“Those of us who care for others do not wish to admit we can break ourselves. We are the capable ones, the ones who hold the keys to health, strength and power. But we DO break…an accumulation of distress and sadness from the external world of our caring, combines with the strata of distress already in our souls.”
These words are from Bob Whorton’s book, Voices from the Hospice, Staying with Life through Suffering and Waiting. I especially resonate with the phrase “the strata of distress already in our souls.” And since this session is on Soul Care, this passage seemed all the more relevant. Granted, everything I’ve picked up over the past few weeks has seemed relevant! The Holy Spirit seems to be directing my eyes, emblazoning my brain, and walking me through personal distress daily to make this topic very, very real.
So, I wonder…is there ever a time when your soul is NOT trying to communicate? When it is ever “unimportant” or “beside the fact”?
I am not generally an in-your-face type of person. But very bluntly I ask you, do you recognize your soul? Do you know it’s many moods? The various murmurs, tones or cries of it’s voice? How about any subtle body language? Just like with anyone close to our heart, we don’t always need words to know what is being said. Do you know your soul this well?
I have observed a tendency in our AG type—you know, front-line missionary workers, crusaders against all that is wrong in the world—and that tendency is to ignore the soul. Oh, not other people’s souls—especially not the wounded, deceived or ravaged souls that are encountered as we work to combat sexual exploitation and human trafficking—those souls we go to the mats for. But, what of our own souls? I fear that they are most often unacknowledged, ignored or even disdained. Too often we turn a deaf ear. We wall off our “neediness” and just try harder, work more, push the limits…because surely God will be pleased. Do you recognize this mindset?
When I came to the Lord at the age of 30, it was from a completely unchurched background and with being decades deep in California hedonism. My pastor at that time preached a very hard line against “the self and its desires” and I assumed that anything having to with “me, my, mine” was to be avoided altogether. Sacrifice, obedience, submission were the new bywords and my misunderstanding of their true meaning and place in my life resulted in plenty of pain. Maybe that’s why this following quote from Gavin Knight, my current pastor, is meaningful…”A willingness to look at ourselves honestly and thoughtfully is NOT yet another platform for egocentric behavior. On the contrary, the process demands both psychological and spiritual insight…Honest soul searching and self-reflection are necessary tools to help avoid the lack of insight that can lead to spiritual sloth…” I believe God invites us, nudges us, and even crowds us toward good soul care. If He cares for us—body, soul and spirit–then who are we to do less.
So, assuming I’ve made my case strongly enough and you are wondering how you might improve your soul care…here is another quote that I love. I would tattoo this on my body if it wasn’t unseemly for a missionary of a certain age to have paragraphs inked all over…
From Parker Palmer’s book, A Hidden Wholeness:
“The soul is like a wild animal…tough, resilient, resourceful, savvy, and self-sufficient: it knows how to survive in hard places. Yet despite its toughness, the soul is also shy. Just like a wild animal, it seeks safety in the dense underbrush, especially when other people are around. If we want to see a wild animal, we know that the last thing we should do is go crashing through the woods yelling for it to come out. But if we will walk quietly into the woods, sit patiently at the base of a tree…the wild creature we seek might put in an appearance.”
“It knows how to survive in hard places.” I’ve had a soul-stressing time recently. I am guilty of crashing through the woods yelling for my soul to stop being so sensitive, stop being so introverted, stop being so gun-shy of past abuses that it sees them rearing their ugly heads again in the present. Sometimes I rationalize and minimize away my soul’s distress. I take a firm “mother” tone and command it to be like the other kids. None of this helps, of course. My soul goes to ground, scrabbling for roots and berries to survive until the Killer Ky finally settles down or goes away. The truth is, I cause damage to my soul.
This is how I’ve come to recognize my trespass against my own soul—you’ve heard the famous line “Follow the money”? Well, I’m learning to follow the shoulds. I have a ruthless inner critic that hounds me with shoulds, shames me with shoulds, even uses scripture as a weapon of shoulds, rather than an instrument of safety and healing. If “should” comes up in my inner dialogue, I must take immediate notice, apply discernment and pray or I go down a lonely, miserable path. I do not believe that this is what God intends for me! So I ask Him to help me learn, I ask Him to use His rod and staff to comfort me, to bring me into wholeness. I want with all my heart to be what my Lord intended from the beginning.
There are many “beginnings” in our lives. My mom used to tell me that I was a sunny, happy little girl. My given name, Kathleen Ellen, means Pure Light and that is how she described me in my earliest years. At the age of four, I was sexually abused by someone outside of my family. The lies I was told about being bad and the threat that no one would love me if they knew what I had done struck deep into my heart. I was shaken to the core and secrecy and fear took root. As a young woman, I tried living fast and loose in order to appear confident and unafraid. Fortunately, God was not fooled and He revealed Himself to me as real and powerful and caring. It was a year or so before I learned of Jesus and then my habitual worry of being accepted and fitting into this new community called the church caused me to try too hard in my own right to be a good Christian, a good missionary, a good wife, a good mother. It went on for years! Looking back, I think learning to let God love me and grow me has been hard work! But He is relentless in His love for us, He will continue His pursuit, His wooing. My last 10-12 years have been rich in glimpses of what He might have intended from my beginning. I slip, I stumble, I thrash about still, but when I take the time to hear His invitation, to sit still and quiet beneath some soulscape tree, I learn of His love. That is the true beginning…
What did your beginning look like? What has shaped your understanding of your soul, your God, your life work? Who had God intended you to be from the beginning?
Maybe this poem of Dallin Vines brings some images, some remembrances:
I am a story
Written by hands that would
Weave me in wonder.
Faint footsteps print the map
Of my journey, tongue telling
Lone tales of adventure and pain…
I am my story.
I am a history
Turn my pages you’ll find
My father lifting me high,
Women’s laughter, fire
Throwing it’s light on taut faces…
I am my history.
I am a pilgrimage,
Bound in the leaves of faith shared
Through lost seasons, their
Branches whispering to roots
Wrapped deep in the soil
Of my planting.
Faltering wayfarer, feeble follower,
I am my pilgrimage.
What is your story? What is your history? Where are you on your pilgrimage?
How is it that you find yourself sitting in this room at this time in your life? How does your soul relate to it all?
I’d like to take a few moments now and invite you to retreat within yourself and ask the Lord to sit with you at the base of that imaginary tree and watch for your soul to make its appearance. If she is not too shy and she does show herself in the next 10-15 minutes, what is she communicating to you? What is your response?
I’ve included some prompts for you – but feel free to write and reflect as the Holy Spirit directs you.
Perhaps you would like to just close your eyes and rest. Allow the music to carry you gently to restoration and peace in God. My first prayer retreat leader said that sometimes the most spiritual thing we can do is take a nap!
However you decide to finish this session, please know that both Bill and I are available to you for additional conversation or prayer. Catch us at meal time or send us an email, we would welcome your contact.
Meanwhile, as Sheldon Vanukken and CS Lewis were fond of saying, “Go under the Mercy and may all be well with your soul…”
For Further Reflection: