These days evoke bone-deep exhaustion. As this over-the-top-difficult year wears on and hopes for a summer reprieve or a maskless fall fade, some days I struggle to muster up positivity. I’ve heard I’m not alone. Apparently many of us wrestle with the lack of normalcy, inability to plan a way forward, and uncertainty of how long “this” will last. Even people who affirmed at the beginning of the pandemic that the downtime provided a much-needed time of rest, now confess their longing for the dark tides to recede. But any potential conclusion remains hidden.
After five months in this COVID-19 world, I’m not just physically and mentally weary. My soul is weary.
Two weeks ago I started pressing into my need for soul care. While most of us know how to proactively care for our physical or mental health (whether we choose to or not), we often don’t understand how to care for our souls. We haven’t been taught the dangers of letting the soil of our hearts go unattended. We ignore the warning signs. And then one day we feel dry and lifeless, with no idea how to reignite our hardened heart.
If any of this resonates with you, take courage! Sit with me and listen to the words a loving father shared with his child:
My child, pay attention to what I say; turn your ear to my words. Do not let them out of your sight, keep them within your heart; for they are life to those who find them and health to one’s whole body. Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. Keep your mouth free of perversity; keep corrupt talk far from your lips. Let your eyes look straight ahead; fix your gaze directly before you. Give careful thought to the paths for your feet and be steadfast in all your ways. Do not turn to the right or the left; keep your foot from evil. (Proverbs 4:20–27)
Three pearls of soul care wisdom we can gather:
1) Above all else, guard your heart. If we think of “above all else” as a statement of priority or hierarchy of competing influences, what could “above all else” mean in your life today? Before you start work in the morning… Before you give in to a temptation that keeps calling your name… Before you listen to the lies of condemnation from yourself or others insisting you’re not good enough… Above all of these things, proactively build a hedge of protection around your heart. The word for heart here in the original Greek indicates the “internal life” of a person or the whole person. In other words: your soul. And the NET translation says to guard your heart with all vigilance. Guarding our heart takes priority and requires effort. And just a note: guarding our heart doesn’t mean shutting it off to other people, God, or emotions. Guarding our heart means opening ourselves up to God and proactively choosing to soak our souls through choices characterized by the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, and self-control).
2) Everything you do flows from your heart. Why is soul care so important? Because letting our guard down impacts every aspect of life. The state of our soul affects us internally through what we think and feel. And the state of our soul impacts us externally through the decisions we make and the actions we take. Spend a moment praying through this statement: Everything I do flows from the core of my being. If your core is saturated with life-giving practices, the outflow of your thoughts, feelings, and actions will reflect a well-watered soul. If your core isn’t watered with life-giving practices, the outflow of your thoughts, feelings, and actions will reflect a dry and hardened soul. What constitutes life-giving practices? These vary by person and by season. Practices could include listening to praise music or an app that has sounds like ocean waves or birds at a lake. A 15-minute break for silence and solitude may bring life to your soul. Reading one psalm a day or praying through verses like Proverbs 3:4–5 or Proverbs 4:23 may offer the living water your soul desires. Taking a nature walk or spending a few hours at an arboretum or the zoo might light a spark in your soul. Be creative, start small, and commit to consistency as you discover what brings life to your soul.
3) What goes in also comes out. We often don’t realize the direct correlation between what we feed our hearts and minds, and the way our hearts and minds react. Recently, my husband and I watched a series about the history of drug trafficking in Colombia. Although informative, the series was filled with harsh realities, including violence and foul language. As the series progressed, I started experiencing repercussions. My dreams became restless. Words I heard in the shows permeated my mental dialogue. And a dark sense of despair regarding corruption and wickedness in the world began to weigh me down. You may not have such visceral reactions, but all of us feed our inner being––our soul––with things we watch, read, do, and listen to. Just like we feed our bodies, so too we feed our hearts and minds. Just like someone who desires good physical health pays attention to what they eat, so too we need to pay attention to what we feed our soul. Consider taking a two-week challenge. Spend the first week taking stock of your soul diet; and in the second week focus on altering your soul diet to emphasize life-giving practices. Keep a journal of your thoughts, actions, and reactions and then pray through notable differences or changes between weeks. When it comes to our souls, being aware of goes in is just as important as recognizing what comes out.
Friends, weary souls warn of our need for life-giving practices. And no matter how long our dry spell, it’s never too late to press into soul care. Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.