After spending a few years writing on the topic of spiritual formation and soul care, I felt like I was in an echo chamber hearing the same advice I heard before – and that I still needed to hear it: I need to take soul care seriously. And, despite the fact that there is SO much material “out there” on soul care, I heard other Christian leaders voice similar desires to “be better” at soul care – in ways that I had heard other Christian leaders say years prior.
Why is it that soul care is regularly an area where we feel like we're lacking? What is it about our lives that pushes us to the point where we feel like we're too often running on fumes? Too quickly we can feel stuck, burned out, anxious, or merely stumbling day-to-day just to keep it all together.
There is an abundance of resources on the topic. My book, The Self-Aware Leader isn't the first, though its approach and format (useful for all types of Christian leaders and useful in group training and supervisory settings) may be unique. I mean, really, most Christian leaders have read many of the popular books on the topic and teach the importance for keeping the fire hot, for staying connected to Jesus, or for regularly times of renewal. But, in practice, well, it's different. Something happens to us, where we stare across a gap to where we need to be. We feel isolated, dried-up, or absorbed into something that has overwhelmed us and we recognize that something is missing.
So, coming out of this writing season where the topic is in front of me each day, I've begun to ask myself the question, “What if we could get soul care right once and for all?” I mean, what would it be like to not have the cycle happen in our lives? What WOULD it take for that to happen? Is it even possible?
I think most of us can sketch out a few quick answers to the question like having regular times of renewal, consistent Bible reading and prayer, exercise and rest, and proper nutrition (a bigger deal than we know!). However, when we look at our past month's schedule, we can see that often our time isn't regularly spent on those activities. Sometimes, yes. Consistently? Not always.
I spent four hours last week on a silence and solitude retreat. Nothing too fancy and I don't say that to boast, but rather to say that it was a wonderful experience and worth doing regularly. I felt like I needed to “practice what I preached” in the download guides that we have created for The Self-Aware Leader. As I sat around the campfire, I reflected on the past year and asked myself the question that is the title of this post, “What would it take to get soul care right once and for all?” I didn't want to keep running around a cycle of renewal, then active leadership to the point where I reached a limit, felt spent, burned-out, or worse. Then I would take a step again toward renewal and start the process over again. What would it take for me to feel “fresh” week after week while not missing a beat in my leadership?
I think there are THREE things that we can engage in each day, week, and month that will provide a foundation for us to have a level of wisdom, strength, and maturity that transcends our circumstances or busy-ness. They're not new, of course, and likely you're familiar with them, but they fight against the self-sufficiency that tempts us down a wayward path.
- Staying connected to Jesus. This is fundamental to the Christian faith: We are to remain in Him (John15). Ministry is then less about moralisms, practices, skills, or even “religion.” It is centered on an intimate “follow me” life-giving relationship. And that relationship isn't as much about “believing,” but is more about trusting. Which brings me to…
- Being open to the Holy Spirit. The trinitarian nature of God shows that God is active and dynamic. If God is dynamic, then he is at work in the world. And, if he is at work then we need to be open to that work in and through us. Being open means we've surrendered our will to his and that we're open to his dynamic work today in our lives. As I'm aging, I'm more convinced (because I've seen it) that God is willing and able to be more active in our daily lives than we know. Too often, we try to pick up the reigns and take charge rather than starting with an open expectancy to One who truly is in charge.
- Fostering a unity with other believers. If we aren't careful, we in the church elevate a type of discipleship and leadership that is more like the Lone Ranger or Jason Bourne than it is something rooted in biblical theology. We are part of a body and no part is to be disconnected from others or cherished more than other parts. Isolation, whether by withdrawal or by the stage, is dangerous to our souls if we're unaware.
Isolation, whether by withdrawal or by the stage, is dangerous to our souls if we're unaware. (Click to tweet)
Mindy Caliguire writes, in her wonderful small booklet Discovering Soul Care, “Living from a healthy soul means you remain alive to God, alive to yourself and alive to others, smack in the middle of the ups and downs of life.” (17)
Today, we're smack in the middle of those ups and downs Mindy identifies. Some weeks we recognize them more than others. It may be that this week's TO DO list seems a bit too long or the weekend plans may be in jeopardy. It's here that we toss aside what we know to be important for what seems most urgent. It's right here that we start the cycle that will someday have us looking across a gap recognizing we aren't sufficient to do this alone: Alone from God and alone from others. It's worth taking time and scheduling in 60 minutes in the next 24 hours to connect with Jesus, to be open to what God may already be up to in your life, and to schedule a strategic breakfast, lunch, or coffee meeting with a colleague. Like any diet or new exercise routine, it's in the disciplined regularity that the practices begin to shape our lives. So, don't evaluate and keep doing what you know to be important. Your spiritual life is worth your best energy and effort.