We climbed the stairs to the pitched roof upper room. A group of ladies who hadn’t been together in some time clearly had much to chat about. Side bar conversations emitted laughter as we poured ourselves glasses of wine and grabbed left over Christmas cookies.
For some time now, a motley band of us have met from time to time to just plain sort out life. Though we are predictably prone to rabbit trails, there is usually one main question or another that seeks to guide our time into something deeper than discussing the latest must-have beauty product or wondering if those shoes are new (though we definitely cover that too).
On this particular night, amid post-Christmas funnies and stories about insane powder on the slopes, the question of the night hovered over the crowd like a balloon about to burst, no one jumping in to touch it first.
Christina, our fearless leader read a compelling passage from a book by Ruth Haley Barton and dolled out the following charge, “As we reflect on this past year, how would you describe the state of your soul?”
Laughter faded. Eyes turned pensive. Minds recalled the previous twelve months trying to wrap words around feelings.
Until one brave soul cleared her throat and broke the silence, “I’ll go first…”
We went around the room, searching for apt descriptors regarding the state of our souls.
We heard words like: Anxious. Peaceful. Put back together. Confused. Wounded. Grieving. Expectant. Angry. Hopeful. Obedient. Declaring war on “living in crisis mode.”
Words spilled into the air coupled with laughter and tears — often the great bookends of the human existence.
There usually aren’t any pat answers or quippy remarks that wrap up the state of our souls into tidy little packages complete with ribbons and bows.
As the hands of the clock marched onward and evening turned into night, we joked the remaining women who had yet to share should just say, “fine.” Of course we were kidding (kind of), but it was getting late and --
Isn't that how many of us prefer to deflect such a question anyway??
If we just answer, “good, fine or okay” perhaps the asker will believe us and our true feelings can remain locked away until they bubble over to boiling as we spew them out on whoever happens to be in our line of fire, usually on those we love the most. For better or for worse.
My favorite line of the evening came from Miss Holly herself. My memory is fuzzy and I can’t quote her verbatim (maybe she can expound in her ‘take’ below) but she basically said something along the lines of — “I love the fact that this group is different. While much of the world would advise running from hard, we won’t run from it. We won’t allow the easy answers of the world to infiltrate this group.”
And you know what? At the end of the day, she is right. Over the years we have celebrated with our sisters in time of joy and lamented and cried in seasons of deep pain. In the midst of it all, we fight for each other. We believe for each other. We listen, encourage and pray for one another. If one of us can't see the forest for the trees, the others will believe for you and vice versa. Always hoping. Always believing even if the road looks dark.
Grateful doesn’t even begin to describe how my soul feels about these beautiful Jesus sisters. They are often a lifeline, a tether to the Kingdom of God. A cord of three (or many more) strands is not quickly broken.
I was happy in many ways during the first ten years of my marriage, but as Scott can attest, I really didn’t have any close friends my age. We enjoyed sweet relationships with high school Young Life kids and were encouraged by many of their parents, but at the end of the day I longed for some soul friends in the same age/stage that we could “do life” with. For so many years that was my deep prayer. I just wanted some friends.
The God of abundance and extravagance more than answered my request. These girls are the real deal.
I recently ran into another friend at the store and realized we hadn’t caught up in a quite some time. I asked her how she was doing (fishing for the state of her soul, I suppose) and the litany of hard tumbled out of her mouth.
Our relationship is friendly, but not quite of the I'll-be-praying-for-you variety. I didn't quite know how to respond. In the end I muttered something like, “Wow, 2015 has been a tough one for you. Let’s just get on with 2016. Hopefully that will be better!”
It’s kind of funny, isn’t it? Like somehow, when the calendar rolls over to a new day, a new month or a new year all the grievances of the past one will be gone.
While this isn’t really the case, I suppose there is a sort of holiness at the dawn of each new day. In fact, God tells us His “mercies are new every morning" (Lamentations 3:23). Our pain doesn’t always diminish, but His goodness definitely grows.
Honestly, I’m not entirely sure how to describe the state of my soul as I look towards 2016. (Perhaps right smack in the middle of 2.5 weeks home with my kids in the dead of winter isn't the best time to assess such things. Especially when I want to lock my littlest in her room and throw away the key. Bless her heart...)
In some ways, it feels like my soul is floating, wandering. I spent a good year and a half scouring every inch of my soul as I wrote and published my book. I left nothing uncovered. But that is over now, no major projects. No deep soul-searching. My days are pretty much the same. Kids, family, church, school, Young Life… Good for sure, but a lot disjointed. Nothing specific to sink my teeth into. I miss that.
But I do anticipate the dawn of a new year. What could it bring? Of course, I always hope for good, but there is a little bit of me that wonders when the stretch will end and the bad will come rushing in. I know that is blasphemous in so many ways, but if you're not currently feeling sucker punched in the gut, all you have to do is turn on the evening news or talk to your neighbor.
I have to remind myself that this line of thinking is NOT from God. And I if I can't remember that, my Jesus girls will set me straight.
So each day I wake and release anxiety, fear, worry and shame, commanding my soul to turn to the Lord. For He is good. It is only looking into His beautiful face that my soul will find true rest for which it desperately longs. He is the giver and fulfiller of dreams and I am diving straight into that!
It is only when we stare straight down the barrel of this question, acknowledging the true state of our soul, that we can put one foot in front of the other and begin to move forward.
So, what about you? What is the state of your soul?
I swear community is SUCH an important part of faith. That's what I felt last Sunday and many, many other times. Without other people to dig a little deeper and not let us settle for the quick/fine answer, it's difficult to really take stock of our soul state.
As for the state of my soul, I'd say my soul is healing and settling. For longer than I'd like to admit, I have been remembering and grieving some of the hard things with my parents' decline. But it feels a little different these days in a sweeter, smoother way. I'm grateful for that.
Thanks for this reflection, Megan. A great thing to ponder this NY.
I think my answer to the state of my soul was something along the lines of "scattered." What that tells me is that my soul does not feel grounded and collected and sure. I wish it would. I know that if I'm waiting for circumstances to form my soul into a groundedness , I'll be waiting for a LONG time. I know the answer. But I continue to search for the easy, the fun and the light. So, while I said, "we won't run from the hard," really what I was saying is that I love how my friends challenge me and each other to not run from it, because I want to, often times. So, while this exchange of calendars is just another day, I am challenged to anchor my scattered soul. Now for the work it takes, (how is it that sitting quietly for 20 minutes takes more strength for me, than doing laundry for seven people?)