#1. Soul Keeping To love well, it's absolutely essential to get clear and go forward with what matters most. But with daily distractions, it's not always easy to identify and define which is why I so appreciated John Ortberg's book, Soul Keeping.
To consistently get clear and go forward with what matters most, we need to care for the most important part of us. Our outer world / life is what people see and what we achieve but the interior life is so much more significant. That's because it's the soul that gives strength, direction and harmony. Strength to do things right. Direction to do the right things. Harmony to discern what are the right things.
John's mentor was Dallas Willard and the foundational spiritual discipline that Dallas imparted to John was, "You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life." This is the single most important discipline to grow the clarity, conviction and commitment to love well.
Too often, especially in religious realms, the soul has been understood in the context of where it goes after death. But according to Dallas and John (to which I absolutely concur), "...our eternal destiny is not cosmic retirement. It is to be a part of a tremendously creative project, under unimaginably splendid leadership, on in inconceivably vast scale with ever increasing cycles of fruitfulness and enjoyment. That is the prophetic vision which eyes have not seen and ears have not heard."
That was John's initial response too.
What is the soul?
To start, it is invisible so it's easy to neglect.
You are a soul, not just a self. Your soul makes you a person and not a thing. Your soul makes you precious, vulnerable, and yet authentically powerful. It is bigger than the will and actually the will resides in the soul.
The will is good for things that don’t involve deeply ingrained habits, patterns, and deeply rooted attitudes. The mind is a bit more substantial and effective in dealing with those things yet it is the soul that has the ability to shape both mind and will for real, lasting change and development.
The mind craves peace and does all it can to achieve it but if the soul is not well, it invariably experiences futility and unintended negative outcomes. But if the soul is well, the mind becomes preoccupied by thoughts conducive to love, joy, and peace.
So what is the soul?
It's the operating system of your life; you don’t notice it unless it starts crashing; it is made for connections and integration to synergize everything into a single, dynamic life. When our souls are well, we live whole heartedly connected to those around us. We find delight in simply being present, not having to do something for them. We are at rest from compulsions to do what we want and free from anxieties about what might happen or what others think.
However when the soul is unhealthy, disintegration occurs. We are disconnected from God and His design for wellness. This is the cause of depression and it perpetuates neglect of what matters most so we end up focusing on self - what we think is best, what we think is right, what we like. Rather than caring for ourselves, we become obsessed with ourselves.
What is the soul?
It's what takes all your senses, thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and desires and sends it to your mind, to others, and even God. When it's cared for and vibrant, you live as you were made to be - connected to God and others. This most important part of you correlates, energizes, integrates all of yourself to show up and do whatever and wherever with whoever, whenever. It even contains your secret dreams, hurts, fears, traumas, losses, and joys. It's the part of you that journeys toward peace and rest as you intentionally and tenaciously eliminate things that get in the way of achieving what matters most.
It is the inner life; our inner universe.
And to truly care for it, you need to pay attention to its needs for it is the nature of the soul to need. If you try to not need, you'll end up neglecting your soul.
Here are some of the soul's major needs: rest, a father, satisfaction, hope, a future, a center, freedom, a keeper (each person is their own soul's keeper), blessing, gratitude, to be with God / love, i.e. In love's presence, obedient to love, in alignment with love. Pursue these and your soul is on the way to being blessed!
#2. Improve Emotional Health
Emotional health is the 90% of the iceberg below the surface of what people see. It is revealed by how well or poorly we manage pain, fear, worry, sadness and anger. Low health either avoids or attacks, which inevitably perpetuates and most often exacerbates those negative emotions. High levels will empower us to experience these tough emotions yet still be able to communicate and behave in ways that maintain trust and integrity.
If we're going to get emotionally healthier, we'll need to courageously slow down to get familiar with our underlying layers of insecurity, inferiority and insignificance along with the contexts (people and events) that created those layers. Only when we get a clearer, adult perspective on difficult, personal history, will we bravely and compassionately accept pain and losses as a place to love ourselves. This is foundational to developing a more mature, truthful, and complete understanding. Of course this takes time, attention and effort.
To experience transformation of our values and priorities to create a life that actually fits us and connects deeply with others, we need to grow awareness of what we need deep down. We get stuck in emotionally unhealthy ways because of misapplied / misconceived truths about life and people. As kids, we naturally misconceive and misapply truth, but when it occurs with prolonged and profound emotional pain or neglect, the person's emotional health will be compromised.
Over years unaddressed, the solution will not be experienced by getting filled up (by weekly sermons) or retreating or adding strategies or disciplines. It is found only in revolution; intentionally walking a new pathway.
To improve our emotional health, we will need these steps:
- Know yourself that you may know God
- Going back in order to go forward
- Journey through the wall
- Enlarge your soul through grief and loss
- Discover the rhythms of the daily office and sabbath
- Grow into an emotionally mature adult
- Go the next step to develop a ‘rule of life'
We all love and are loved. Ask anyone if they love their families and friends and I can't imagine any of them saying no, except for the occasional teenager super pissed at his nagging parents. But loving well is not quite as common. How many truly healthy families do you know? Most often, confusion and dysfunction are the norm. In a society where performance and productivity have created cultures of insecurity and general senses of not being, doing, or having enough, and soft skills are second class citizens in the market place, being able to love maturely is desperately rare. That's because the growth and development process of this precious gift is extremely time consuming and doesn't fit into the rhythms of the 50-70+ hour work week. Am I saying they're incompatible? Yes.
But if you've come to a place in your life where you are no longer satisfied with your capacity and ability to love (others and yourself), here are several ways to improve how you can strengthen and deepen your most significant relationships.
Learn about the 5 languages by Gary Chapman. Know the love language of your loved ones and your own and get fluent. Start with yourself and take this assessment. Being aware of your own needs and how to fill your emotional tank goes a long way towards having empathy for those you want to love better. Think of it as putting on much needed equipment to see, hear, and feel what the other sees, hears, and feels.
Next, think about how to get those you want to love well to also take the assessment. Frame that initial conversation with why and how you want to improve how you love. Yes, this will be hard and awkward because it will require you to be vulnerable. So watch this first. Brene Brown does a wonderful job unpacking the power of vulnerability so that your heart will have a fighting chance against your head to make this courageous move towards transformation.
It makes such a difference when we love each other in ways that are especially meaningful and relevant to how each of us are uniquely wired. We feel that much more known, appreciated and understood. Knowing and being known is a very significant element of loving and being loved.
Love in Conflict
This is where our love usually breaks down. When sharp disagreement occurs and emotions get intense, we invariably find ourselves on the slippery slope of conflict. When our love is underdeveloped and trust has not been fortified, we simply lack the emotional muscles to balance and navigate peacemaking responses. To put it another way, there's little to no regulation of our fight / flight response. So we just run away or come out with guns blazing.
To get better traction and engagingly abide in the peacemaking responses, we're going to need to get better at crucial conversations (Joseph Grenny).
The keys here are the stories each person tells themselves which will determine whether they slip off towards silence or violence or abide in the dialogue pool of shared meaning. When we're in the safety zone and our fight / flight system is under control, our learning channels remain open so we can work at understanding the other's perspective. When we're able to comprehend each other's thoughts and feelings, we're that much closer to stepping into their shoes and helping them feel known and understood.
Our love gets better when our words and actions reflect authentic empathy and humility. Through awareness of each other's stories, we're empowered to connect meaningfully and be transformed. Deeper trust is built and we draw that much closer to each other.
Giving and Receiving Relational Comfort
Stress happens and at some point before long, we will seek comfort in some way, shape, or form. It may be certain activities, behaviors, or substances but it will always be something. But not all comforts are equal. Some are healthier than others. Relational comfort is definitely at the top. Since we're wired to connect, it only makes sense that our greatest comfort would be found in another person. And in order to love well, we need to work at finding relief and refreshment from those we're closest to. This is also the way to be addiction proof.
When you see your loved ones had a stressful day, offer to spend some time to check in to see what's going on. Here's an outline of a comforting conversation. As you can see, it does take some work in being open and vulnerable to bring things out into the light. But if things stay inside, we will use impersonal comforts which often lead to some form of addiction / enslavement. In being transparent, we are exercising our vulnerability muscle and the more we exercise it, the stronger it gets. The stronger it gets, the easier it will be to share openly and receive the comfort we desperately need. The more relational comfort we can give and receive, the better we are at loving.
- Seek Awareness:
- “What’s your perspective on your problem / challenge?”
- “What feelings come up?” If anger, what’s underneath that anger? Check out soul words list.
- Bring hidden feelings into the light of your relationship. Negative feelings and pain lose power when brought into the light. Conversely, they remain when we keep them hidden.
- To experience comfort, we must take the risk to step towards the freedom that comes from being vulnerable. We draw out the emotions by naming them.
- Ask about the emotions felt in response to triggers / stressors.
- Invite the speaker to risk being honest and vulnerable.
- Ask why the speaker feels what they feel and if there were other times, past or present, when they felt the same.
- Explore where / when else the feelings are felt.
- Try to identify all the times / events that made you feel that way.
- Try to get clear about the general emotional state and what caused it.
- Silence and waiting for people to think and reflect deeply about the past.
- Clarify and validate - use reflective statements.
- Listener should not try to fix, solve, defend, or debate.
- Enter into speakers mindset / perspective, to see things from their point of view; check to see if what was heard is accurate.
- what comfort is needed; learning how to find relational comfort
- “What do you need?”
- “I hear you saying that you feel ___ and you need ___, and here’s what I can do…” [Be honest! Don't make promises you cannot keep].
Outline content taken from here.
Envisioning a healthier core?Challenge success? Learn from failure? Ruthlessly eliminate hurry?
To be a secure connector.
Milan & Kay Yerkovich summarize it this way:
- I have a wide range of emotions and express them appropriately.
- It is easy for me to ask for help and receive from others when I have needs.
- I can say “no” to others even when I know it will upset them.
- I’m adventuresome and I know how to play and have fun.
- I know I’m not perfect, and I give my loved ones room to disagree.
Connections are threatened every time conflict occurs, feelings are hurt, stress attacks, trust is broken, regretful words are spoken, or fear overwhelms. There's more but those are at the top of the list. So many families suffer and disintegrate because of the lack of secure connections. I think this is really close to what matters most.
to see how secure a connector you are.
- After you're done, go through it again but apply it to your spouse. How secure are they?
- If you have high school and college age kids, apply it to them.
- How about your parents?
- Now if you're feeling extra brave, have them do you.
Now what do you want to do with that awareness? If you're already blessed to be a secure connector, I hope you'll help others grow in this wellness of the soul. If not, push this growth area up to being top priority. Your future and everyone you love and loves you will be depending on your ability to securely connect, especially when things get hard.
Could this be why people in power lose sight of what's most important and make detrimental decisions that neglect long term welfare for those they serve and even their families?
Is this why the best leaders are able to make brave and compassionate decisions that bring great benefit and wellness to their organizations and even their families?
I'd love to hear what you think! Please share below.