Ron Rolheiser shares a story about soul fatigue in a recent blog. “A number of men who made their living as porters were hired one day to carry a huge load of supplies for a group on safari. Their loads were unusually heavy and the trek through the jungle was on a rough path. Several days into the journey they stopped, unshouldered their loads, and refused to go on. No plans, bribes, or threats, worked in terms of persuading them to go on. Asked why they couldn’t continue, they answered: ‘We can’t go on; we have to wait for our souls to catch up with us.'” They became aware of soul fatigue.
“Waiting for our souls to catch up” is an insightful way of describing the need to pay attention to our soul life; to be a soulful man. Jesus tells us that in him we can find rest for our souls (Matt 11). Many men are unaware of the danger of soul fatigue, content to live on the surface. While we may be aware of the need for physical rest, along with paying attention to the signs of mental fatigue and emotional stress, little attention is given to the neediness of our souls. Psychologist Roy Baumeister describes the kind of fatigue that goes beyond mere physical tiredness as “ego depletion.” People living in this depleted condition report more tiredness and negative emotions. Soul fatigue can do harm in our relationships with others.
Our souls need rest. John Ortberg observes, “Our wills sometimes rejoice in striving; our bodies were made to know the exhilaration of tremendous challenge; our minds get stretched when they must focus even when tired. But the soul craves rest. The soul knows only borrowed strength. The soul was made to rest in God the way a tree rests in soil.” The soul can not run on empty. Eventually we will begin to experience the effects of running on an empty tank. If the soul does not get rest, it will become fatigued.
So men, be aware of soul fatigue. Knowing your soul to be shy, do not allow your hurried life to neglect your soul. Though hidden, the soul is the personal operating system of our lives ( Dallas Willard). It is something like a program that runs a computer. You will not notice it unless it messes up. The soul seeks to integrate our will, mind and body into a whole person. An unhealthy, neglected soul is one that is disintegrating. When Jesus said we could forfeit our souls (Matt 16:26) he was referring not to a destination but a diagnosis. A ruined soul is a soul where the will, mind and body are disintegrating, causing fragmentation, and disconnect from God. In losing our soul we no longer have a healthy center that organizes and guides our life.
Learn to slow down, listen and pay attention to your soul. The Palmist reminds himself, “Find rest, O my soul, in God alone” (Ps. 62:5). While we may be busy outwardly, being hurried in our soul indicating that we are preoccupied with ourselves. We are not able to be present to the Lord. “‘Be still and know that I am God” (Ps. 46:10). The word for “still” in Hebrew is “raphe.” It can mean, “to sink away,” to relax,” to let drop” or “to let go.” I have personally found that the idea of “sinking” helps me to be more centered in my soul. I sink into my soul with my mind by relaxing and letting go. I rest in the Lord by letting drop what preoccupies me.