What are your thoughts about the key distinctions?
Probably the biggest difference is the nature of the story you tell. When you go to confession, you’re telling the story of your sins and failings. When you go to spiritual direction you’re bringing the entire story of your life with God. You may be talking about your prayer life, you may be talking about a decision you need to make, you may be talking about something that has inspired you, you may be talking about questions you have. It’s certainly possible that you’ll talk about areas of weakness or failings, but that’s not the only area of discussion.
A second difference is time. I usually spend an hour talking with my spiritual director. I don’t spend anywhere near that amount of time in confession. It’s possible that if someone has made an appointment for confession it may last longer than the usual Saturday-afternoon timing and there may be some element of spiritual direction involved, but that probably wouldn’t happen on a regular basis.
A third difference is who can offer confession versus spiritual direction. Confession is a sacrament and requires a priest. Spiritual direction may be done by a priest, but may also be done by a deacon, religious, or lay person. If someone would prefer direction from a married person or from a woman, those are options.
A fourth difference is that we are required to go to confession while spiritual direction is optional for most people.
Wow - excellent and thorough answer! I agree