Most of the time, I can sense it coming on.
Sure, sometimes I miss seeing it, until suddenly it is upon me and I find myself scratching my head, a bit bewildered and asking myself, “Well, how the heck did I get here, yet again?”
But, most of the time, I can sense it coming on.
It’s that slow fade away from what I know my mind and soul need in order to stay well. To stay focused. To stay steadfast. It’s the gradual stepping away from that which keeps my soul focused on the only hope we know in this world — my true north.
I let my guard down. I fall away from the spiritual and physical disciplines that stave off the shadowy, bony fingers of despair and depression. However, just because I sense it doesn’t mean that I always take the necessary steps to arrest the spiral. Maybe you, too, can relate.
In the past couple of months, I have sensed this wandering in my own mind and soul. I’ve tried to ignore it. I’ve brushed it off, because truly, life is good. There is no reason for the nagging discouragement and despair creeping into my mind. There isn’t. At least not in the grand scheme of things. But this is a battle that I have fought for a very long time.
I know better than to let my guard down. I know better than to shortcut the things that help fight this battle:
- Early morning study and prayer
- Personal and corporate worship
- Healthy food choices
- Routine, routine, routine
- Caring well for others
When I shortchange these areas, convincing myself to stray from my daily routine, excusing myself from the spiritual disciplines and skipping exercise — this is when despair once again raises its ugly head. Once despair gains even a small handhold, its grip is tight. And difficult to shake.
And that’s when my old friend and nemesis, Doubt, comes for a visit. I call it my “old friend”…not because doubt is a true friend, but because he is so familiar. Comfortable. You’ve heard of people who say, “We hadn’t seen each other in 10 years, but we picked up right where we left off, as if we just saw each other yesterday!” Yes. This is what doubt looks like in my life.
Familiar. Comfortable, like a worn and tattered security blanket.
But here’s the thing–doubt is my dreadful nemesis….and when I don’t fight him, he penetrates my thoughts, starting off slowly, but quickly gathering speed.
I can go from a simple question of “Why did God allow such and such to happen?” to full-fledged doubt of not only God’s love, but His very existence, in less than 60 seconds.
Earlier this evening, while sitting outside on my deck, watching the first leaves of fall drifting down around me, I recognized that my soul, too, is in a season of fall. And I must fight, to stop its progression to the cold cynicism of winter.
This is not a new problem. It is not new to me, for sure. It may not be new for you, either. And it is certainly not new to mankind. In Deuteronomy 4, Moses pleaded with the Israelites to keep their souls and to remember all that they had seen the Lord do for them. Moses reminded the people that they were in a covenant relationship with God, called to obedience. They were to remember, teach their children and their children’s children all that the Lord had done:
Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and your children’s children. (Deuteronomy 4:9)
Do you see the progression of logic and thought here, in verse 9? Moses didn’t say “remember the things that God has done, in order to keep your soul diligently.”
No, it was the other way around. They were to keep their souls diligently so they wouldn’t forget what God had done. This is an important distinction.
When I do not keep my soul diligently, I arrogantly forget all that God has done for me.
When I do not keep my soul diligently, I arrogantly forget all that God has done for me. I strive to keep my soul diligently through regular spiritual and physical disciplines. Study, prayer, worship, exercise, rest and caring well for others — these are the things that keep me steady. When I do not keep my soul diligently in these ways, I slowly slide toward the erroneous belief that I don’t need God. I sinfully step closer to the edge of doubt and cynicism, thus forgetting the miraculous things I have witnessed as God’s adopted child. How quickly we forget the miracles of our Father!
And when I forget these things — when I stand arrogantly in defiance and stomp my feet like a petulant two-year-old and say, “I won’t!” or “I don’t want to pray!” or “I’m too tired!” or “But I don’t sense you, God, so why try?” — these are the times when despair wins the first battle.
But this is a war. And defeat in one battle means an evaluation of efforts. It means regrouping and returning to measured and deliberate discipline in order to have the fortitude to fight for joy and truth. It means dusting off the grime and getting back to work.
It means keeping my soul diligently.
And what about you, dear reader? How do you keep your soul, diligently?
The attacks we face – despair, hopelessness, cynicism, bitterness – can only be won if we do the work of creating a battle plan. When you feel despair and hopelessness breathing down your neck, what is your strategy? Will you remember the one who stands ready to fight for you?
The heat of the battle is not the time to devise a plan. Rather, we would each do well to remember that one aspect of keeping our souls diligently is to give thought to the following truths well before the first engagement in the war:
- Know yourself: You are the child of the King; you are the adopted son or daughter of God. (John 1:12-13)
- Know your enemy: It is he who seeks to devour and destroy you, through despair and hopelessness. (John 10:10)
- Know your Savior and advocate, and that your only hope is to draw near to Him. (Hebrews 7:25)
“…he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.” (Hebrews 7:25)