When I meet someone new who is interested in learning what I do vocationally, I think carefully before offering an explanation for what I do. If the person hasn’t explicitly declared themselves as someone of faith or someone interested in spirituality (by context, association or overt statement), I often say something like, “I’m a spiritual director—sort of like a counselor for the spiritual life.” It’s an inadequate summary on many levels, but for those who are primarily engaged in social niceties, it works.
If the person I’m talking to has identified themselves as someone of faith, I usually go into a more detailed explanation of spiritual direction as the care of souls. I use the guiding image of my practice (“a midwife to the soul”), and usually field a few clarifying questions. Often enough, my conversational partner says something along the lines of “Oh, like discipleship” or “So you’re a mentor, then.”
“Not really,” I say, “but sort of.”
I wish I had a laminated handout of this chart to carry in my back pocket for these conversations. It’s one of the clearest and most useful breakdowns of the various helping disciplines in Christianity that I’ve yet found. I may laminate it, yet.