A trusted friend and coworker asked me about my week this morning after our two-hour meeting together. I thought that I would have had enough self-control to give the cursory and expected “I’m doing pretty good” and then quickly flip it around by asking him how he was doing. Nope, not this morning. “I’m completely fried,” I blurted, “and I have done a horrible job of taking care of myself.” It seemed to fly out of my mouth like a bird, uncaged… without permission. The dam began to fracture under the weight of his compassion. I recounted my woes from Wednesday to Wednesday and found myself doing one of the things I loathe more than most things… complaining (although, I do find that it is sometimes challenging to discern what the line between “processing” and “complaining” is). Here are all of things that went wrong. Here are my excuses. Here are my apologies for making excuses. Here are all of the things, and people and circumstances that I am blaming my exhaustion on.
All of a sudden, I felt that all-too-familiar warmth rising up in my chest. My shoulders curled and hunched, my stomach rolled, my eyes began to burn with that pre-tear sting. What is going on? I thought to myself. I haven’t cried in forever, why is all of this coming up right now? And then it was back… shame. My eternal opponent and adversary. My buddy handled the sudden and unexpected emotional torrent like a champion. He listened as I fumbled over words and tried to get my peace back. My brain had been hi-jacked by an onslaught of “can’ts” and “should’ves” and “not-good-enoughs.” My usually positive, hopeful attitude had been laced with an unforeseen and abrupt measure of poison.
I stopped. I took a deep inhale.
I was met with kind eyes and “what can you do to take care of yourself the rest of the day?” Good question.
Here is the irony. At our church’s men’s group last Thursday, I was given some space to share about something I am passionate about and usually very good at practicing… soul rest. The truth is that the enemy loves to pursue and attack the things that we care about the most. This morning, I was caught off guard.
I began my short teaching at “Man Night” with Proverbs 4:23 from The Passion Translation: “Above all, guard the affections of your heart, for they affect all that you are. Pay attention to the welfare of your innermost being, for from there flows the wellspring of life.” Our affections affect us. Wow, what an important reminder. In these moments when I allow myself to be overcome by dark, negative, exhausting, shaming thoughts… I am failing to care for my soul.
I shared a diagram with the men that I had seen once in my master’s program. It is, simply, a tree…
THE ROOTS represent our desires/affections… what am I feeding them? How am I nourishing them? Or are the desires/affections I have poisoning or toxic?
THE TRUNK represents our thoughts… what are my current thoughts? Am I choosing thoughts that are life giving, or am I giving attention to or partnering with thoughts that are harmful, damaging, or negative?
THE FRUIT represents what our life yields or produces… what are the products of my deep affections and thought life? What are others observing about what my life is creating? How are others benefitting from or suffering from what my life is creating?
Our thoughts connect the root to the fruit. This is why it is important for us to examine and choose to think on things that are true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and worthy of praise! (Phil 4:8). One way that we train our affections and desires to be healthy is by making space in our lives for REST. We must be disciplined, protective, and taking charge of what is allowed in our soul. We must choose not to willingly consume things that are poisonous and dangerous for our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health.
I recently discovered this quote from Braving the Wilderness by Dr. Brené Brown, and found it to be deeply profound and important. Her words echo those from that significant verse in Proverbs chapter four:
“Stop walking through the world looking for confirmation that you don’t belong. You will always find it because you’ve made that your mission. Stop scouring people’s faces for evidence that you’re not enough. You will always find it because you’ve made that your goal. True belonging and self-worth are not goods; we don’t negotiate their value with the world. The truth about who we are lives in our hearts. Our call to courage is to protect our wild heart against constant evaluation, especially our own. No one belongs here more than you.”
It’s unhelpful for me to sit back and simply evaluate the roots, I must actually feed them something nourishing. For me, it is things like taking a hike in the woods, time spent in worship/prayer playing my guitar, or writing. There is a difference between REST and LAZINESS, though… this distinction is important (read more here). Matthew 11:28 promises rest in exchange for the things that burden me. This deep soul rest comes from the Lord, alone. In my moments of rest, I remember who I am as a son of the best Father I could ever ask for. It is only when I remember my sonship that I can feel brave and strong again because I have been able to return to a place of “child-likeness” and trust my Daddy to be big for me.
After a couple of deep gulps of air and words of encouragement and affirmation from my patient co-worker, I thought of what I had taught the guys last Thursday and chose not to allow the shame of failing to take my own advice in this moment, to consume me. And I reminded myself of Brené’s words… I must protect my wild heart.