Finding Your Way to Water in the Midst of a “Soul Drought”
A few years ago, I was flipping through magazines for a project when I stumbled on a photo from National Geographic that grabbed my attention. The photo showed a country in extreme drought or perhaps a river bed gone dry; the scorched earth was so withered and parched, it had formed thick cracks stretching in a web for miles in all directions. That ground had not seen water in a long, long time. I sat back in my chair at the stark realization of how perfectly (and disturbingly) this picture depicted my soul at that time.
All of us will find ourselves in seasons of “soul drought” at some point. Whether it’s burnout from overcommitment, lack of care for ourselves, waves of change, compounded losses, or circumstances that have damn near run us into the ground, we will find ourselves wondering if there is still anything alive in our barren soul. We may feel… Thirst. Hunger. Restlessness. Discontent. Sadness. Brittle. Jaded. Cynical. Closed down. Hopeless. Lifeless. Numb.
How do we lose touch with our hearts?
There are a myriad or reasons why we lose touch with ourselves, but some of the most common include:
Busyness… I once heard a pastor mention that the “spirit of our age” (at least in America) is busyness. We live under the spell of our culture— more, better, faster— until we find we’re no longer driving our lives but our lives are driving us. A cry from the heart may bubble up, but we don’t have time to unpack its meaning because the next minute we are absorbed in emails, meetings, or making meals. Our emotions and longings are tugging at our sleeve like a neglected child, ignoring them too long will lead to a full fledged meltdown eventually.
Too Much Noise and Distraction … We are bombarded with stimulus. Family, spouses, children, social media, emails, news, music, television, podcasts, notes from school, bills, co-workers, bosses, sales, new diets, the latest Bible study, and on and on. Among the dozens of voices we field every day, we are incredibly desperate to hear God’s voice above the cacophony.
Seasons of Intense Output or Care-giving … As a part of healthy community, family, and vocational life, we will always have seasons where our needs/longings/dreams take the back seat in the care of someone or something else. Starting a new business. Birthing and raising children. Caring for an aging parent. Committing to a major project. Going back to school. Supporting someone going back to school. Moving to a new location. Becoming a partner in your firm.
As we come to the end of these seasons, we may realize the fallout of this outpouring out of our lives is a barren internal landscape. Or sometimes we realize, this isn’t a season, this may be long-term, and we’ve got to find a way to pay more attention to what is going on inside. The neglect of watering our soul for an extended period time no matter what the reason will make us dry and thirsty.
Fear… Let’s face it— sometimes we don’t really want to hear what our hearts have to say. We can feel the twinges of disappointment, anger, boredom, or depression and we are afraid if we open the door to explore what is in there — we will loose that negativity like a deadly gas into our lives. Control, avoidance, denial—- all have their roots in fear.
So how do you start to get back in touch with yourself?
Here’s an important truth— God doesn’t often shout down the other voices and noise of your life. God’s voice is often found in a whispers. And the deep longings of our hearts don’t generally push to the front of the line for attention. We have to MAKE SPACE for quiet. Period. I know it’s hard. I know it’s costly. But the alternative is living with a withered and barren soul.
Parker Palmer in his gem of a book, Let Your Life Speak describes our soul this way:
The soul is like a wild animal— tough, resilient, savvy, self-sufficient and yet exceedingly shy. If we want to see a wild animal, the last thing we should do is to go crashing through the woods, shouting for the creature to come out. But if we are willing to walk quietly in to the woods and sit silently for an hour or two at the base of a tree, the creature we are waiting for may well emerge, and out of the corner of an eye will catch a glimpse of the precious wildness we seek.
This imagery of being still to allow the wildness of my soul to surface has been a helpful image every time I sit down to be quiet. In order to overcome the demands of my daily ‘to do’ list and the brain fog of an auto-immune disease, I take anywhere from 5 minutes to half an hour to settle into a listening space. On my really bad days, I never get there. But I show up anyway.
But there are many ways to begin getting in touch with your heart: Journal. Cry. Pray. Read Scriptures. Be still. Draw. Paint. Write a psalm of lament. Listen to worship music. Go for a walk in nature. Download the App— “Pray as You Go” for a 10-12 min guided meditation on Scripture (though the music can be a bit weird).
Or if you need a new idea— we have a simple centering exercise that we give to people when they land at our retreats which encourages the process of becoming present to their hearts. We get them out into nature— no music, no kids, no responsibilities and we have them do what we call the “Broom Tree Exercise.”
The Broom Tree Exercise involves filling in a “life tree” that captures the various things happening “above ground” in your life and “below ground” in your heart. The tree is partnered with a ‘tree story’ in the Bible where Elijah, coming off one of the pinnacle moments of his life and ministry, immediately finds himself running in fear and collapsing in the desert under a broom tree in exhaustion and discouragement. The dialogue between Elijah and God, the care he receives, and the revelation of how he finally hears God’s voice provide a beautiful window into how God meets us in times of drought. Download the boom tree exercise here.
To do the exercise, here’s what you need:
- You will need to carve out 1 ½ to 3 hours for the reading, filling in the tree of your life, and reflecting. Make a coffee date with yourself (and God). And guard it.
- Print out the Broom Tree Exercise (or at least print out page 4) and follow the instructions.
- If at all possible – FIND A TREE for your reflection time. But if you are tormented by allergies, currently snowed in, trying to do this over a child’s nap time, or just plain lazy, find a quiet space (home, a coffee shop, a park or garden) that facilitates reflection.
- Settle in for some quiet and reflection and let your ‘exceedingly shy soul” make an appearance.
One little exercise won’t completely replenish the cracked earth of your soul, but every time we show up, quiet ourselves, and open our hearts to listen to the God of the Universe— our hearts are watered. Every time. You may not feel a difference right away. But you will start to crave hearing the still, small voice. And the Voice will lead you back to the places you went off course, reorient you, show you how to set up a sprinkling system, and strengthen you to make some necessary changes.
I want to drink God, deep draughts of God.
I’m thirsty for God-alive.
Psalm 42:1 (the Message)