At certain seasons of the year, members of an Amazon River tribe will squat on the ground and refuse to move, saying that they are “waiting for their souls to catch up with their bodies.” That is often our need, too. Our world moves so fast that our souls need space and time to catch up—especially because in the midst of our busyness, we often forget to care for them.
Last week, I began to address this problem by enumerating some of the qualities of the soul, and this week, I am offering some suggestions for soul care:
1. Slow down.
Our souls move slowly, and they are our place of connection with God, who is found in the present moment. It is hard to live in the present moment when we are constantly rushing to the next thing. In Isaiah 30:15-16, the Lord says, “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it. You said, ‘No, we will flee on horses.’ Therefore you will flee!”
God knows that our souls need a slower pace in order to connect with Him and be refreshed. Psalm 23:1-3 says, “The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul.” Notice that sometimes God “makes” us “lie down in green pastures.” He doesn’t suggest it. He knows we need it.
2. Purposely seek God.
We can often trick ourselves into thinking we have peace in our souls by doing things like self-medicating with addictions and distractions, but ultimately, this kind of peace does not last. Eventually, our eyes will be opened, and the lack of peace in our souls will be revealed.
Psalm 42:1-2 says, “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?”, and Isaiah 26:9 says, “My soul yearns for you in the night; in the morning my spirit longs for you.” So, how do we fulfill this longing? How do we seek God?
One way is through prayer—talking to God and calling out for the Lord to fill us and comfort us with His presence. When we do this, we must be willing to vulnerable before God. As I mentioned last week, we read a lot of “raw” language associated with the soul—troubled, anguished, sorrowful, thirsty, longing, yearning, bitter… These are transparent, vulnerable words. When we are guarded before God and others, it’s very difficult to be in touch with our souls.
In addition to prayer, we seek God by interacting with His word—not only in Bible study that accumulates knowledge, but also through devotional reading, which means listening and reflecting deeply or putting ourselves in the story and asking the Spirit to speak to us through it.
Finally, we can seek God in solitude and silence—listening in stillness—and in community. Soul care and spiritual growth require both. As members of the Body of Christ, God works in and through each of us for the benefit of the whole. Our souls are brought together in His Body, and we can seek God in the Body of Christ as He works in and through us for the benefit of one another. We need each other to help search our hearts and souls.
3. Put yourself in environments where God can be met.
It’s true that we can find God anywhere at any time, but some environments are better than others when it comes to our ability to listen to God. Mother Teresa once said, “We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature—trees, flowers, grass—grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence... We need silence to be able to touch souls.”
Jesus sought places where His soul could best meet His Father. He went away alone into the wilderness many times. We should look to Him as our example.
On my first spiritual retreat, I took no work—no computer, no documents, no books—just the Bible. The first couple of hours were restless and painful, but then I found peace. This is often the pattern I have to work through when I try to connect my soul to God. It goes against my nature to slow down and be silent, but that is often what it takes. When I went to Africa this summer, I resolved not to turn on the TV in my room for a week. It was refreshing and good for my soul.
As I said earlier, we not only need to seek God in solitude and silence, but also in community, so we need to intentionally put ourselves in environments with other believers. After all, there is always a war going on for our souls—even if we don’t see it. It is a war between desires, and we need each other to help us notice and resist sinful and distracting desires.
1 Peter 2:11 says, “Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul.” These sinful desires are always seeking to replace holy desires in our souls because we often try to answer the soul’s cry for God with other things.
It’s important to note that, while these other things can be sinful, they are not always overtly so. They can be simple distractions or mild “addictions” like social media, TV, video games, hobbies that have gotten out of hand, and other ways we self-medicate. Hebrews 12:1-2 says, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” So, there are “hindrances” to be aware of as well as sins, which is why we need to slow down from time to time and meet God in solitude and community in order to care for our souls.
If we neglect our souls, there will be consequences, just as there would be if we neglected our bodies. The state of our souls affects the entirety of our being, so we must take time to quietly listen to our souls and to the invitations God makes to them. We need to respond to the invitation of Jesus, who tells us in Matthew 11:28-30 to come to Him so that we may find “rest for our souls.” Take a moment and receive His full invitation as it is recorded in The Message:
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”