One of the unexpected gifts of being a writer is getting to know other writers. We cheer each other on, we help each other when we’re insecure, we share our writing. Sarah Siders is one of those friends. She posted a picture of herself (above) a few weeks ago on Instagram, alone in a coffeeshop enjoying what she called a “Mom Sneak,” an intentional time she carves out for the care of her own soul. I loved it so much I asked her to write about it, because caring for our own precious souls is one of the most important things we can do. Her post below is so very rich, nourishing, and it inspired me to get even more intentional about the care of my own soul. It honors the reality that we often lose our way, and it gives us permission to care for that which is most precious. I’m so very happy to be able to share this fine piece of writing with you all. Enjoy!
by Sarah Siders
Sometimes I yell. It’s one of my least favorite things about myself, especially considering I am not yelling at a football game or a narcissistic political tyrant, which would be appropriate and reasonable. No, sometimes I yell at my children.
Now, it’s not like the little darlings are without fault, mind you. I only yell when their ears are broken, which is the only logical explanation why they are still not wearing pants after I politely asked them five times to get dressed.
Nevertheless, the yelling is a version of me I don’t like. It’s the strung out mom who prefers to use rage and shame over boundaries and creativity, or at least consistency. I don’t know which is worse: the pained look in their eyes when I am shrieking in frustration or the disgust I feel with myself afterward, which only fuels a new round of alienating outbursts.
Fortunately, my responses are not at the mercy of my children’s behavior. In the last year, after months in the dim darkness of postpartum anxiety, I discovered a part of myself I’d mostly neglected for most of a decade. The good news was, when I tended to this part of myself, things went remarkably better. This little known part was my soul.
The soul is a funny thing, an ubiquitous church word we all use to describe the part of us that lives forever. We say souls are lost when we see folks behaving badly, and when they find their way to church, get that glow of wholeness in their eyes, we say they’re found. But if we’re honest, we don’t even know what a soul is.
In his book, Soul Keeping, John Ortberg recalls that he had been a pastor for several years before he learned from his friend and mentor, Dallas Willard, that the soul is “the tiny, fragile, vulnerable, precious thing about you”. Dallas elaborated to John that our souls are what make us who we are. The soul is what Jesus died for, the thing that gives each of us our intrinsic worth.
If our souls are truly tiny, fragile and vulnerable, then it’s easy to see why they are overlooked, like an introverted, wide-eyed child. And if our souls are precious, if they are the the core of our value as humans, then we can see why God is invested in this invisible part of us.
We can also see that if we neglect our souls, delicate as they are, we will have no ability to be anything but a version of ourselves that we dislike. We may behave in ways we regret, or worse, become a person we regret allowing ourselves to become.
The nurture of my soul is not simply for me though. Soul care touches every relationship in my life. Whether it is control of my temper with my children, compassion toward my patients at work, or empathy for my husband, I can only be a woman I am proud of when my soul is cared for first.
But if the soul is invisible, how can it be cared for? We can’t hold it or feed it, can we? In Soul Keeping, John Ortberg tells us that because the soul is made by God, it is also made for God. It is God who feeds our soul. Our souls, like children, are dependent on Father God for wholeness and sustenance.
When I first read John’s words, I thought it sounded right, but I didn’t know how to let God nourish me. It wasn’t until the worst days of the postpartum anxiety when, mercifully, I remembered Psalm 131 where David refers to the soul with God as a child with his mother. He said, “I do not concern with matters too complicated for me, but I calm and quiet my soul like a child with his mother.”
And that’s just what I did. Before the family woke, in the cool, dark mornings, I crawled into the giant leather chair in our living room for 10 minutes or 15, if I had it. I reminded myself I had nothing to do in that moment but be quiet and be with God. It didn’t take long before my starving, malnourished soul fattened up. The anxiety felt less real. I ruled my emotions easier, rather than them ruling me.
One of my favorite lakes near my house
Since then, I’ve learned this brief moment with God is not the only essential for a sane and stable soul. I need beauty. I need mountain hikes and ocean sunsets. I need two hours with my husband and no kids, time to remember why we fell in love, to remind ourselves that we are not roommates or co-parents but lovers and friends. I need nights out with the girls. I need early morning coffee all alone. I need to write, create, dream. These are the moments when my soul is being nurtured. These are the things God made me for, and I am most alive when I do them.
I started calling these moments for myself a “Mom Sneak”, named for the fact that I often snuck out of the house early in the morning to be alone, but after talking with my husband, he confirmed that mothers aren’t the only ones who need time for the soul. Of course. So we’ve termed this the “Soul Sneak”. Anyone can do it. And everyone should.
As a mother who works out of the home, I’ve spent time feeling guilty for date nights and time away from my children. I wondered if I was neglecting my family when I took time just for me. But I know now that everyone gets a better version of me when my soul is cared for.
So when guilt shakes its finger at you, warning you of how impractical or selfish soul care is, tries to keep you dry and shriveled, you can tell yourself what I’ve been telling myself:
Soul Sneak moments aren’t a luxury. They’re maintenance, insurance against anger and fear and a me I don’t know, an investment in a me I can be proud of. And you and me, the Tiny, Precious Ones, are always worth investing in.
Bio: Sarah Siders is a soul who loves to write, dream, and be with her people, her two boys and her husband. She shares her words on the interwebs at sarahsiders.com. Stop by and say hello, and pick up her two eBooks on hope and calling for free while you’re there.