You get a new cell phone and it is great, it can do more, it is faster, and the battery lasts the whole day. But over time, the phone seems to slow down, apps load slower and the battery begins to run out around dinner time. When this happens to me, I often ask my tech-friend to help me figure out what is draining it. Is it apps wanting to monitor my location, auto updates, notifications? Usually he finds something that helps a little bit. But even with everything working at an optimal level, the battery still drains, and I need to put it down, plug it in and let it recharge.
So it is with our life, including our spiritual life. Things drain us, some good, some annoying, some are bad like viruses. And like with the phone, if you ignore the warnings signs too long, your drained battery just shuts off and disconnects. This is burnout, hitting the wall, exhaustion… and when that happens bad things can happen.
How do you know when you have hit the wall, when your battery is drained, and you have been neglecting your soul?
For me, I lose my filter and say things you don’t mean, it manifests in anxiety, anger, getting easily distracted, old habits re-immerge, shame, guilt, impatience, feel alienated from God, tension with family, apathy, become manipulative, go through the motions, critical, cynical, selfish, defensive, isolation, feel ineffective, withdraw, addictive habits emerge, I feel like give up . To name just a few.
How do you prevent unnecessary drain and re-charge your soul? And what should we do when we notice we are getting close to hitting the wall?
You tend to our soul regularly. You engage in spiritual formation practices or soul care. The soul is not this nebulous thing that is somehow separate from our bodies, the spiritual thing which goes to heaven when we die, that is Gnosticism. The soul is the part of our created being from which we long, thirst and desire, it is our place of craving, need and appetite which seeks out and pursues love, life, peace, hope, meaning and God
David in the psalms prays… my soul thirsts for the living God…
my soul thirsts for you like a parched land… 143:6
Scripture talks about the soul some 271 times, 99 in the psalms alone. We need spiritual formation because our soul longs for it and desires it. We need to care for our soul because in our busy, active, distracted, productive life we are often more concerned about doing rather than being.
Think about the questions we ask people when we first meet them, “What do you do for a living?” It is a coded question to learn if the person is more, or less productive, important, valuable, than ourselves. Even in the church where we try to be spiritual about such things we might ask, “How are you doing spiritually? How is your walk with Jesus?” In other words, are you praying enough, reading enough, doing enough stuff in church?
We almost never ask how is it with your soul? 3 John 2 Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul.
So when we are feeling drained or hitting the wall, where are we to go to plug-in and recharge?
John 15 Remain in me–and I in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit from itself unless it remain in the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me. I am the vine, you are the branches; the one remaining in me and I in him, this one bears plentiful fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Unless someone remain in me he is like the branch that has been cast outside and has withered, and they gather them up and cast into the fire, and they are burned.
Why do we need to ‘remain’ in him? What good does it do? How do we do it? And for what purpose? (Notice the reason for abiding is not for the sake of the branch, but for the sake or the good of others, so that we might bear much fruit so others are fed and sustained. But I digress).
There is more to the Christian faith and life than just believing and learning more information about God, though these two things are important, they are not the mature end of conversion and transformation into the likeness or image of Christ, it is not the fullness of what Jesus is calling us to when he says “Remain in me, and I in you”.
When we take time to examine our faith when we are drained, or take our soul to a physician when we feel burnt out, we often discover we are no longer remaining or abiding, in the vine (if we ever were), instead we are cut off and withering.
Many of us are attentive to our health, diet, improving skills, advancing in work, but we neglect our soul, and when we neglect our soul too long, our ministry suffers, our marriages suffer, our family life suffers, our self suffers.
So what do we do when we hit the wall or burn out? Try harder, double down, work more we just try to push through, be tough! And how does that work out usually?
The only way to get over the wall and re-charge is to be attentive to the inner life, care for the soul. And then from there we can step past the productive and ‘doing’ life, into the effective life. A life that is truly life or what Jesus calls ‘eternal life’. A life in which we learn to truly love one another, see each other as Christ sees us and sees the other, a life where, “we are willing to lay down our lives for another”, and we learn to become friends of God.
Spiritual formation when misunderstood or poorly practiced can become very internal, navel gazing, the hermit on the mountain top stuff, but that is not what we are looking at here. The model for us in spiritual formation and caring for our soul, is Jesus. He is a contemplative in action. One who tended to his soul through prayer, solitude, scripture, Sabbath, Justice, temptation and suffering, but He was also always following the lead of His father and living out of his soul for the sake of others.
Which leads me to my definition of Spiritual Formation which I have adapted from Robert Mulholland’s book Invitation to a Journey: “Spiritual formation is the process of being conformed into the image of Christ for the sake of others, the healing of creation and the Glory of the Father”.