"Speed and efficiency" is a tagline that could easily be applied to North American culture. The faster, quicker, and more productive the better. However, certain things in life are better done slowly. Soul care is one. While God can change our hearts in an instant, caring for our souls takes time.
I love to ride my bicycle. To track my progress, I cycle with a small computer mounted on the handlebar that tells me my speed, distance, and time. Those constant indicators are right in front of me continually reminding me of my progress. It's hard not to keep looking at it! How fast am I going? How far have I come and at what speed? I actually find it harder to cycle at slower speeds, so conditioned am I toward speed and efficiency. Such is life in America today. Many of us are so conditioned to speed, efficiency, and production we unwittingly approach the care of our souls the same way. Yet, some things in life require a slow and unhurried pace.
Soul care involves those deeper, God-designed aspects of ourselves that contribute to our overall well-being: our life with God, relationship with others, our emotional life, and physical well-being. Because we are culturally conditioned to speed and efficiency, we might not pay attention to our soul care until there is a problem. But healthy soul care requires continual attention in small ways over time. Some things are important, but don't feel urgent—that's where we get in trouble. We never feel compelled to pay attention until there is a problem. Here are five key necessities that can be considered main staples of soul care. They must be addressed only in slower, more leisurely approaches:
Solitude is a condition of the heart, not just being alone. Carving out time alone where you can discern your voice from all the others in your life is necessary for hearing God better and listening to your own desires, fears, thoughts, and concerns. Jesus practiced solitude (Mark 1:35-38 and Matthew 14:13-24) where he deliberately created boundaries with others to carve out time alone with his Father. Slow down and "waste time with God." It won't feel productive but over time you will sense the difference. Here are a few suggestions:
- Find a place where you will not be disturbed. Sit in silence before the Lord for 3-5 minutes with no agenda. Just immerse yourself in God's presence.
- Capture those small moments of solitude during the day: morning coffee, daily commute, or step outside at night and gaze at the stars.
- Identify a "sacred space" for yourself: a chair, a particular room, or a nearby park bench.
Friendship is on the opposite pole of solitude. If time alone in solitude is necessary, so is time spent with key people. Friendships keep us balanced, helping us avoid the distortions that can result from spending too much time alone with our own thoughts and introspection. Like other aspects of soul care, friendship requires intentionality. We must proactively create and cultivate our friendships. Here are some suggestions:
- Meet someone for coffee.
- Do something together: walk, share a meal, attend a concert, or work on a project.
- Skype or Facetime with friends who live far away.
- Learn to listen and ask questions.
It is necessary to not just study the Bible for information but for transformation. Scripture is a central avenue for God to speak to you. Speed and efficiency are not the goals in reading and meditating on Scripture. Rather, slowing down to listen for the voice of God as you read is what is desired. Ideas on reading Scripture:
- Slow down your reading.
- Allow the Holy Spirit to draw your attention to what is significant in the text.
- Read with your heart, not just your head.
- Allow space to pause to prayerfully reflect on key words, phrases, or ideas.
- Place yourself in the text with your imagination. Become aware of the sights, sounds, smells, and feelings you experience in the biblical narrative.
As Dick Eastman once said, "Prayer is to our soul what air is to our lungs." We can pray without ceasing throughout the day. This is part of cultivating a heart of solitude. But we also need times to "just sit" with God. In prayer, we learn to cultivate an intimate friendship with God. Consider the following suggestions:
- Listen for God's voice, don't just speak.
- Journal your prayer experiences including requests and God's answers.
- Write prayers to God with pen and paper, not the computer. Something unique occurs when we actually write our prayers to God.
Self-care is an important part of soul care. It relates to our emotional, mental, and physical lives. Many of us feel we are being selfish when we spend time and money on ourselves. Yet self-care is stewardship of the bodies and minds God gave us. It is like the flight attendant who tells you to put the oxygen mask on yourself first before you help others in an emergency. It feels counter-intuitive but is necessary in helping others. If we do not care for our own mental, emotional, and physical lives, we jeopardize being able to adequately care for others.
- What are the activities that "oxygenate" you? What do you love to do?
- What hobbies do you have or secretly dream about but have never taken up?
- Let loved ones know that you will be unavailable for a time. Weekly is good. In nearly all cases, they will support you.
- What would you find entertaining? Attending a ballgame, a craft show, a favorite TV show, reading a book, just to name a few.
God provides all we need, but invites us to be part of the process to care for ourselves. It is your responsibility to tend to the conditions of your soul. God always does the transformation. Your role is merely to position yourself to receive God's grace, which can only come slowly and consistently over time.