Do you have an interest in your interior life?
Do you see your spiritual self?
Do you see your real life?
Recently, I finished a fascinating book analyzing the care and keeping of our interior life. In Soul Keeping: Caring for the Most Important Part of You, John Ortberg explores nurturing our inner life. Perhaps the most overlooked part of you and me is our soul. “A rested, well-cared for soul has the capacity to empathize and understand profoundly, to ask questions and not simply go through the motions of faith. It holds our connection to eternity and can help us see the petty concerns of the present.” Since it was so thought provoking, I decided to unpack a few of the nuggets learned.
When we ignore our interior life, it is impossible to have the exterior life that we desire. Clarity and authenticity is impossible.
One of the most impactful stories shared in this book is told by Peter Marshall in his book Keeper of the Stream. High in the Alps a town stood by the banks of a perfectly clean, stunning stream. It originated from the clearest water originating deep in the earth. Children played beside this refreshing stream. Looking into the water you could see the mossy rocks and colorful fish swimming. Far above this town beyond the view of the town, lived an old man who meticulously maintained the integrity of this water. He carefully removed any debris, fallen branches or other potential pollutants to this water. No one saw his work. One year the town’s leadership decided they did want to continue to pay this man for his work because they had other things to do with the money. So the man left his job. Neglect resulted in random branches, mud and even farm waste contaminating the stream. For some time, the people in the town failed to realize the slow deterioration of their water source. However, it no longer had a clean smell. In a short time the stagnant, foul water began to make people ill. Children no longer played in the stream. “The life of the village depended on the stream and the life of the stream depended on the keeper.” The city leaders quickly gathered and voted to located the man who kept the stream so clean. They begged him to return to his job and promised to pay him promptly.
The life of the village depended on the health of the stream.
The stream is your soul. You are the keeper.
“Our soul is like a stream of water, which gives strength, direction and harmony to every other area of our life. When that stream is as it should be, we are constantly refreshed and exuberant in all we do, because our soul itself is then profusely rooted in the vastness of God and his kingdom, including nature; and all else within us is enlivened and directed by that stream. Therefore we are in harmony with God, reality, and the rest of human nature and nature at large.” Dallas Willard In Renovation of the Heart
As Christ followers, we have to ask ourselves if we are a spiritual hospital? Can people find healing with our help? Do we know how to cure souls?
What poisons the soul? Dallas Willard was know to say, “Hurry is the great enemy of spiritual life in our day. You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.” In life we have to resist the focus on what you do and redirect your vision on becoming.
It is critical to examine our outer world where we place much of our focus. Our reputation, achievement, material possessions, physical appearance and status propel us to keep score. Our inner world or our “private world” as Gordon MacDonald would call it is virtually hidden. Our inward self can be only known to us. As I read this book, I was reminded of how my mother used to tell me that I needed to know how to enjoy my own company. Some might think of spending time in thought or with one’s self as being a companion to yourself. I believe my mother was encouraging me to sit with myself so that I would sit with God. Perhaps the quietness gives the soul time to breath and process.
Think of those you have met who had an inner calm. This demeanor comes from the mastering of the inner world.
What exactly is the soul? Willard explained it with three circles. The innermost circle is the human will which allows you to say yes or no. The will is excellent at making both simple and sizable commitments like selecting a spouse or deciding to take a new job, but terrible at overriding poor habits or toxic thinking. Willpower will not get the job done. In fact the attempt to exert willpower to improve your inner life will exhaust you. Why? The second circle is the mind which refers to thoughts and feelings like your consciousness. Our minds crave peace. The third circle is our body which brings with it appetites and all kinds of habits.
“Habits eat willpower for breakfast. So there is the will, there is the mind and there is the body.” Jesus spoke of the spirit being willing only to be frustrated by the body that is weak. (Matt 26:41) Sin is the sickness that we have inherited.
My soul has the capacity to integrate all of these parts into one life. Integrity is a deep soul word. Our inner self craves the congruency of our will and our mind and our body. Ironically, I can become so obsessed with my self that I neglect my inner world. When I am alone in nature, I am deeply aware of God’s intense love for me as evidenced by the gift of creation all around me.
In our world we are encouraged to think of ourselves as victims. Pick your own flavor of victimhood. Am I more victim than human? Does this lean me toward only my own hurt which keeps me from noticing the hurt that others suffer?
How much of life is lived in the shallows? Suddenly, life becomes deep as a tragedy, a death or even a birth sharpen our awareness. When my interests only go as deep as myself, I am shallow. A deep soul empathizes and sees others. A deep soul lives in awareness of who others are in God’s image. A deep soul exists in an everyday sense of eternity and God’s presence in all things.
Soul work is just that work. In reality it is war. It is war against our human nature.
Truthfully, we lie.
We lie to ourselves. In a sense we cheat ourselves out of living an authentic life. Our selfishness, our self-centeredness, our cheating, our self-deception are all motivated by a desire to gain for ourselves. Our human nature to avoid pain also propels us toward insincerity and sinful behavior.
Soul weariness is the result of failing to care for the soul.
Incredibly, our inner man deeply desires a connection to God. Like a starving for a relationship with our Father God, we race toward myriads of other seemingly fulfilling things.
Is my soul needy? Yes, my need reveals my vulnerability.
Is my soul always wanting more? Yes, we are always wanting more time, more beauty, more money, more friends, more power and more of everything.
An unhealthy soul is a cancer. Each cancerous soul in a community of family or a church community infects other souls. In contrast, Healthy souls offer robust life into any community.
Much of the focus on this blog and the companion podcast Embrace Your Everyday is on nurturing the whole person. The soul is the center of our person. As we take care of our body, our relationships, our emotional self along with all the parts of ourselves, the dilemma is accessing our current state and actively adjusting.
How do we keep our soul?
How do we live with authenticity?
How do we pursue the real life that God meant us to experience?
How do you and I become the best version of ourselves?
How is God’s image reflected clearly in our everyday?
How does the daily joy and contentment that God intends for you and me saturate us?
Here are some of my best thoughts to these questions:
- Be “with” God. Listen. Here His small voice. He is everywhere. His gifts are raining on us like confetti. Be still. Know the scripture which is God’s communication to us. Pray. Practice a heart posture of Godward living each day.
- Live forgiven. Repent. Live honestly. Acquire counseling when needed. Stay close to a spiritual advisor or mentor.
- Lean heavenly. Practice solitude.Respond to life’s everyday happenings knowing that God loves us and His heart toward us is good. As I have been finishing this blog, I have been tested to practice this habit. We have purchased a new home on a mountain that needs a great deal of work. As my husband and I have been daily working through these projects, a pipe on our lower level burst yesterday morning and flooded the entire floor. Without going into all the details, I repeated to myself, God’s heart toward us is good. That is a truth I know. After I sat down to have a good cry, I felt better and I repeated this to myself.
- Focus more on the inner man knowing that the outward person is a reflection of all that is inside.
- Surround yourself with like-minded people. Read, watch and listen to healthy soul lifting materials. Careful thought about what is going into my soul will guard it against decay.
Remember… the stream is your soul and you are the keeper.
Listen to our conversation on Embrace Your Everyday podcast.
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