How is your soul?

“I have realized that I don’t know how to stop or disconnect from ministry. The loss of taste for doing simple things in life has been evident. I feel isolated, lonely, meaningless, dazed. I have lost all perspective. These have been my thought patterns over the past few weeks. Intense days…doubts…fears. Are you there Father?”

Our country was experiencing one of its greatest natural disasters. Hurricane Maria had taken hold of our island. We had survived, but now we were facing chaos. We were trying to start over and get our lives back on track. We knew it would take years to recover. We had so much to do. As a pastor, I felt I had the life and strength needed to serve with my all alongside the church and the community. It was a great opportunity to shine, to love and to serve. There were meals to prepare. There were sermons to be written and preached. And, there were people in need of a listening ear, caring words, and counseling support. In the evenings before returning home, I would pick up food and water for my family. The nights without electricity seemed to last forever and the heat was overwhelming. After months of rebuilding, the country slowly recovered. The ministry continued and everything began to flourish again. Meanwhile, I began to decline.  

One night, I stopped sleeping. That night turned into a week of no sleep. Something was very wrong, but I had no name for what my body was feeling, no time to stop, no ability to analyze and certainly was not capable of rest. 

Then, it happened…I ended up in the emergency room.  

I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t feel my arms. I was walking with difficulty. I was experiencing palpitations like a locomotive and felt like there was an elephant sitting on my chest. I entered the hospital afraid that this would be my last day of life. Minutes later I heard the doctor’s voice say the words that still echo in my mind, “You’re burnt out! This is physical/emotional burnout, anxiety disorder.” Impossible! I’m not crazy! I’m a Christian! And I’m a pastor! In the matter of a few weeks, after his event which exposed my mental health, I changed from being a productive man to one locked behind my bedroom door. Weeks turned into months. I had begun a completely unexpected journey. Depression had driven me into a dark corner where I was unable to get out. During that time, I wrote the following in my devotional journal: 

“I have realized that I don’t know how to stop or disconnect from ministry. The loss of taste for doing simple things in life has been evident. I feel isolated, lonely, meaningless, dazed. I have lost all perspective. These have been my thought patterns over the past few weeks. Intense days…doubts…fears. Are you there Father?”

In the midst of my process of seeking healing, I spoke one evening with my mentor, a retired pastor of some 63 years. As we were talking, he asked me one of those uncomfortable questions that we struggle at times to answer. He said, “How is your soul?” I thought to myself, what kind of question is this? Usually, we meet with friends or family and ask questions like: How are things going, how is work, family, ministry, church?  But how is your soul? It feels like the question is a knife that has the ability to slice you open to reveal the depths of your innermost being. How do I answer? When was the last time I asked myself, “How am I doing? Have I ever asked myself the question, “My soul, how are you? 

Your soul… That deepest part of who you are that seeks to connect with your heavenly Father in a vital and intimate relationship and place you in a position where your essential desire/need can be satisfied by the same God who created and designed you. It is the most authentic part of us, our origin; where thoughts, feelings, and emotions are both born and stored. It is that space where you know that when you are there, you are with Him, and it is a special meeting place. You are in a safe place. 

Jesus himself spoke of the soul, and the vital importance of investing in what is most important to you. In Matthew 16:26, while speaking to his disciples about the price of following him and the risk of trying to gain everything the world has to offer, the master said: 

“And what benefit do you get if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is there anything worth more than your soul?

The word “soul” used in this text is Nefesh and takes us to the beginning of the history of our existence. It is the same word we find in Genesis 2:7 at the moment when God/Trinity, in perfect communion, creates the human being. And after forming a beautiful sculpture from the dust, he breathes the breath of life.  

Nephesh…breathed…breath of life, soul. Then, the text says that we were then living beings. With His word, God created the heavens and the earth; however, God did not call the human being to life. God breathed, and from His very breath imparted life, soul.  The breath of God is the essential characteristic of the soul of the human being. When we speak of soul, we need to speak of that Divine breath. Soul and God’s breath of life are connected. There were no souls before the creation of the human being. We were not wandering souls that were later inserted into bodies. We live, breathe, walk, exist, by His breath. His life defines ours. We were created in His image and likeness. Our souls come from God, depend on God, cry out for God, long for God. They enjoy being with the One who is the source that sustains them. When we are with the Father, we are at home. 

Proverbs 4:23 encourages us to guard our soul because from there life flows and springs forth.

In Ephesians 3 we hear Paul’s cry for the believers to be strengthened in their inner being. 

Psalm 131:2 reminds us how our soul is safe and satisfied in God like a baby that after crying has been quieted and calmed, satisfied by its mother’s milk. In God we are safe, complete, satisfied. 

Returning to the words of Jesus, we need to ask the question: How is it then possible to lose our soul? I believe that when we run rampant through life, we forget who we really are and lose touch with the center of our lives which is God himself. Our soul is continually dependent on the Father. When we live in times of insecurity and chaos, we are tempted to be filled with fear or to be filled with work. It is very easy to forget who we are and whose we are, especially when we think that our true identity is in what we do and produce. We need to pause, even stop, to be with God and together with the Father ask questions of our inner selves. The same God who breathed life is the same God who with His hands formed our body. Our inner world (soul) and outer world (body) need care, spaces of rest, calm and constant renewal. It is impossible to separate the two.  

Perhaps today we need to stop and answer some of Jesus’ questions. Let me respectfully use Matthew 16:26 as we respond together to these questions as men and women in service to God: 

What good does it do us to win all the ministerial titles, move the masses or do all the projects in the world if in the end our soul is lost, if we are burned out, drained and consumed?  

Will there be anything more important than your soul? 

Pastor Leo Ayala
Caminando Juntos

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