I read a wonderful book recently, called Soul Keeping:Caring for the most important part of you, by John Ortberg. There was a time when I used to read a lot of Christian books, but I hadn't for a while, subscribing to Adrian-of- the-Sacred-Diary's view that they can sometimes be a bit like Chinese takeaways. I can't remember the exact quote - and can't find the book and it won't google - but it was something like: - they're satisfying at the time but once they've gone down, you're left feeling sad and empty and in immediate need of another one.
This book, however, really hit the spot and has carried on doing so, even though I finished it a month ago ;) Ortberg quotes his great friend Dallas Willard who said that our souls are like streams of water which, when well tended, give strength and harmony to every area of our lives. The most important thing in your life, he argues, is not what you do but who you become. The book is not about how to cope with our outer world - the world of reputation and appearance, the way we behave to others, work in our jobs. It challenges us to deal with the unseen world of our souls, often chaotic and dark and disordered, the one no one really knows about. Our souls can, if we are not careful, be devoted to something that becomes so important that is slowly erodes our love for God. That thing then becomes our idol. He writes that the soul must always orbit around something other than itself, something it can worship. This is the nature of the soul.
It made me think about writing and the delicate balance between perseverance, commitment and obsession. Also the way we promote ourselves - at what point does our need to get our books/blogs out there, garnering interest and publicity, become a soul-fracturing push for affirmation and attention that actually militates against soul health and wholeness?
I don't know the answers to these questions. But, as believers, I think we need to be honest about them, It's probably different for everyone. For me, when I find myself refreshing my blog's Stats page, then I know things are bad and I need to take a walk, read, and ask God to restore my soul. If my sense of wholeness is dependent on how many hits or likes I get, I'm in trouble. My writing, however important to me, is not my life. It is not my soul. And if I'm not careful, it sometimes threatens to turn me into the kind of person I don't much like...
At 12, my demons were anxiety, loneliness and a need to be liked. I thought God and life had healed me of them. In recent months, I've seen they still lurk in the darkest corners of my soul, and raise ugly heads when I'm stressed or tired. As Ortberg says, "The reason our souls hunger so, is the life we could be living so far exceeds our strangest dreams." He goes on to summarise the kind of life soul-tenders enjoy. These include: -
- Loving God whole-heartedly
- Being able to say yes or no without anxiety
- Speaking confidently and honestly
- Being willing to disappoint, but always ready to bless
- Seeing without judging
- Being so humble that every person you see is an object of wonder
At King Henry's Mound, the highest point in Richmond Park, there's a view between trees for 15 km to St Paul's Cathedral in the distance. This vista is protected and trees have to be cut away from time to time in order to preserve it, to keep the long view. If we don't ruthlessly face and cut away some of the soul destroyers that clamour for our attention, we too will lose the long view, the clear sense of what God wants us to do in our writing, and more crucially, in our lives.
How can we, as Christian writers, maintain our twin passions for God and writing, yet remain true to our souls?
Deborah Jenkins is a part-time teacher and freelance writer who has written articles, text books, devotional notes and short stories. She has completed a novella, The Evenness of Things, available as an Amazon e-book and is currently working on writing school textbooks for Macmillan. She is also writing a full length novel in the odd spare moment. Deborah loves hats, trees and small children. After years overseas with her family, who are now grown up, she lives in south-west London with her husband, a Baptist minister, and a cat called Oliver.