Cultivating a Well Tended Soul
By Linda Kline
If we’re not careful, life can quickly empty our souls because we’re constantly giving out. To give and give without being regularly replenished is to eventually become barren and dry. This is a battle we must continually fight. The ache in our hearts that won’t go away is our souls crying out for attention. That’s why it’s so important that we stop and find Jesus in the midst of the demands of life. Our souls need to be cared for. There is precious counsel and comfort that comes from intimacy with the Father. Caring for our souls is the only way to not find ourselves empty or just surviving. We must do whatever it takes to maintain the wellness of our souls.
The concept of our soul (nepesh in Hebrew, psuche in Greek) refers to the self, life, breath, the heart, the very essence of a person. The soul is the very core of who God created us to be. To care for my soul means that I draw on God at all levels—mentally, emotionally, relationally, physically, and spiritually—and that I am being consistently transformed, renewed, and freed through the life of Jesus. It means to incorporate healthy rhythms into my life so that I am able to truly be myself and pour into others out of a full tank. “Only give heed to yourself and keep your soul diligently” (Deut. 4:9, NAS).
Our model in this (and hopefully in every aspect of life) is Jesus. Henri Nouwen’s classic article “Moving from Solitude to Community to Ministry” is so helpful in learning to feed your soul. We see patterns of Jesus pulling away from the crowds to be alone with the Father, drawing life from unhurried, uninterrupted intimacy. We see Him interacting in authentic community, gathering around the table, sharing day-to-day life with friends and family. We see Him pouring out His power in the ministry, taking His marching orders from His Father instead of being pulled in every direction by the manipulation and control of others.
It’s so easy to lose yourself in ministry life. Instead of Jesus’ healthy, holy rhythms of solitude, community, and ministry we run on a cycle of “Run, Crash, Burn, Recover, and Repeat.” For many of us, our soul runs on fumes. Instead of being well-tended and well-fed, our soul shrivels from benign neglect, leaving us tired, weary and apathetic at best…bitter, angry and resentful at worst.
A few questions to assess the state of your soul in a rhythm of solitude, community, and ministry…
Our twenty-first century life of busyness, noise, social media, and technology leads to what consultant Linda Stone calls “Continuous Partial Attention” or CPA. We become incapable to giving our full attention to our spouse, our children, our friends, our work, and especially to God. I was not designed to remain “always on,” hyper-connected 24/7/365. “And He said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a secluded place and rest a while” (Mk. 6:31-32, NAS).
- Do I know how to enjoy being alone with God? (For many, the thought of solitude is equated with loneliness instead of joyful, refueling connection with Jesus.)
- Is there enough silence and stillness in my life to hear the voice of God through the noise?
- Is there space in my life for God to act?
- Am I a “self-feeder”? Do I systematically study the Word, pray, and spend time with God on my own?
- Should I set aside a block of time—an afternoon, a day, a weekend—to just be with the Lord?
- Is my life too busy, too loud, too scheduled, or too “peopled”?
- Am I afraid of being alone with God?
- Do I know how to sit in solitude at Jesus’ feet?
God designs us to connect on a vertical plane with Him and on a horizontal plane with others. “Let him who cannot be alone beware of community. Let him who is not in community beware of being alone. Each by itself has profound pitfalls and perils. One who wants fellowship without solitude plunges into the void of words and feelings, and one who seeks solitude without fellowship perishes in the abyss of vanity, self-infatuation, and despair” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, 78).
- Do I have true friendships? Or just acquaintances? Sadly, most people in ministry have few or no genuinely life-giving friends.
- Is my spouse one of my best friends?
- Has ministry taken a toll on my marriage? My family?
- Do I have any spiritually deep connections? Do I have any soul friends?
- Am I trying to be a “Lone Ranger” Christian?
- Are there people in my life who know and love God and know and love me enough to give me the hug and slug I need? Do I have the needed accountability to warn me when I’m heading in the wrong direction?
- Which friends provide mutual, reciprocal support and encouragement?
- Who in my life consistently points me toward Jesus?
- When did I last laugh until my face hurt? How do I have fun? Do I play? Do I have anyone to play with?
I truly want to be able to say, as Jesus did: “I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do” (Jn. 17:4, NAS). But there is so much work to do. I get sidetracked by the demands and I feel inadequate to the task. Soul care ensures that my ministry flows from the Lord, not from my own limited strength.
- Am I taking in without giving out?
- Am I giving out without taking in?
- Does my ministry flow out of my communion with God and my connections in the body of Christ?
- Am I serving out of gratitude, love, obedience, and freedom?
- Is there a root of self, guilt, performance, pride, competition?
- Am I coming to God with my availability alone for His plans–rather than my own agenda?
- It may be very challenging, but is there joy in ministry?
- Am I working out of my spiritual gifts? Do I know what my spiritual gifts are?
- Am I doing what God has assigned? Or do I run myself ragged trying to meet the expectations of others as well as my own?
A well-tended soul is alive toward God, enjoys true community with others, and is comfortable in her own skin. We must be proactive stewards to honestly say, “It is well with my soul.”
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