This is the second of a two-part series on soul care. Click here for part one.
“The human soul longs for things higher, warmer, and purer.” Alexander Solzhenitsyn
“To become ourselves is to enjoy God in alignment with the way He created us to be.” Crossway Devotional Psalter
Once upon a time, a group of missionaries serving in Africa in the 1800s hired local villagers, who knew the land and pathways well, as porters to help carry supplies to another mission station. On the first two days of the arduous trek, the porters walked at a much slower pace than the missionaries desired. On day three, they urged the porters to go faster and faster. And they did. Sitting around the fire that night, the missionaries congratulated the porters and rejoiced over how far they’d traveled.
But on the morning of the fourth day, the porters would not budge. They refused to even load up the packs.
“What’s wrong?” asked the missionaries.
“We cannot go any further today,” replied their spokesman.
“Why not? Everyone appears well.”
“Yes,” said one of them, “but we went so fast yesterday that we must wait here for our souls to catch up with us.”
When I was a busy, overwhelmed, exhausted mom I thought often of this story. It may just be a fable, but it speaks to a deep truth. Recently I told the story to my daughter, Ashley, who is a mom to seven boys and has been a foster mom to over 20 children. She was feeling an unusual level of weariness, more than one good night’s sleep could cure. As we talked on the phone, I suggested perhaps her soul had been left behind years ago.
On another call with my Rebecca, mom of five, I suggested she put her psalter (book of Psalms) in her car so on Tuesdays and Thursdays, when she leaves her youngest at preschool she’ll have a few minutes of quiet to sit in the parking lot and read, to talk to God and pray before running off to do errands.
I’m praying I can help my daughters do what I failed to do for myself. And I’m praying as I make these suggestions that I will be gentle and helpful, not adding any stress to their souls! Or yours! I want to be your cheerleader and encourager, too.
A portion of the Bible that most children learn or memorize in Sunday School is Psalm 23 which contains the line, “He restores my soul” (Psalm 23:3). The word restore means refresh, bring back, return, repair. God values my soul so much Jesus came to die for its restoration. But once redeemed we need to regularly come to Him for ongoing restoration and soul health.
My list of soul foods
In my last post I suggested you begin to make a list of what feeds your soul. As promised, here is an abbreviated version of a list I began last year, adding to it as I experienced life, noticing what drained me and what fed me. And I talked to God about it all.
1. Reading and studying God’s Word. I learned more than 25 years ago that I need the discipline of signing up for a Bible study, paying for the study guide, and the accountability of attending weekly to seriously focus on God’s Word without as many interruptions. Without the classes other things always squeezed out my good intentions.
As a result, I resolved that I would be in regular Bible study classes until the day I die. And except for travel, summer breaks or health reasons, I have been in these classes annually ever since. Today I know God exponentially more than I would have without them. The cumulative result has been a little like taking classes at a seminary only in smaller doses which my mommy-ministry-life needed for success.
Now that I don’t have a house full of kids needing me at the break of dawn, I enjoy reading God’s Word and studying it on my own in addition to my classes. Lately I’ve been circling the word “soul” in my Bible every time I find it. It’s a bit like a treasure hunt to discover what God means. Here is one: “Take care, and keep your soul diligently…” (Deuteronomy 4:9). Makes sense to me. But another, “For the word of God is … piercing to the division of soul and of spirit …” (Hebrews 4:12), is a perplexing mystery, as is God Himself!
Feeding my soul spiritually is most important because I want to know God as He is and to see His hand guiding me in all my other soul work. Growing in Christ means I’ll recognize Him more clearly.
2. Slowing down to rest and think. The best way to practice regular rest is to keep the Sabbath (read my previous thoughts on Sabbath here). Yet I sometimes find that I need more. My mother says that when I was in kindergarten and first grade, I rarely was ready to walk out the door on time. She would find me sitting on my bed swinging my legs day-dreaming as I looked out my window.
That little dreamer girl is still in me. I am a slow processor of information and emotions. I need places of alone time to think, talk out loud to God, to make sense of my world. When I’m rushed I forget things. I can do fast-paced days fueled by adrenaline … I can be a workaholic, but if I don’t plan for my soul to catch up it’s not good for me, my marriage or my family.
My soul needs pauses. A slow at-home day to follow an out on-the-go day. I plan my calendar now with these soul needs in mind, keeping Mondays and Fridays as home days, as often as I can. I work to keep appointments, errands, meetings on the middle three days of the week. I’ve learned it helps me keep pace and balance and protects spaces for rest and refreshment.
3. Reading books that take me outside my own world. Over decades of life I have learned that even if I do a good job planning for times of rest, life doesn’t always cooperate. Crises, the needs of others, and over commitments create seasons with far fewer soul-refueling opportunities than I would like. A good book about another era or another culture brings renewed perspective to my own little place on this planet.
I love books that inspire, challenge my imagination or encourage my faith, like missionary biographies or historical books. Church histories strengthen my soul to believe God more. Other favorites include the Chronicles of Narnia, The Inheritance Cycle, or books by Madeleine L’Engle, George McDonald, J.R.R. Tolkien and many others.
4. Time to process with Dennis. I cannot be whole or healthy without my husband who loves me, is my best friend, and cares for my well-being. The Trinity exists together as a perfect family and we who are made in His image are made to be completed by others, in marriage or in deep friendships. As another verse about the soul says, “the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul” (1 Samuel 18:1). As long as I am married, my husband must be connected to my soul and me to his.
5. Good sleep. I confess I have made an idol out of sleep, as have most moms who’ve ever lived. Getting good sleep does not always happen as I wish even in these empty nest years. I’m still learning to trust God with all that I lack including lack of sleep. Still I anticipate daily how to get to bed when I need to and how early I can schedule things the next day. It’s an ongoing juggling act!
6. Glorious music reminds me there is much to look forward to in heaven. This often-hard life isn’t all there is. Beautiful music lifts my soul toward heaven and touches my soul with transcendence. And not just hymns of faith, though they are very important to the health of my soul. I find that, in the words of Thomas Dubay in The Evidential Power of Beauty, “elegant music is profoundly mysterious, moving, and delightful.”
Great music can stir emotion, inspire action, evoke memories; it even moves us to tears. Dubay writes, “it reaches the passions without passing through the mind.” Great hymn and song writers and composers of symphonies were led by the hand of God. Music it has been said is the language of heaven. One day we will know if that is true!
7. Physical well-being. My soul and body are connected. Therefore when my body is well I feel good about myself. Good health, of course, isn’t guaranteed nor will it last, but taking care of the body does touch the soul. When I’m consistently exercising and eating well my soul is also encouraged.
8. Creating beauty. Like other items on my list, I began to recognize this love in my childhood, but then I thought it was a very small talent, not necessary for my well-being. I remember in first grade discovering how colors worked next to one another as I happily filled in the spaces in my coloring books with crayons. In late elementary school I began using my brother’s little glass jars of paint, bought for his model airplanes, to paint pictures of our backyard on pieces of cardboard.
I’ve learned my soul craves creative food. In the years I was a full-time mommy I had DIY projects going regularly: sewing, cross-stitching, quilting, painting rooms, creating gardens, refinishing or painting furniture, learning calligraphy, and more. Though I did not understand these projects in terms of “soul food,” they surely were.
Sadly, I often felt guilty for these pleasures, not understanding that the way God made me was good. My soul was demanding the food that nourished me. Like satisfying physical thirst with a glass of water, so these projects slaked my soul thirst.
My creative activities today include writing, painting, and developing new resources for Ever Thine Home. Creating beauty for me hasn’t always been with brush and paint, but with needle and thread, or fabric and yarn, or seeds and dirt. All of these ways I create beauty are a reflection of my soul, the person God created me to be for His glory and praise. He is pleased when I express what He’s put within me for His glory.
A beautiful word picture of our souls
Blogger Helena Sorensen tells the story of a trip she took to Utah one year in early spring. Driving from base camp, a resort 9,600 feet above sea level, her purpose was to visit Bryce Canyon National Park and Zion National Park.
She writes beautifully about leaving lingering snow in the mountains and driving through alternating forests and deserts, breathing chilled air that was “full of—something—uncertainty or anticipation—a sense of almost. The ends of the tree branches were plump, bulging with buds too shy to blossom.”
Once she and her companion arrived at the parks, they camped for several nights. Then, weary and ready for modern comforts they turned their car north. Hours later, as they again neared the snowy elevations, she heard, “This is your heart.”
Her initial reaction was one of surprise at the sound of those words, but the implication was clear. The vast and varied terrain of Utah was a picture of her inner being. Her long held desire for mastery of her inner soul and heart was no more possible than gathering together all the landscapes she’d seen into one single photograph.
One day all the seemingly disconnected parts of who we are will be fully integrated, fully balanced and will all make sense. On that day when sin and shame are no longer clinging to our souls and flesh, when we are with Jesus face to face, “we shall know fully, even as we have been known” (1 Corinthians 13:12b), and we will be “transformed … from one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18).
Until that day, the work of our souls is the work of a lifetime. Restoring the soul, the inner person that is all of me, contains places as deep as valleys and as rugged as mountains that can only be mastered, ordered and shaped by the Spirit of God Himself.
Like Helena, I have wished to order and manage my soul like I order and manage the things in my home with sheets in one closet, towels in the bathrooms, coats and outer wear in yet another location. What I loved seeing in this post was the impossibility of my desire. That knowledge comforts me. It assures me this impossibility is good for me as He continues to guide me to greater and greater dependence on Him.
That God knows me, restores my soul, and is gently guiding me in “paths of righteousness for His name’s sake” (Psalm 23:3), is a wonder. A worshipful, humbling wonder.
May you be encouraged to walk with God on this journey of knowing and developing your soul; all of who He created you to be, as He reveals it to you. May you discover what He has for you today and in the future, if Jesus tarries in His return. And may you rest in His plans and timing which are always perfect.
I would love to hear what you are learning.