Grab a cup of coffee and join me as I write about the condition of soul depletion. My hope is that today’s blog will begin to answer some important questions about the health of our souls.
Most of us are familiar with a routine health check but doing a soul check is not as familiar. Our vital signs give us a snap shot of how well we are doing.
How do we know when our soul is doing well?
How do we know if we are suffering from soul depletion?
Eugene Peterson gives some vital signs of soul depletion and soul health in his paraphrase of Matthew 11: 28-30. “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (MSG)
Soul depletion is apparent in us when we lack energy, motivation and joy. Soul depletion is also evident when we feel tired and burned out on the things we once loved, even the best of things. Living in an ongoing hurried, busy, frantic way with little time to rest or refresh is a fast track to burn out. This can be seen in overwork, over-responsibility or over achieving but they all lead to the same end.
The picture of soul health is quiet the opposite. Our souls flourish when we establish boundaries, live in an intentional rhythm of work and rest and enjoy specific times of refreshment. Jesus invites us to flourish! He calls to us to do life with him in an unforced way. He promises that when we do life his way, our souls can be free from the relentless stress that leads to a tired, worn-out, burned out condition.
Soul health can slip away very easily for those in leadership. Leaders are often plagued with demands and expectations and can also be prone to a pursuit of perfection, performance or the praise of people. All of these deplete the soul. Unless we develop a keen eye to spot these behaviors they can also become unconscious idols we serve.
We recently reflected on the history of our soul health and depletion and found similarities to what is seen in Matthew 11:28-30. From times of transition and change, to periods of stressful productivity in ministry, to facing grief at the death of our mothers, we seemed to be flourishing. Although each situation was very different, what they shared in common is that we had a sense of peace, contentment and even joy. Why? Because Jesus put nothing ill fitting upon us. In his company, we were able to live free and light regardless of our circumstances. All was well with our souls!
Soul health is evident when peace, contentment and joy describes the condition of our internal world regardless of our circumstances.
One the other hand soul depletion is very different. When my soul was depleted I had an absence of peace, contentment and joy. The more depleted my soul became the more I failed to notice the positives around me. Caught in a hurried, frantic state I made more efforts to please people than God. My need for perfection took precedence over my dependency on God. I grew exhausted and worn out. And I wasn’t even aware that my soul health was slipping away little by little.
Soul depletion mirrors a process similar to the erosion of soil. With erosion, a structure can become unstable little by little over time, and yet the problem goes unnoticed until it hits a critical point. By the time we notice the erosion of our soul, we can be suffering symptoms of spiritual, emotional or physical burnout.
SIX FEATURES OF SOUL DEPLETION
Our spiritual practices change. Hurry results in less prayer, avoiding the practice of silence and solitude, the neglect of fellowship and abandoning the Sabbath.
Self-reliance slowly takes the place of trusting God. The failure to set boundaries, make prayerful decisions, take time for restoration and acknowledge our human limitations points to self-reliance. We forget our lives rest on God’s promises not us.
Resilience to manage difficulty slips and faith weakens. When stress becomes greater than our ability to cope, depletion is evident. Doubts, fears, and confusion become the norm and can challenge our hope in God. We can also become prone to anxiety, depression and emotional difficulties. .
Physical stamina gives way to exhaustion and health concerns emerge. We may sleep too much or too little, feel worn out and depleted or develop physical complaints. Headaches, GI problems, elevated blood pressure, or other health concerns can come on unexpectedly.
Relationship health declines and conflict grows. Once enough depletion occurs, relationships can become marked by a pattern of unresolved conflict.
A false way of being covers up the true-authentic-self. We can experience a deadening to the convictions of Holy Spirit. This is more than “backsliding” it is a disconnection from one’s identity as a child of God. We no longer live out God’s purpose for our lives but instead follow sinful impulses.
What we need most to return to soul health is to be reminded again and again that Jesus invites us to …
- come to me
- get away with me
- walk with me
- work with me
- watch how I do life
- keep company with me
- learn the unforced rhythms of grace
When is the last time you checked the vital signs of your soul?