A young chaplain, exhausted and frazzled by her job in a busy hospital during this time of COVID and tending to her own young family, met with me online. She wanted to know why she simply could not do the self-care things that she encouraged others to do, especially during a time when she really needed them.
I said, “Well, there were times when Jesus was exhausted, too. So if he was, you will be, too. And your soul probably doesn’t want anything else to do! Want some help in discovering what it wants instead?”
Experiencing relief simply by being reminded that Jesus experienced exhaustion but also intrigued, she said yes and I had her go get a piece of paper and a pen.
There’s a simple practice I developed for a silent retreat years ago that I still revisit with those in leadership or caregiving positions whether inside or outside the church. A cup or glass and a Sharpie are also an option but a journal and pen were easier for her. Note: You might want to stop reading and grab paper and pen, too!
Then I walked her through these 3 Steps for Discovering Your Soul's Thirst:
She was surprised. First, by how quickly her cup filled up (she didn’t think she offered that much!) and more importantly, what she circled had nothing to do with another thing to do! Instead of another item on her to do list, her soul was craving the gifts of “presence” and “being seen.” This led to reflecting on her week and a guided prayer with Jesus.
“Where have you been invited into or even experienced ‘presence’ and ‘being seen’ this week?” I asked her. She quickly realized that it was not in her times of trying hard to do self-care or connect to God during a formal service or quiet-time, but an out-of-the-spotlight interaction with two people in a hospital room had brought a deep feeling of connection, presence, and being seen. It was a holy moment being offered to her to savor once more.
After a few moments, I asked her if she was interested in meeting with Jesus by the well that she’s been passing out cups of Living Water beside. She said “yes” and we moved into a time of guided prayer based on an interaction at a well between a Samaritan woman and the Jewish Jesus as described in John 4:4-10. When walking groups through this prayer, I offer a little more context that I didn’t need to do with the chaplain but will briefly offer here.
In the story we discover that Jesus is physically tired and thirsty. The Samaritan woman is spiritually tired and thirsty, though she hasn’t admitted it yet. He asks her, a woman and enemy of the Jews, to help him with his physical thirst, later saying he can help with her spiritual thirst.
He begins with his own vulnerability, his own parched soul.
In so doing he reveals himself as a Friend of her Soul and promises he can give her Living Water that can become a wellspring within her, deep and lasting. She can draw from it at any time.
This same promise is offered to our thirsty souls today. We don't have to wait for another time in the future, we don’t have to wait until chaos or external need subsides.
Jesus is already waiting at the well, in the heat of the day.
He begins with his own thirst which offers an invitation for another to be honest about hers.
When we pause from passing out cups in Jesus' Name, we can hear with the Samaritan woman His words, “If you only knew what God is offering...you would have been the one to ask for a drink, and he would have given you living water.”
Shall we ask for a drink?
As you close your eyes, imagine the well you've been passing out cups of water beside. It may be a literal well or a metaphorical one, like your place of work. Whichever it is, you find Jesus waiting for you there. You might greet Jesus and allow him to greet you. Take in the scene with all of your senses (what do you see, hear, smell, taste, touch?).
Be there a while and become aware of your thirst. What does your soul thirst for in this moment? You may have circled it on your cup.
Trust, be curious, remembering that Jesus is a Friend of your Soul. Ask him for a drink of this water he's offering that deeply renews and restores.
What is Jesus' response? Perhaps he offers a word, action, expression, instruction, or maybe he simply wants to be there with you...
Allow the scene to unfold. You might continue a conversation like the Samaritan woman did or take a refreshing drink, or simply rest there, whatever your soul needs at this time. Be there with Jesus, drink deeply. I'll close with a prayer.
Says the prophet Isaiah, “Yahweh will always guide you, will satisfy your needs in the scorched land; he will give strength to your bones and you will be like a watered garden, like a flowing spring whose waters never run dry.” Says Jesus, “The water I shall give you will become in you a spring of water, welling up for eternal life.”
Friend of Our Soul, may we drink deeply and discover within our own lives the ways you invite us to care for our souls even as we care for the souls of others. Amen.
At the end of our time, the young chaplain, calm and with a smile on her face, said, “Just what I needed. I’m still physically tired but my soul is invigorated. I can be both. That feels so good.”
How many of you are giving, giving, giving? Or producing, producing, producing?
Years ago, a Spiritual Director offered me a great image after hearing my story of burnout as a youth pastor. She said, “People in ministry often stand by the Well passing out cups of Living Water to others and forgetting to drink from it themselves!”
I was so busy being productive and constantly giving of my time and energy that I had neglected my own soul. I mistakenly thought my stamina and ability to be productive was soul food because after all, it was in service to God! My subsequent burnout said differently. EVERY area of my life was impacted…physical, emotional, mental, relational, & spiritual. No area was left untouched because all areas are interconnected.
We have a tendency to separate the body and soul, but according to the Hebrew language, there is no division between the soul (“nephesh”) and the body. So, YOU DON’T HAVE A SOUL YOU ARE A SOUL! You may have heard this before, but it’s true. You are a living, breathing, physical being, A WHOLE MADE UP OF MANY PARTS. Any of those parts can be trying to get your attention and tell you the truth.
My own dualism 20 years ago, viewing my body as separate and of lesser importance than my soul caused me to not listen to the wisdom my body was offering me. My body became a hurdle to my spiritual work and this was a major reason I burned out.
Over the years, I’ve met with countless pastors, ministry leaders, those in nonprofits, and care-givers of all kinds who come to Spiritual Direction in a similar state…weary and parched from trying so hard, giving so much, and on the verge, if not in the middle, of burnout.
What were their indicators that their souls were parched? Here are some…
Any of these sound familiar?
How about you, what are the indicators that your soul is parched?
I know Thanksgiving is coming up, but what if you stop giving to others just for a moment?
Offer a cup of Living Water to yourself by listening. Are there any parts of you (or your life) that are trying to get your attention? Do you need help listening? Or help stopping?
Spiritual Direction is a great place to stop and listen for the wisdom within your own life, your own body. I promise, these parts of you are eager for you to listen to the wisdom they hold. They are only a moment’s notice away—and will give thanks when you finally pay attention!
Next week we’ll take a look at what your soul is craving (& it's more than pumpkin pie!).
“Must be hard being 10 and already going through dark night of the soul,” 14-year-old, Lainey, said as the two of us drove back from her fencing lessons.
Her comment about her brother caught me off guard.
As a Spiritual Director, I companion adults going through Dark Night of the Soul, but I had not considered how children may, too. I know that children suffer depression which in adults can coincide with Dark Night, but I had not seen Dark Night through a child’s eyes (even though our most memorable moments with God often happen when we are children).
For those not familiar with the concept, Dark Night is a stage in the spiritual journey that Saint John of the Cross experienced and wrote about in the 16th century. He gave words to the “spiritual crisis” that occurs for those seeking union with God or to embody Perfect Love.
Whether happening gradually or initiated through a tragedy or hardship, Dark Night can be felt as emptiness and dryness. Our go-to spiritual practices no longer “work.” Those activities and places of belonging that once brought us enjoyment, no longer do so. We suffer disappointment, doubt, disorientation, discomfort, disillusionment, and even the utter disintegration of our thoughts and feelings about God, ourselves, and life. In experiencing this loss and grief, depression can occur.
We ask questions like, “Who am I?” “Who and where is God?” “What’s going on?” “Why can’t things go back to ‘normal’?” “What is normal anyway?” “Will this ever end?”
This liminal space is entered into many times in our lives as we find ourselves in places and situations we would rather not be (like in a pandemic!). We are in that “in-between” of who we were before and who will be after…it’s definitely uncomfortable. My 10-year-old joins the rest of the planet in this communal Dark Night of the Soul.
He’s asking, “Who am I?” “Who are my friends?” “Do I even have friends anymore?” “Will friends recognize me when I do go back to school?” “Is virtual school even school?” “Will I ever play baseball or basketball again?” “Will I even love sports again?” “Things are too stressful in the world right now, is it always going to be like this?”
Now here’s what makes Dark Night different from depression. When depressed, it’s a good idea to seek counseling and/or receive medication which hopefully helps us emerge from the darkness of depression with great relief. And while there may be inner relief from the suffering (which is something to celebrate), there may not be inner transformation. One may be grateful to simply return to oneself.
During a Dark Night, rather than seeking a way out of the darkness, we are led deeper into it (a Spiritual Director is really helpful in the dark!). This is the place where God loosens our attachments to all we may mistake for God, life, and our true selves.
It can be painful to have these attachments revealed and painful to let go of them. After all, we might really love being known as the athlete, whether spiritual or baseball! We might cherish the feeling we get in imaging and relating to God in a certain way.
However, when we emerge from Dark Night, we not only find relief but we are also transformed. We no longer see or exist in the world in the same way we did prior to the darkness. In other words, we do not return to ourselves, but are a new, truer Self!
An expanded heart is the fruit of the Dark Night. We see God, ourselves, and the world in deeper and wider ways and we are free to love God, ourselves, and the world in deeper and wider ways.
A different 14-year-old girl shared an image that came to her during our Girls’ Group-time of listening to the instrumental song, Unfolding. It offers a beautiful and striking image of what it’s like to come through Dark Night of the Soul:
I saw a newborn fawn.
The fawn had outgrown the only world it knew and she was witnessing the moment of it breaking free of the old and opening its eyes in the new one. As her words convey, the birth process is messy--so is being “born again” into a new way of being and seeing! This is my hope for our world. In the words of Matthew Fox, “A pandemic is a terrible thing to waste.”
In the meantime, we have the birth pains.
Last night I talked with my son about his struggles and the possibility of counseling. With his permission, I share what he said: “Mom, I don’t think I need counseling right now, I have no problem discussing my feelings with you and Dad. And yeah, I’m learning new things about myself, but I’m mad and nothing helps. I hate sports right now. Lainey’s discovered a sport and mine are gone. I can't do anything right. I don’t know when it will end, maybe it never will. But I don’t need any other voices right now, what I need is you.”
At 10, he’s being led deeper into the dark and I’m going to sit with him there, as a Spiritual Director and Mom. Together, in this womb-like darkness, we’ll wait and trust that the God we cannot see or feel, is truly Emmanuel, “God-with-us.”
Anxiety. Anger. Heaviness. Headache. Nausea. Nerve-pain. Tension. Tears.
My 14-year-old woke up way too early this morning and as we met in the hallway both of us bleary-eyed, she said, “Ugh, I’m feeling everyone’s collective stuff.” “I hear you,” I replied.
This is normal. We are all interconnected so you’re not alone today if you are feeling more than your normal share in this liminal space. Jesus felt his people’s collective pain. He shares in our suffering.
However, at this point, unlike Jesus, we often go searching outside ourselves for a remedy that can only come from a deeper place within. Understandably, we want a quick fix. We want to feel better and we want others to feel better.
So we are apt to compulsively scan the horizons of social media, news, books (even the most holy ones!), and other people (even the most holy ones!) looking for “good news” or at least a reminder that we are not the only burden-bearers. But no amount of memes, quotes, or conversations can offer what that pit in our stomach is crying out for.
It knows something, that discomfort, that pain. It has stories to share (for our bodies hold memory). You actually don’t need any new insights, you need to trust the ones you already have! So what do you already have? What do you know in your depths? I trust you know something to be true in your bones. What is it?
Here are some additional ways to listen to the wisdom within (God’s own Spirit dwelling within your own being, your own story, your own body).
By the way, when I asked my daughter what she knew to be true in her bones, her worried brow immediately softened as perennial wisdom rushed from the depths to the surface. She sang, "Don't worry about a thing. 'Cause every little thing gonna be alright."
Bob Marley, Julian of Norwich, Saint Paul, and Jesus, would all agree.
Kasey is a scarf, ball and club juggling spiritual director just outside of Nashville, TN. Play helps her Type-A, Enneagram 1 personality relax, creating space for poetry and other words to emerge. She also likes playing with theological ideas like perichoresis, and all the ways we're invited into this Triune dance.