Looking for Cairns Together

by Tyler Connoley

Almost twelve years ago, I moved from the Midwest to the Southwest. I had just finished a Master of Arts in Religion, and was starting a new adventure in a new place with my spouse of three years. I knew I would need a companion on the journey, who could help me discern my next steps. So I sought out a Spiritual Director.

Little did I know I was beginning a relationship that would last years. My Spiritual Director, Teresa Blythe, walked with me in those first few months in New Mexico as I found myself floundering in what I had thought was a vocational calling to full-time writing. (It turns out that’s a bad fit for an extrovert.) A few years later, she helped me listen for God’s voice when I began to feel a call to ordained ministry, and was with me throughout my Master of Divinity. She followed me into a long dark night of the soul, when a horrific church split rocked my theological foundations, and she helped me piece together a new theology that worked for me. Now, she’s walking with me as I move from the desert I love to a (yet unknown) calling in another part of the world.

In each of these steps on my journey, I found myself in need of some clarity. Having someone there who was trained to listen with me to the Spirit of Wisdom helped me find the path I should follow. It was as if I were walking in the desert, on a road marked only by cairns. When I lost the path, and needed to find the next cairn, I had someone there to help me in the search. I probably could have found the cairns on my own, but having a Spiritual Director helped me find them more-quickly.

Having an ongoing, years-long, relationship with a Spiritual Director also held other benefits I hadn’t expected. I remember one particularly hard December, when I was feeling quite “agnosticy” (my word for those times when I find myself bereft of God, and wandering in unbelief). Teresa, who had been meeting with me for several years by that point, gently pointed out that this was my third agnosticy December in a row. “Let’s explore why December might be a dry spiritual time for you,” she said. In the conversation that followed, I discovered that the busy-ness of the Holiday Season often leads me to set aside spiritual practices that feed me. So, it makes sense that I feel spiritually lost when I’m “too busy” for spiritual things. Now, I’m more careful in November and December — and I’m easier on myself when I’m feeling agnosticy.

If you’re a lay leader, an ordained minister, or any person who cares about your spiritual journey, I’d recommend finding a Spiritual Director who can walk with you. This relationship is so important that I schedule the next year’s worth of sessions every December, putting them on the calendar so I know they’ll be there when I need them. You can find a Spiritual Director who suits your personality and beliefs at Spiritual Directors International.

Whatever your journey, may you always have companions to help you find the next cairn pointing the way to the future.

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