first things always first

Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Matthew 22:34-40

There is much in Scripture to help us with our own personal problems. For example it’s said that the command most often repeated is to not be afraid. And there’s passages to help us with our anxiety, burdens, and a multitude of other things. But when we’re focused on ourselves and our own problems, then our focus is not set according to God’s will for us in Jesus. Problems and trials in this life are inevitable, and can’t be avoided. Not to mention the spiritual warfare we’re up against.

But what should be central and foremost on our minds always is love to God and love to neighbor. God helps us so that we might respond in love. It’s not about us and our own well being. The universe doesn’t revolve around us. Yet we’re included in this love, received and returned, reciprocated from God and shared with others. We’re all in this together. And we all need grace not only along the way, but every moment of the way.

So often it seems to me that Christian teaching is aimed at helping us individually get through and perhaps enjoy another day. And framed right, that teaching has its place. But again, life is not about that. God wants us to more and more take on the likeness of Jesus, together and individually in our lives by the Spirit. Yes, we need to take care of ourselves so we can be a blessing to others, even to God. But we do so as those whose priority is set on loving God with all our being and doing, and loving our neighbor as we love ourselves. In and through Jesus.

taking care of oneself, or “soul care”

I think for years I was more or less in the habit of failing to take seriously even the concept of taking care of oneself. Ironically I think I advocated something of that to others, though surely not nearly enough. Because I myself did not really buy into it.

What might be called “soul care” simply said means taking care of oneself. But unpacked in terms of following Jesus, we might say that it essentially involves learning to be directed in the nurture of one’s life so as to live in God’s presence and will. And it is for our flourishing in the way of Jesus, certainly in and through Jesus with an emphasis on the Jesus Creed of loving God and others.

Our longings to get away be it on vacation or on a retreat somewhere are likely in significant measure the desire to be refreshed and renewed ourselves. I am not really referring to some kind of “high,” though we may experience something of that from time to time, some of us more than others. Rather, a settled in kind of existence which is much more than existing but true life indeed, something of the life more abundant, overflowing, to the full which Jesus spoke about. The water he freely gives which becomes in the person who believes, the inner well of eternal life, referring to the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

Now that I’m older and starting to think of how to end well what remaining days and years I may have, I realize that daily soul care needs to be on my agenda and watch list. This is a part of me necessarily slowing down and seeking to live well in God’s grace to us in Jesus. It certainly doesn’t mean that we don’t live in weakness. Paul learned to live well in his own weakness, even in the torment which came from his thorn in the flesh. It was the Lord’s sufficient grace which made the difference so that Paul experienced Christ’s power all the more in that weakness and even learned to delight in that.

I have thought to some extent for years, though only this clearly for perhaps the past few that I was more or less living in God’s Presence in and through Jesus all the time. That I was having “devotions” so to speak all day. There may be a grain of truth in that, certainly in Jesus we live in God’s Presence by the Spirit. But not intentionally on a regular basis setting time aside to simply be in God’s Presence and love in God’s word and silence meant that my all day devotional was too often not all that devoted I’m afraid

It is hard to alter one’s routine and all the more that seems to be so when we’re older and more set in our ways. But hopefully with age comes something more of a maturity which would be ready to adjust and make room for what’s needed here. And so I’m starting by at least trying to repeat the Jesus Creed as I awaken (and along with that, the Lord’s Prayer is fitting and important). And opening my Bible to a particular passage to slowly work through day after day, right now Psalm 16, even as I prepare my breakfast.

And so in and through Jesus I hope to better take care of myself. To know God and God’s love better and to live in that love in and for the world in and through Jesus.

soul care

Classic within the church and the Great Church tradition is the practice of soul care. When we think in terms of God’s mission to the world and our part in it in Jesus, we can do no better as far as in its succinctness, to consider the Lord’s Prayer (the Our Father prayer) Jesus taught his disciples to pray. Of course along with that we need all of the rest of Jesus’ words and the apostolic teaching which followed. But soul care is certainly woven in and explicit elsewhere. Some might criticize it as “navel gazing.” And it can become that, if that’s all we do. I used to be perhaps a bit critical of it myself, but I see better now it’s importance, so that we can carry on well in being a blessing to others in the mission we’ve received from our Lord.

One good example of soul care is found in 2 Peter 1. From the reality of the new life in Jesus and actual participation in the divine nature and within that having God’s promises, we’re to make every effort to add to our faith certain virtues: goodness, knowledge, self-control, endurance (or perseverance), godliness, mutual affection and love (agape). We’re told that if we have these in increasing measure they will keep us from being ineffective and unproductive in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus. But if we lack these, that we’re near sighted, even blind. And this is tied into the promise that if we do these things we won’t fall, and will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of Jesus.

And so we do need to take care of ourselves, so to speak. To practice “soul care.” I’m sure we can learn a lot from those who are steeped in this from the Great Tradition (I think specifically of Roman Catholics, though I would include Eastern Orthodox in the mix). They have been at it for centuries so that a number have learned from those who preceded them.

And so we do need to take care as we carry on in the life and work given to us in Jesus.