By Joyce Beckner
The word soul is not a strange word to any of us. Yet the idea of Soul Care can seem like a strange concept. What is the soul anyway and why does it need care? What comes to your mind when you think of the word soul? In America we talk about soul food. We say music has soul. Certain individual athletes have been proclaimed as the soul of the team. While these are metaphors, they seem to refer to the idea that the soul contains the essence of the thing, and perhaps holds it together.
Since I was a child I remember movies about people willing to sell their soul. Souls continue to show up in movies and books including the popular Harry Potter Series. Bodies without souls and souls without bodies have created intriguing storylines for many years.
The Bible indicates that the soul is valuable, even precious;
“And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world
but lose your own soul?
Is anything worth more than your soul?”
Matthew 16: 26 NLT
Ruth Haley Barton suggests that losing your soul is like losing a credit card. You think it’s still in your wallet until the day you reach for it and can’t find it. In the moment you realize it’s gone, you start scrambling to find it. No matter what’s going on in your life, you stop until you find it. What if we were that desperate to seek for and find our soul when we realize that we have lost it.
In Genesis God breathed into the nostrils of this man he had formed from clay, and man became a living soul. “You are not just a self; you’re a soul made by God, made for God, and made to need God, which means you were not meant to be self-sufficient.”
The Greek Lexicon defines soul as self, person, seat of mind, will, and emotions, passions; seat of appetites, the inner being. The part that breathes. It states that the activity of our character comes from our soul.
Sometimes the life of full time service in the form of cross cultural ministry can be dangerous ground for the soul. The stress and all consuming tasks of transition, learning language, navigating newness of language, culture, team life, maintaining communication with our home country, and doing the work we came to do leave little room to care for this part of us that is the most important part of us.
The Bible instructs us in several places to love the Lord with all of our heart and our soul.
Over and over the Psalmist speak of the longing in the soul, a yearning, a thirst for God Himself. He says that the soul finds rest in God alone. Operating from the assumption that that is true, what happens to the soul if we ignore those longings? What happens to a soul that is parched and thirsty, when it can not find rest ?
The soul can be grieved, and experience anguish and dark nights. I believe those things come because of the difficulties and tragedies of life, but the soul needs to be carefully tended to during those times. If we ignore the needs of our soul, trying to keep busy, denying and pushing down the grief the hurt, even the hatred, our souls begin to suffer. Sin is deadly to the soul. “The neglected soul does not just go away, it’s go awry”.
The Bible reminds us that our soul was made for God. The soul always exists before God. When a person loses their awareness of the presence of God in their lives, their soul always suffers.
Sometimes we get self care and soul care mixed up. John Ortberg in his book entitled Soul Keeping, says that self-care is a very different task than soul-care, because we do not care for our soul only for our own sake. Our soul is on loan to us. I am not the captain of my soul, or the creator of it., and I cannot save it. I am the keeper of my soul. Ortberg points out that we often spend more time caring for our possession, and our pets than we do our souls.
People talked to their souls in the Bible. The psalmist asked “why are your downcast, Oh my soul?” We all talk to ourselves, and sometimes quite harshly, but rarely to our souls. Sometimes we don’t know what’s gone wrong. We feel like we lost touch with God. We can feel like life our lives are falling apart...disintegrating. We talk to ourselves about getting our act together, our ducks in a row. Things can feel like they are spinning out of control. That can be a clue that soul is suffering.
Our soul needs rest, and the Bible tells us that rest for our souls is found in God. The soul is not well when we rush through life, too busy to rest, to listen, to be aware of God’s presence. Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” When we give our souls rest, we open it to the peace Jesus intends for us. But how do we find the space to rest?
Once we recognize that it is our soul that needs tending, we may need someone to help. As a Soul Care Provider at The Well, I can tell you our team is committed to helping people who want to tend their own souls. We invite our clients to slow down, and enter the rest God offers. We do this through retreats featuring art or guided spiritual reflections and listening. We also do this by listening to our clients story and inviting them to become aware of the movement of the Spirit in their story. Whether debriefing, Spiritual Direction, spiritual conversations, inner healing prayer, or other spiritual exercises, our job is to follow the Spirit’s movement, and not to move people where we want to see them go. Our job is not to heal the soul of another but to help them make space for their soul so healing can come. We help position people before the Lord in order to discover where the Spirit is working in their lives and to hear His voice in fresh new ways. As we see the Spirit working we are happy to tag along, through the doors he opens into the souls of our clients. The Lord is the one who heals, refreshes and restores the soul.
Henri Nouwen said “Real care means the willingness to help each other in making our brokenness into the gateway to joy”. That’s describes what I believe I am called to as a Soul Care provider, at The Well.
Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership, Ruth Haley Barton, 2008, Intervarsity Press, PO Box 104, Downers Grove, IL
Soul Keeping; Caring for the Most Important Part of You, by John Ortberg, 2014 Zondervan, 2014, Zondervan, 3900 Sparks Dr. SE, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49546.
Life of the Beloved, Henri Nouwen, from the chapter called "Broken"
Soul Talk, Larry Crabb, Published by Integrity Publishers, a division of Integrity Media, Inc.
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