present, and afterwards I felt crummy about it. My inner anxious voice was *certain* that my client was probably so offended by this lack of spiritual profundity that they were going to fire me.
Then, I had another session with the same client that was a complete 180. I made time beforehand to simply pray that I could be present and in so doing, be the person that my client needed that day. I tried not to be hard on myself when I noticed my mind wandering and just gently brought myself back to what my client was sharing. I could tell that my client and I both left this session feeling renewed and centered, and that was an amazing feeling.
This experience reminded me that the work of accompaniment does not demand perfection. The work requires integrity, deep listening, and loving, attentive presence, skills that develop with time and practice. I am not asked to be a sage, ready with a profound answer or insight to every problem, but to just show up as myself, ready to listen and pray, and let God do the rest. My job is not to fix, but simply to witness. So yes, there will be some days where my imposter syndrome is loud and I have a lot on my mind, but that’s okay. In my sessions, I am there to be there, to bring my full self and in so doing, create a space to hold my client’s full self.
All of this connects to the ongoing human struggle of just being. So many of the world’s spiritual traditions speak of the need for mindfulness in our daily lives, the letting go of distractions, worries, and judgments and being attentive to what the Divine is doing in the here and now. Allowing our thoughts, feelings, our whole selves to just be present. I think of how Jesus told his followers that God takes care of every living thing, from the little birds to the lilies of the field, and that includes us. “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” (Matthew 6:34). God’s got you, so why worry about what’s coming tomorrow, what you’re going to eat, or the 12 things on your to-do list? Just focus on right now.
Easier said than done, Lord.
Every day we receive countless messages from our families, peers, faith communities, jobs, and society at large as to who we should be, what we should think, how we should feel or what we should be doing. All of these things take us out of ourselves and don’t allow us to sit in the present moment.
As I’ve mentioned, in a few weeks I’ll be moving to Denver to be with my partner, Chad. The moving prep is just about complete and now I’m just waiting for the day to arrive. I’m making lists of new restaurants and cafés to try. I’m thinking about all the dates that my partner and I will be able to go on. I’m ecstatic! I’m happy! I’m ready!
And at the same time, there is this nagging sense that I should be sadder than I am. Why am I not torn up about leaving so many friends? Why am I not grieving the end of my time in this place?
The reality is, I am ready to leave Philly. To be clear, I have spent most of my life here, except for a brief stint in Boston, so I have already said goodbye once, which I suppose makes things easier. My roots are here, I have developed a beautiful community of friends and confidantes here, and my church home here has been so nourishing and healing. And at the same time, I am ready to see new places and meet new people, I have hurt and trauma in Philadelphia that I would like to put behind me, and most of all, I want to begin building a future with the love of my life.
When I brought all of this up in a recent session with my spiritual director, she asked me, simply, “What would it feel like to just allow yourself to be excited? To just let the grief come when it comes, if it comes at all?”
(This is what I love about spiritual direction. The simplest prompting or question by a director can really unlock so much insight that we may not have allowed ourselves to access, even if in the moment it may feel like you’re being dragged.)
That question was a reminder to return to simply being who I am, and feel whatever I may be feeling, without judgment. I could get on that plane and cry the entire flight, or I won’t. I may not feel the grief until a month or two later, and when it does, I’ll embrace it and work through it. With these few weeks that remain, I’m just allowing myself to be excited when I feel excited, or sad when I feel sad, but not pushing myself to feel one way or another. There’s a deep sense of peace in that for me.
My work with my clients reminds me that what is required of me is integrity, deep listening, and loving attentive presence. In offering spiritual direction to others, I am learning to give the same gifts to myself.
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