How's Your Soul?
The first time I recall someone asking about my soul’s condition was over thirty years ago. Baffled by the question, I began babbling about the most familiar and frustrating aspect of my life: the frantic, out-of-control, frenzied pace I couldn’t seem to escape. I described my fatigue and emptiness and how overwhelming my life was, even on the best of days. After listening for a while, my friend offered a staggering observation: “Fil, you seem dreadfully close to losing touch with the Jesus you so desperately want others to know.”
Never had words pierced my heart as these did. For some time I’d had a disturbing sense that my life was out of control. But there had been no time to consider the problem, its cause or what might result if I couldn’t rein in the pandemonium. In the process of constantly striving and always busy, I had lost touch with my soul. Then on that day, speaking with this perceptive friend, I began to hope, I just might have some value beyond being busy so others would notice my dedication to reaching lost kids.
This encounter could have been a catalyst for change; however, for the next two years I continued to choose the ego-satisfaction of a life “for” God over the greater value of a life “with” God. I threw myself again and again into a whirlwind of activity that got me recognition and praise. Physically exhausted and spiritually empty, I began to feel ripped apart by the relentlessly competing. Although I hated being harried and hassled by life’s demands and pressures, I loved being in demand.
Late at night, while my wife and children slept, I would lie awake fearing I had come to the end of my rope. While attempting to help others to encounter Jesus, I had lost touch with Him. The lifestyle that appeared to enhance my friendship with God had become instead a terrible threat.
I was obsessed with helping others have the kind of relationship with God I had never known. Although I knew truths and ideas about Jesus, I didn’t know what it meant for me to be His friend. I had confidence (far too much) in my ability to do God’s work, but I was oblivious when it came to letting God work in me. I could talk easily with others about Jesus, yet I knew nothing about how to sit still long enough for Jesus to talk with me.
I had become an out-of-control ministry addict, what author Parker Palmer calls a “functional atheist.” Although I spoke of God as being power and in control, my actions told a different story, that God either didn’t exist or was seriously ill. I lived in the illusion that unless I was making it happen, nothing was happening. Not only was my life shaped by an incorrect view of a too-small God, an equally incorrect view of a too-big me made matters worse.
My need for constant activity was also rooted deeply in the illusion that God’s acceptance, love, and care for me was directly proportional to my level of activity for God. This baseless belief-system—“the more I do for God, the more God will love me”—had dictated my life and threatened to starve my soul.
• What’s the condition of your soul?
• What words most accurately describe the rhythm of your life? Do these words fall into the category of “balanced, peaceful, settled” or into the realm of “pressured, fatigued, and out-of-control”?