by Stephen W. Smith
The holidays and life itself have been great reminders for Gwen and I about the need for soul care. It’s been a lot—perhaps too much. For us, we were with all of our kids and their kids. We travelled to some while others came to us. Travel brings its own stress these days. There were meals to prepare; presents to open; and hanging out with one another. It was full. It was sweet and it was a rich time. But we came away exhausted. We need to re-coup! I need to find “my” life that I seemed to have lost in a busy family time. But what if there’s no time to re-coup? That’s a problem!
During December, Gwen and I barely had time for a conversation between ourselves—much less pray or take some moments for ourselves. I have some regrets. I didn’t read like I wanted. I wasn’t able to reflect back and forward into the New Year like I wanted. We were cramming in time and the gift of being present with each other. Much of the past few weeks feels like a blur—not a blessing. I’m not complaining mind you, but trying to present some reality that stands in the face of caring for my soul. 0ther things happened which complicated our lives and health.
A 24 hour “violent”—(is that the right word?) flu spread through our family while together. We watched our grandchildren drop like flies leaving us to meditate upon “We’re next!” more than God. Both Gwen and I got sick—something we did not want or invite. Interruptions happen—those events that face us that we do not want to face. Life is too full for the unexpected to drop in on us and mess up our already overly-crowded lives. When there is no space or margin in our lives, interruptions can send us spiraling. How will we ever be able to recover when we have to just buck up and move on and through? The unplanned things of life simply happen whether we are ready for them or not.
When we think of our every day lives, we are busy, checking our lists and moving through our days. Diapers to change. Dishes to wash. Bills to pay. Groceries to be bought. Meals to prepare. There’s always more—always!
In our work with people of all ages and in all seasons of life—one of the biggest pushbacks we hear is this: “I don’t have time to care for my soul. How can I fit THAT in upon every thing else I have to do?”
Caring for your soul is learning to live with eternity in mind and in the heart. It requires a paradigm shift of how we look at our hours, days, weeks and years. Living with eternity in mind is at the heart of Jesus’s message: “Seek first the Kingdom of God” (Matt. 6:33). It is at the core of Paul’s epistles: “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things” (Col. 3:2). While it is true that God has indeed set eternity in our hearts (Ecc. 3:11)—our minds are filled with the tyranny of the urgent and this is where the wheels of the bus come off in regard to caring for our souls.
Caring for our souls is a daily practice that keeps first things first. A mindless wandering through our days leads most of us to enter the hamster wheel where we simply spin and spin. Soul Care requires an intentional exit from the dizzying spinning and speed of life and to live with eternity in both of our minds and hearts.
Annie Dillard reminds us so well that “how we live our days is how we live our lives.” Days upon days of survival foster a survival culture at home and in work. So, if we want to live better days and more fulfilling weeks, we must make the choice every day to live with eternity in our hearts. The abundant life is a daily life which begins every day. Every day we have the opportunity to live with eternity in mind and heart.
Here are five choices to cultivate eternity in your heart:
1. Choose to live slow one day a week. For one day a week, make a choice to resist speed. The cult of speed has infected most everything we do. For one day—live more intentionally; live more from the heart—where eternity is rooted. Walk rather than drive. Park further away from your destination to make you walk just a bit. Cook a slow meal involving family and friends. Savor the time with music, story or read a chapter out of a book together. Some might call this a Sabbath but moving slow is more than taking a day off. Moving slow sets the culture of your heart to wake up. By eradicating hurry from your life, I believe you’ll find greater joy than ever before. After you’ve made this choice and lived slow for one day a week, take some time and see if you’re inner contentment meter has moved in one direction or the other. Is there more inner peace? Why or why not?
2. Choose to live with your soul and the soul of other people in mind—not moving into robot mode to produce, accomplish and succeed. Living with the soul in mind is keeping eternity alive rather than going into a catatonic trance of survival. To live with the soul in mind and heart is to foster dignity for others and yourself. If you’re exhausted—rest. If you’re sick—ask yourself “Do I really have to push through not feeling well?” Living with the soul in mind is living with your own sense of well-being and the well-being of others. Being present and not preoccupied with technology in conversation is one way to live with the soul in mind. Leaving our stresses of work outside the home—sort of detoxing a bit before we enter the doors of home can help.
3. Choose to be healthy. This daily choice requires us to monitor three vital areas of our daily lives: sleeping, eating and moving. It’s really not that complicated. These three areas: sleeping well, eating healthy and moving more all work together to help us become healthier. Healthy living requires this trinity of a way of looking at our lives and giving our bodies what our bodies need to be healthy.
4. Choose to have silence every day for 10 minutes. The only antidote there is to our busy lives and busy minds is being quiet. Sit BY yourself and WITH yourself every day for 10 minutes. Consent to the presence of God within you and around you. There is nothing to do but to be still. The only way for a shaken jar full of mud and water to settle is stillness.
5. Choose to read only the “red” letters of Jesus. Rather than trying and trying to read the Bible through in a year—try something more realistic and doable. At the most stressful times of my life, I make a choice to read only the words of Jesus. I have found a comfort, peace and hope in his words that really help me focus and give me hope. Sometimes, it’s the simple things we do that can move us forward when we’re stuck. For me, finding a “red letter edition” of the Bible and focusing on what Jesus actually said helps. Start with Matthew 5—where Jesus begins his infamous “sermon on the mount.”