Written by Evan J. Miller, a spiritual director from Goshen, Indiana, who is a staff member at Pathways Retreat, a spiritual retreat center for rest, renewal and reflection in Goshen. Evan is a member at Open Table Mennonite Fellowship (Goshen).
When Jen Helmuth Shenk was a stay-at-home mom with young kids, she felt a kind of spiritual restlessness. She was an active and committed church member, but spiritual practices that used to be meaningful had become stale and dry. “It was like I was eating the same old meat and potatoes diet, and I knew I needed something more… maybe not more variety… but more depth.”
Around her she noticed individuals who seemed to have a deep spirituality that she aspired to. In conversation, she heard them say things like, “I was talking about this with my spiritual director, and she said…”
Jen concluded, “I want what they have… a sense of depth that went beyond circumstances.”
Jen found meeting with a spiritual director different from any other relationship. “It’s such a natural deep listening,” she said. “My spiritual director is completely focused on tending my spirit and that holy space. A spiritual director keeps pointing you back to where God’s spirit is already at work, helping you see where God is in the midst of what is happening within and around you.”
Jen’s restlessness was both spiritual and vocational. While her children were little, she was a stay-at-home mom. Once they entered school, she started doing photography, first as a hobby, and then as a business. At the same time, Jen was becoming more involved in serving in the church and realized she didn’t have time to do both. Jen shared, “At one point I said to my spiritual director, ‘I just wish I could do this church work stuff and get paid for it.’ And my director answered, ‘Well, why couldn’t you?’”
With her director’s help, Jen formed a Clearness Committee to help her discern her path.
“For me, spiritual direction has always been a journey. I didn’t come out of the Clearness Committee saying ‘I’m going to be a pastor!’ I came out of it saying, ‘I’ll just keep saying yes to the next right thing.’”
The next right thing was serving on her congregation’s Worship Committee, then chairing that committee, then taking a seminary course, and then more classes. Eventually she learned of an opening in a local congregation that seemed like a great fit. “So I applied for it, and now I’m a pastor.”
She went on to explain, “It’s not like I came out of spiritual direction with a clear set of steps to follow on my life path. But taking that next step of applying for the position and seeing my gifts in a new light was a very pivotal shift for me. And that was directly due to receiving spiritual direction. It’s a continual journey.”
Is spiritual direction only for people who might become a pastor? For Jen, the answer to this question is an emphatic “No!” She explains: “I think anyone could benefit from that deep sense of awareness that God is in this space, with you, right now. It’s such a natural deep listening.”
Jen summarized spiritual direction like this, “It reminds me of when Jesus was tempted by Satan in the wilderness – Jesus was with the wild animals, and angels attended him. I think that a spiritual director is one of those angels that attends us in the wilderness. They don’t tame the wild animals, they don’t remove the wilderness or make it all better. But they are the ones who bring us these messages of truth in the midst of it all:
‘Don’t forget who you are. Don’t forget you are a beloved child of God. You are enough. God is with you.’”
Learn more about the Mennonite Spiritual Directors Network at mennosdn.org.