Are you feeling spiritually flabby? Do you feel your spiritual "get up and go" got up and went? My prescription for you? Soul-training exercises!
Spirituality is an important component of wellness that often gets overlooked. What are we doing to tend our souls? Like a garden overrun by weeds, a soul neglected quickly becomes a field of bitterness, judgment, and resentment. In contrast, a soul tended yields fruit of love, joy, and peace.
Lent (which begins today) is the perfect time for us to become intentional about our spirituality. Lent is the season in the church calendar set apart as a time for reflection on our need for a Savior and for drawing ever closer to Him. Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness and so we, too, take 40 days to re-focus, repent, receive and renew.
So, where to begin? How do we roll up our sleeves and tend to our neglected souls?
Here are a few soul-training exercises to get you started.
1. Read a good book. I actually came across the phrase "soul-training exercises" in the book "The good and beautiful God" by James Bryant Smith. Check it out, literally! It is a book designed to have us re-think how we see God. Plus, it has some practical tips that can benefit every body and soul. The first chapter deals with sleep. Sounds intriguing, no? "Life together" by Bonhoeffer is a quick read. But it contains profound insights on Christian community that helped me understand the power of faith lived out with others. "Circle maker" by Mark Batterson challenges us to dream big in our prayers and then to dream even bigger. These are just a few books that I've been reading over the past few months. Many books entertain. Not all uplift. Look for something that will nourish your soul. (Oh, and, of course, the Bible is the ultimate source for soul nourishment.)
2. Establish a holy habit. (Or re-establish a holy habit.) I used to be so methodical about my prayer life. I had a little notebook that listed groups I'd pray for every day of the week. Monday, I'd pray for my church and its leadership and members. Tuesday, i'd pray for my city, etc. And then I had kids. My life (and prayer life) changed. It wasn't worse, but it was different. With my kids, I found myself praying more spontaneously---over meals, of course, but also in the car, before school, at bedtime, etc. Now that my kids are (mostly) out of the house, I am working on re-establishing my earlier prayer habit (hopefully without dropping altogether the sporadic, "arrow-style" prayers we prayed together).
Consider blocking out 10-15 minutes of your day to intercede for others. Among other things, prayer puts your life in perspective and reminds you that there are bigger things going on, beyond your own small little world and worries.
3. Give something up. Sacrifice is a necessary part of spirituality. A friend told me today that she is giving up crossword puzzles for this season. Naturally, it's not that crossword puzzles in and of themselves are a spiritual stumbling block. But she wants to make space and time for Bible study and prayer and for other important things that she's been putting off. Time is not going to magically appear in your life. You've heard the phrase "something's gotta give." Give something up to make space for something better this season.
4. Find a spiritual community. You will need people to check in with you on your soul-training exercises. Find like-minded people who love God and those around them. You will grow in community as you could never grow alone. By yourself, it's easy to be holy. There is no one to challenge or confront you, stretch you or prod you. But in relationship with others, your sins move into a spotlight of sorts, which is both painful and delightful. Painful, because it's embarrassing and uncomfortable. Delightful, because you can then treat the area (submitting it to God and your neighbor) and receive forgiveness and healing. You may have found a group like this already, but life's busyness has gotten in the way of your connecting with them. Go back to them. Consider the Lenten 6 weeks as a reacquaintance period. They'll be there, ready to receive you with arms open wide.
Please add your own soul-training exercise ideas below. May this be a powerful season of reflection and renewal for all of us.