As a direct result of this weekend I have FINALLY decided how I will observe Lent this year. Most of you know I have been deliberating about this for a couple weeks now, and I feel both excited and nervous for what God will teach me during this season. I resisted it at first and it’s probably the last thing I would want to do, but I know it’s right. I’ll share more details about my Lenten fast on Wednesday, but until then I want to tell you a little bit about the path that led me to my decision. It all began this weekend with my church’s women’s retreat.
The topic for the retreat was “Soul Matters” and we examined the importance of tending to our souls. The first session began with a brief “diagnosis” of our souls, a test I was fairly certain I would ace.
Well, long story short, I didn’t.
The diagnostic tool was simple. We were asked to make two lists, one titled “Symptoms of Soul Neglect” and the other “Symptoms of Soul Health.” Our speaker instructed us to reflect on the previous 24 hours and assign each emotion/reaction/state of mind to one of the two lists. Here’s how my 2 lists looked:
Symptoms of Soul Neglect:
Symptoms of Soul Health:
- Generous spirit
- Determination to trust in God
- Excitement to serve God
- Love for others
Now in order to understand why this exercise was so eye-opening for me, you need to know a couple things about the 24 hours that produced the above “symptoms.” First, nothing catastrophic happened. Not even remotely. All the negative emotions I described were responses to a few minor hiccups in my day.
Second, I was able to list off the symptoms of soul neglect without a moment of hesitation. They poured out of me. The symptoms of soul health, on the other hand, were hard to ferret out. I had to sit and think for quite awhile, and even then they were rather abstract. Nothing simple like “joy” or “peace.”
What you should also know about me is that my life has been pretty great lately. Sure, there are challenges from time to time, but overall this has been a time of clear skies and new adventures. I have felt very blessed, and I assumed by spiritual state corresponded to my present circumstances. In view of my “soul assessment,” however, I was obviously mistaken.
Circumstances can be so deceptive. When things are going well in my life, I just assume that God and I are good. After all, when I’m not stressed out or extremely tired, I can be an incredibly patient and kind person. I exhibit what appears to be fruit of the Spirit.
But my outward behavior is misleading. It is during the good times that I am most likely to pull away from God and live on spiritual reserves. I don’t feel an urgent need for Him so I get complacent in my day-to-day time with Him. There are no overt indications of spiritual decline or trouble, so I don’t give it much thought.
That’s why the above exercise was so enlightening. One careful look at the past 24 hours tells a very different story from my unexamined assumptions. In the face of regular, everyday challenges, my default emotions were fear and frustration. I eventually found my way back to the safe harbor of God’s truth, but not before the every day storms of life had violently rocked my unanchored ship.
C.S. Lewis once said, “God whispers to us in our pleasures…but shouts in our pain.” If Lewis is right, then our easiest seasons of life require us to listen a lot more closely for God. We also need to pay much greater attention to the state of our souls. Spiritual decay won’t be obvious. At least, not at first. If it goes on long enough the neglect will eventually reveal itself, and I’m feeling the first stages of that right now. Which is why I was so glad for this exercise. It not only opened my eyes to my spiritual state, but it set me back on the path to abiding in God and reconnecting with the “vine” of His spiritual nourishment.
This Wednesday, Ash Wednesday, I’ll share more about the steps I am taking to reconnect with God and revive my soul. In the mean time, I encourage you to diagnose your own soul. What have the last 24 hours been like for you? What symptoms of spiritual health and neglect do you detect? As I was reminded this weekend, salvation means new life in Christ but it is important to monitor the quality of that new life as well. Examine whether it is consistent with the truth of your Christian identity.
God wants us to tend to the soul He gave us, and that begins with abiding in Him. If you are not at a place of abiding, I hope you will join me in returning to our first Love.
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.