Soul Care in Busy Times

The holidays and life itself have been great reminders for Gwen and me about the need for soul care. It has been a lot—perhaps too much. Busyness. Full schedules. Sickness. Exhaustion in the midst of joyous times of family gatherings.In the midst of all of the busyness, how are we to care for our souls? For us, we were with all of our kids and their kids. We traveled to some while others came to us. Travel brings its own stress these days dosen't it? There were meals to prepare; presents to open; and hanging out with one another. It was full. It was sweet and it was a rich time. But we came away exhausted. We need to re-coup! I need to find “my” life that I seemed to have lost in a busy family time. But what if there’s no time to re-coup? That’s a problem!During December, Gwen and I barely had time for a conversation between ourselves—much less pray or take some moments for ourselves. I have some regrets. I didn’t read like I wanted. I wasn’t able to reflect back and forward into the New Year like I wanted. We were cramming in time and the gift of being present with each other. Much of the past few weeks feels like a blurr—not a blessing. I’m not complaining mind you, but trying to present some reality that stands in the face of caring for my soul. 0ther things happened which complicated our lives and health.A 24 hour “violent”—(is that the right word?) spread through our family while together. We watched our grandchildren drop like flies leaving us to meditate upon “We’re next!” more than God. Both Gwen and I got sick—something we did not want or invite. Interruptions happen—those events that face us that we do not want to face. Life is too full for the unexpected to drop in on us and mess up our already overly-crowded lives. When there is no space or margin in our lives, interruptions can send us spiraling. How will we ever be able to recover when we have to just buck up and move on and through? The unplanned things of life happen simply happen whether we are ready for them or not.When we think of our every day lives, we are busy, checking our lists and moving through our days. Diapers to change. Dishes to wash. Bills to pay. Groceries to be bought. Meals to prepare. There’s always more—always!In our work with people of all ages and in all seasons of life—one of the biggest pushbacks we hear is this: “I don’t have time to care for my soul. How can I fit THAT in upon every thing else I have to do?”Caring for your soul is learning to live with eternity in mind and in the heart. It requires a paradigm shift of how we look at our hours, days, weeks and years. Living with eternity in mind is at the heart of Jesus’ message: “Seek first the Kingdom of God” (Matt. 6:33). It is at the core of Paul’s epistles: “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things” (Col. 3:2). While it is true that God has indeed set eternity in our hearts (Ecc. 3:11)—our minds are filled with the tyranny of the urgent and this is where the wheels of the bus come off in regard to caring for our souls.  So, soul care is learning how to maintain eternity in the midst of our crowded lives!Caring for our souls is a daily practice that keeps first things first. A mindless wandering through our days leads most of us to enter the hamster wheel where we simply spin and spin. Soul Care requires an intentional exit from the dizzying spinning and speed of life and to live with eternity in both of our minds and hearts.Annie Dillard reminds us so well that “how we live our days is how we live our lives.” Days upon days of survival foster a survival culture at home and in work. So, if we want to live better days and more full-filling weeks, we must make the choice every day to live with eternity in our hearts. The abundant life is a daily life which begins every day. Every day we have the opportunity to live with eternity in mind and heart.Here are five choices to cultivate eternity in your heart:

  1. Choose to live slow one day a week. For one day a week, make a choice to resist speed. The cult of speed has infected most everything we do. For one day—life more intentionally; live more from the heart—where eternity is rooted. Walk rather than drive. Park further away from your destination to make you walk just a bit. Cook a slow meal, not "fast food" on this day-- involving family and friends. Savor the time with music, story or read a chapter out of a book together. Some might call this a Sabbath but moving slow is more than taking a day off. Moving slow sets the culture of your heart to wake up. By eradicating hurry from your life, I believe you’ll find greater joy than ever before. After you’ve made this choice and lived slow for one day a week, take some time and see if you’re inner contentment meter has moved in one direction or the other. Is there more inner peace? Why or why not?

2. Choose to live with your soul and the soul of other people in mind—not moving into robot mode to produce, accomplish and succeed. Living with the soul in mind is keeping eternity alive rather than going into a catatonic trance of survival. To live with the soul in mind and heart is to foster dignity for others and yourself. If you’re exhausted—rest. If you’re sick—ask yourself “Do I really have to push through not feeling well?” Living with the soul in mind is living with your own sense of well-being and the well-being of others. Being present and not preoccupied with technology in conversation is one way to live with the soul in mind. Leaving our stresses of work outside the home—sort of detoxing a bit before we enter the doors of home can help. 

  1. Choose to be healthy. This daily choice requires us to monitor three vital areas of our daily lives: sleeping, eating and moving. It’s really not that complicated. These three areas: sleeping well, eating healthy and moving more all work together to help us become more healthy. Healthy living requires this trinity of a way of looking at our lives and giving our bodies what our bodies need to be healthy.

 

  1. Choose to have silence every day for 10 minutes. The only antidote there is to our busy lives and busy minds is being quiet. Sit BY yourself and WITH yourself every day for 10 minutes. Consent to the presence of God within you and around you. There is nothing to do but to be still. The only way for a shaken jar full of mud and water to settle is stillness.

 5. Choose to read only the “red” letters of Jesus. Rather than trying and trying to read the Bible through in a year—try something more realistic and doable. At the most stressful times of my life, I make a choice to read only the words of Jesus. I have found a comfort, peace and hope in his words that really help me focus and give me hope. Sometimes, it’s the simple things we do that can move us forward when we’re stuck. For me, finding a “red letter edition” of the Bible and focusing on what Jesus actually said helps. Start with Matthew 5—where Jesus begins his infamous “sermon on the mount."  Read it in a new version or translation that gives you the space to be offered new expressions and intent.

The Eight Lane Freeway of Our Working Lives

Living life can sometime feel like driving fast on an eight-lane freeway.It’s busy.It’s intense.It’s stressful.It requires intense focus to stay in your lane.You have to monitor the dashboard of speed limits, fuel gauge and timing.You have to watch out for crazy drivers and the inherent possibility of road rage at any moment.It’s fast.It’s slow too much of the time it seems.Even when we're driving hard, we sense the need to multi-task--to do more work. To get 'ur done!You can feel stuck because the off-ramp is 10 miles away and your sitting idle. I know few people who actually enjoy spending time on freeways. When I hear people talk about taking a nice Sunday afternoon drive—they are never describing this motif: “Let’s get on the freeway where we will experience the exhilarating times of intensity, stress and a high likelihood of getting stalled or stuck in insane traffic." No, when people envision a nice drive, they are thinking of a country road where they can take in the scenery of forests, vales and rainbows.I’ve sat with this metaphor for some time now—trying to discern my future. Ever since I wrote my initial blog on this heart-felt theme, THAT (Read THAT blog here) blog has been the most read article of all time for me. It’s received the most SHAREs on social media and people are writing me; calling me and stopping me to say, “You took the words right out of my mouth. You described my dilemma perfectly.” I’m glad my own attempt to figure out my next phase of life might be giving words to so many inner rumblings. It seems many of us are restless—no matter what age and stage of life we are in. Many of us want to “reposition”. I hope we can and I hope my encouragement to simply articulate some of my inner world might help you.Metaphors are helpful because they actually help us envision and picture something real and explore what this image stirs inside. An image opens our mind and heart up more than a Powerpoint presentation can. We need more than linear facts to make sense of life. We have more than a left brain to give inform us of meaning, purpose and conviction. Metaphors were the masterful way of how Jesus taught. He appealed to the right brain to help us envision the life he came to show us how to live.  Friends, this is precisely why, the teachings of Jesus were so revolutionary and life-changing. People could actually come to "see" the life he was describing. He used the everyday symbols of dirt, trees, bushes, birds and storms to help people explore their inner geography. Jesus was brilliant in his efforts to help us look inward by using the outer world and draw parallels.When I think of staying on an eight lane freeway for the next season or chapter of my life, my thoughts do not go to a good place. I have, to be honest, a sinking feeling.   When I listen to people talk about “How much longer can I go?” or “I just want to finish well”, I picture the eight lane freeway. Is finishing well running out of gas and pulling over to the side of the loud, busy traffic and just say, “I’m done. That’s it.” Is an abrupt exit off the freeway the only way to do this? What does that term, "finishing well" really mean? Does it mean more work? Harder work to get to a certain place so that you can work again? There are many questions we need to look at. There are many rocks that need to be turned over to expose the Rollie-pollies of our illusions about work and life as well as God and faith.What I’m sitting with goes like this: moving from the eight lane freeway to a 2-lane road. I want to continue but I do not want to continue at the pace, speed and intensity I have been traveling. If you've lived so much of your working life on an eight lane freeway---something might be pulling you to consider an alternative route--a route that is more than just thinking about the grass being greener on the other side kind of thing.It seems reasonable to me, at this stage of my processing the next chapter of my life, that I and perhaps you need to sit with these questions:

  1. What is the lane I want to be in for the next season—the next stretch of my life?
  2. Where do I really want to go and feel the need to go?
  3. What would it look like to find my lane—the lane that converges all my passion, experience, desire and gifts? Then, this question, how do I take an off-ramp to get in the lane I simply want to be in?
  4. What is it going to cost me to get off the freeway that I have traveled for so long?

This thing about work is deeply etched into the soul of every Protestant. Work is a part of the fabric of our lives. We are so enmeshed in our work that many of us go through some culture shock even musing about NOT working. We can’t imagine it. We don’t really have categories or training to help us find a lane upon which we can live without work.It’s the ethos called, “the Protestant work ethic.” Well, Catholics have this too--the feeling and the need to work hard, remain faithful to be saved. In this ethic--our worth and dignity come from our work--not our essence. There must be no slaggards in the ranks. People who don't work are bums. This belief and ethic needs to be looked at deeply and it is really the work of the soul to do this work now while we are working and considering our alternative lanes. We can find where these messages lodge in our story. We can explore how our experiences of work shaped our soul and who modeled this kind of living and narrative for you? What a fascinating small group this would be—a group formed to hear each others shaping experiences about work, the value of work and how our working parents and friends lived their life out in their work.Let me just say this briefly, our worth and dignity do not come from our work.  Our worth comes from knowing we are created, formed and shaped by God because of our identity as sons and daughters of God. We are the Beloved of God--apart from our work. That's the core foundation to healthy living and a healthy soul. Miss this and you miss nearly everything.Our world has shaped us into human doings. It’s precisely here though in our being—not our doing that we must redefine and reposition our selves and our lives. Most people I sit with are afraid of stopping their “doing” because of the deep seated fear that they will simply not know who they are apart from their work. Here’s a good question to ponder with a friend: Who are you apart from your doing?Start this kind of inner work now—the inner thinking and reflective work now—before you get off the freeway—before you take an exit—before you quit-- before you start pulling off the freeway. Thinking about this now will help you actually know and recognize when it’s time to take the off ramp to the road you actually want to drive on—for a while.Take your name tag off—take your lanyard off which gives your position, worth and dignity—and who the heck are you? Who are you without your “doing”?  This kind of thinking may well be--the exit ramp you've been looking for that is just ahead.

Learning to HALT

In working with leaders in ministry and the marketplace for over 40 years I see an alarming tendency among busy leaders who are working hard to make life, family, faith, church and friendships work well. We resist stopping to take inventory of our lives. [tweetthis]We press hard but find it difficult to evaluate HOW we are doing with WHAT we are doing.[/tweetthis]When I sit in on Team meetings, where long rang plans are being discussed, I see the flow charts and organization charts that faithful team members have worked hard to develop with their goals, dreams, strategies and plans. But rarely, if ever do I see a team who stops to consider the real costs for implementing the plan they have worked so hard to develop.This spring, our team at Potter’s Inn sought to re-define the word “capacity.” We felt it necessary to re-define this word and concept because we were all feeling like we were facing our limits. We were feeling the early signs of exceeding our limits. By re-defining our own capacity—especially in the work we do with people, we were learning to set more realistic goals and limits and understand that we are not running a race here—we are in more of a marathon. If we did not set limits for ourselves, we would simply not be able to sustain our work, life and message. Is your life sustainable at the pace you’ve been living recently? It you feel like it’s not, then it’s time to practice something I want to explore further here with you.One church team I work with developed a plan to plant 100 churches in their region of the country. They filled in their dreams on a whiteboard—nothing suggests a limitless life like a white board to me. They would need more gifted, passionate and trained people: pastors, worship leaders, small group leaders, more space to hold meetings and on and on it went. But as I sat and listened to their noble goals and dreams I found myself sitting with one nagging questions: What is the plan going to cost your marriages, your children, your health, your sanity and your well-being? It’s a good question. It’s a fair question. It’s a needed question. This is a soul care question!Most leaders get into trouble because there is little if any self-care and self-awareness of what is being required of them and all the ways that they are giving and giving but rarely receiving. Most of us are trained with an ethos that says: Do more. Do everything. Do the impossible. It’s a dangerous elixir we drink---a cocktail that makes us live in a drunken stupor and have the audacity to call this a life—even an abundant life. The pace in which we are living and working; raising our families and maintaining a marriage, financial security and meeting all the needs we try to meet is staggering—if not insane. WE are trying to do more than Jesus did. For whatever reason, we will not sit with the fact that Jesus lived in a rhythm of life that sustained him, not depleted him and he felt no sense of urgency to even begin his work until he was 30 years old. We smugly think that he wasted such a vast amount of time. What could he have done if he would have started at 18?The key to maintaining a sense of resiliency and spiritual vitality is to do a simple self-evaluation using the HALT acronym. This helpful tool, when practiced can increase a leader’s capacity to care for themselves and maintain equilibrium to stand up and move forward rather than spinning out of control or burning out our burning up.The HALT exercise reminds to ask ourselves if we are H-ungry, A-NGRY, L-onely or T-ired. Let me explain. (HALT is not original with me but one of the most useful tools in the great movement of Alcoholic Anonymous.) When our basic needs are not being met in life, we find ourselves being susceptible and vulnerable to behaviors that will bring us down; help us self-destruct; enable addictive behaviors such as over-eating, pornography or withdrawing.  When we don't HALT, we have a distinct tendency to mess up, sin big and live in a shame that is intolerable. By using the HALT exercise, we gain self-awareness about what is really happening in us and around us.Hunger can be some emotional need not being met or a true physical hunger. Hunger, though is far more than about food. We all have a hunger for affection, care, accomplishment and understanding. When these needs are neglecting, something triggers inside to begin to demand our hunger find satisfaction. When we are physically hungry, we can overdose on junk food—forsaking nutritional food for a quick fix to our emptiness. This happens in all forms of addiction as well. What is the real food your heart needs? What is the good food your body is crying out for? Is it for comfort or it is for your health? When we stop and HALT, we can catch ourselves in the act before we blow it and mess up.Anger. It’s a healthy emotion to experience anger. But even more important is to HALT and see what is triggering you from feeling so angry. What is underneath your anger? What is pushing up in you and coming out as anger? HALT and take a breath and back off when your kids are pushing you to your limit. Rather than choosing to release the pressure valve on your anger and let the steam off, see for a moment what is really going on in you. Is it that your child spilt the milk at the dinner table? Or is it that your embarrassed that y our child spilled the milk when your guests were over for dinner and you felt like a “bad “ parent. I’ve found it helpful to remind myself that anger is rarely the first emotion we feel. Our feelings of anger are often enmeshed in other feelings that quickly morph into anger. Until we look below the surface at our anger and HALT, we will always find ourselves reacting rather than responding to our teammates, spouses, and friends. By learning to let your anger teach you and guide you into a deeper reality, we can really know ourselves better and thus respond in a way that is more loving and healthy.Loneliness. When we feel isolated, abandoned, alone and alienated we find ourselves in a inner-brewing storm that can easily escalate into a form of behavior that is destructive. Deep feelings of loneliness can cause us to try to assuage them by acting out. I find when I travel alone, I most always never make good choices about eating. I over-indulge; eat too much and find it hard to withstand temptations and powers that feel like a category 5 storm that I simply have no power to stand up and make a good choice. Sometimes we even hide when we are lonely surmising that no one will understand; no one really cares; no one gives a damn anyway. These kinds of feelings often converge with other feelings and actions that make us feel even more isolated. What’s important is the power of being listened to. By simply having someone listen to you, there is a powerful healing agent to help us feel not to alone and isolated after all. When you HALT, and assess what is really going on, it’s helpful to simply call a friend and process what is being stirred up inside. Just showing up to a group, an event, a meeting, a support group or for a fathering of friends helps disprove the lie we so often believe that no one really cares. I am stunned at how many “successful” leaders in church and in the marketplace often share their feelings of being totally isolated and feelings of “It’s lonely at the top.” Being in a healthy community is a part of taking care of our souls. It’s really important and non-negotiable. Two are better than one.Tiredness: Fatigue always takes a toil on us. Without recovery time from each event, service, activity, we tap into our adrenalin gland to “get ‘ur done”. And exhaustion is really at the core of so many of us who are busy, over committed and trying to figure out rivaling priorities. By doing a HALT exercise each week, you can let your body actually tell you how tired you are. Rest and sleep is the core building block for a healthy life! When we live tired, runned down and in a mentality of surviving, are pushing ourselves way too hard. How can you be compassionate to your body—your own physical body that has carried you through time zones to another meeting; gotten up early to make a meeting and stayed up late to finish a project. What is your personal rhythm for rest and renewal? How have you been pushing yourself at the expense of your physical health? How has your own personal sense of being so tired affected your over all well-being? By sitting with these kind of questions, you will not only find yourself HALTing but giving mercy, compassion and self-care to your body. There really is a body-soul connection. If you’re not feeling well…. Then you’re really not well. It’s that simple.By using this helpful acronym of HALT, we can learn to monitor how we are really doing with what we are doing! We can do a HALT on our Sabbath—that one day we set aside to rest and enjoy. By learning to HALT on a regular basis, we are caring for ourselves, caring for those we love and caring for those who love us.Why not practice your HALT by doing this one day a week?What about doing this with your spouse? Your small group?  Your closest friends?  What about journaling your HALT each week and watch yourself grow in your own self-awareness, self-compassion and soul care?


Many people are finding two specific chapters of my book, Inside Job: Doing the Work within the Work very, very helpful on the topic of understanding your limits; living a time of transition and living in a sustainable rhythm. You can read more about Inside Job here and order it along with a workbook. 
Please check out our new website, designed for more than just information--a beautiful experience of stunning images and ideas for our own soul care!  Check out www.pottersinn.com 
Twice a year, Potter's Inn offers our hallmark retreat, The Soul Care Experience where you get to hear the life changing messages of caring for your soul and actually practice them on site. The Soul Care Experience in August is full but we are accepting a wait list.  The retreat in September has a few openings. Check out the Soul Care Experience here!