Understanding Evil in Spiritual Direction

In my early years of training as a spiritual director the one area I wished I would have had more training in how to respond to evil. When I faced true evil, I was unprepared for the hatred, hostility, deceptiveness, and seductiveness evil sends our way. The consequences for me were quite traumatic, however, the gift of grace I received from the consequences are what drive me now.

Many of the new schools and programs of spiritual direction do not deal with the issue of evil. Also, many orientations of faith other than Christian do not recognize evil as a reality. And while spiritual directors are not supposed to be theodicists, we may not have an answer to the question of evil, but we do need to be able to help our directees discern and respond rather than react when faced with evil.

Stanley Hauerwas (a very competent theologian) writes, “For the early Christians, suffering and evil did not have to be “explained.”  Rather, what was required was the means to go on even if the evil could not be “explained.”[1]

One I understood the need for the ability to sense the presence of evil and to have the skills to overcome the spiritual complications it brings to human life and the divine/human relationship I sought out the skills and methodology for spiritual direction taught by Ignatius of Loyola. The skills to discern between desolation and consolation has vastly helped me to grasp the battle that surrounds us always.

Evil is about lies from the father of lies. Evil is about destruction, deception, doubt, despair, and death. Evil seeks to move us like cattle toward ignorance and arrogance. Evil does not like intimacy. Evil does not like vulnerability found in a complete surrender to the will of God. Evil understands that when we are weak, God is strongest in us. When God is close, loved as a lover, evil fades and fails. Still, we must remember evil never gives up.

Along with Ignatius, I have found the work of Frank Rogers and his book, Practicing Compassion, to be a great help in doing the basic work to help me be total available (save space) for my directee. Frank gives tools for compassionate living (which for me is learning to live with Christ on the journey of life) that can make us aware of how evil uses our issue on others. Evil knows our fears and so should we. Evil knows our longings and so should we. Evil knows our aching wounds and our gifts not recognized and so should we. If we do not know our own FLAG (fear, longings, aching wounds, gifts not recognized) we give evil the upper hand in our spiritual lives.

The question is not if we will encounter evil in spiritual direction for, we will. The question is will we be used by the enemy or will we be the vessel God uses to rescue others. This issue is not whether our directees will face the fierceness of the foe but when they face it will they be ready? What have we done to help them? I believe every session of spiritual direction needs to spend time in honest analysis of how the battle is going in the life of our directee. I wish my director had.

[1] John Swinton. Raging With Compassion: Pastoral Responses to the Problem of Evil (Kindle Locations 407-408). Kindle Edition.