As a kid growing up in Southern California, I spent a lot of time in the water. I loved the adventure of swimming in the ocean and the challenge of making it out to the recreational buoys and back again. They were just far away enough to feel a little dangerous. Maybe it was the hard work of swimming or the trepidation I felt as I realized just how far the shore was, but I’d hold on to that buoy as feelings of exhaustion, exhilaration, or fear would swell up before I’d take a few deep breaths, feel those emotions recede, and kick back to the beach.
The buoy was my goal to reach toward, my safe place to rest, and my launching pad to return to life on land. When I began to think about what soul care looks like as a church planter, I was reminded of my journey to and from that buoy.
Ruth Haley Barton talks about the soul as “the part of you that longs for more of God than you have right now, the part that may, even now, be aware of ’missing’ God amid the challenges of life in ministry.” Every pastor knows that busy days turn into overwhelming weeks, and we can quickly find we’ve drifted away from the rhythms that nurture our relationship with God and provide the foundation for the work we are doing.
So what does it mean to care for that part of us – for our soul? Sometimes we think it means hours of sitting in contemplative prayer or being silent and alone. While practices like solitude, silence, and contemplation can be an incredible source of renewal in the care of our soul, I want to challenge us to think about soul care from a broader perspective, a perspective of spiritual curiosity and adventure. This perspective helps us experiment with God, ask good questions, and take risks that produce freshness to our spiritual rhythms.Think about soul care from a broader perspective, a perspective of spiritual curiosity and adventure - Taeler Morgan Click To Tweet
As I think back to those days in the ocean, the rhythms of Reaching, Resting, and Returning capture that sense of curiosity and adventure, and influence the rhythm of my own soul care as an adult.
Reaching for God
In Freedom of Simplicity Richard Foster describes a series of experiments in soul care:
1) tracking how many minutes during an hour you can be conscious of God’s presence
2) praying “flash prayers” for whatever first comes to mind as you meet people throughout the day
3) transforming an everyday task into an act of worship by being aware of God’s presence in gardening, exercising, or cooking dinner.
These experiments stem from a spiritual curiosity that asks the question “what will happen if I…” or “how will God respond when…” They are playful ways of reaching for God – opening your life up to the Holy Spirit and placing yourself before God for transformation in the midst of the everyday. Playful or curious practices remind us that “our work is no grim duty. It is a delightful privilege. We are engaged in a joyous adventure, not a sour-faced penance.” These experiments make us alive to and aware of God in the everyday and help us think anew about how to extend our reach toward God.Spiritual curiosity makes us alive to and aware of God in the everyday and helps us think about how to extend our reach toward God - Taeler Morgan Click To Tweet
Remembering is an excellent way to begin reaching toward God as well as a powerful motivator in soul care. We remember who we are in God and we remember God’s desire for us and invitation to intimacy. As we remember, we return to our own desire. Sometimes desire comes from a sudden realization that we’ve been missing out! Sometimes desire is more of a dawning realization that something went astray. Sometimes desire is forged in the fire of pain or grief or loss. Starting from a place of remembering helps us perceive God’s presence and desire his invitation to take the next step.
Some questions you might want to ask to provoke remembering include “what has brought me joy in the past?” “when have I experienced being in God’s presence?” “how has God equipped me in the past for the adventure ahead of me?” If you are in a place of particular need you may ask “when has God responded to me in grief, loss, or need before?” Or even “when is the last time I felt God delight in me?”
What do you need to remember that might stoke your own spiritual curiosity?
In addition to creative experiments and remembering, reaching is certainly reflected in some of our more familiar practices as well: meditating on scripture, singing worshipful songs, being in nature. And perhaps the most beautiful truth about reaching is that it is a two way street. God is already reaching for us, and, as we respond, we experience the opportunity to know him more deeply, to hear more clearly, to be more attentive to the work of the Holy Spirit and discern how to participate in it.
What is a creative way you could reach for God in the next day or two?
Resting in God
In any good adventure there comes a time to stop and rest. As we reach for God and experience his transforming presence, we are also invited to engage in rest. Sabbath, solitude, silence, sleep (and apparently things that start with s) may be exactly the type of rest you need. Regardless of which resonates with you the most, the foundation for rest is always trust.
As a child swimming in the ocean, the buoy was something I could trust to provide a place of rest – something to hold onto while I floated on my back and caught my breath or tread water and looked for my spot on the shore.
Part of the invitation to rest and trust is an invitation to acknowledge fear and doubt and uncertainty but choose to not be governed by them. Rest is an affirmation that you do not have to be in control because God is in control. Trust is a proclamation that God’s ability to renew you is greater than your own impulse to complete a task. If I’m honest with myself, rest and trust can sometimes feel like the greatest risks because they threaten my desire to accomplish things. It is a radical practice to insist that rest outweighs achievement.Rest is an affirmation that you do not have to be in control because God is in control - Taeler Morgan Click To Tweet
So how do we provoke our spiritual curiosity or sense of adventure around rest? Thomas Aquinas wrote “weariness of the soul must needs be remedied by resting the soul: and the soul’s rest is pleasure…” One way to think about this is through the lens of Holy Leisure. This is something you do simply for the enjoyment of it. Something that doesn’t rely on you to produce anything or achieve something. Something that you find life-giving refreshment in. As a kid we had a name for this: play.
My family has always been a game-playing family: cards, catch phrase, corn-hole (and apparently things that start with c). Still, I have re-learned how to play in many ways since the birth of my daughter. I’ve learned again the joy of sitting in a tree, making flowers out of egg cartons (even though I’m going to throw them away tomorrow!) and spending time trying (and failing) to walk across a slack-line. That is what play looks like in this phase of my life.
Some questions to ask yourself about play in soul care include: “what can I do that is unpurposeful?” “What can I find joy in that isn’t related to my own sense of accomplishment?” “And where can I find water-guns for the next time my friends are over?”
How can you incorporate play into your rhythms of rest?
Returning with God
I’ll never forget the feeling of coming to shore after my time in the ocean as a child. I would turn around, hand to my eyes and squinting to see. I’d look out over the water at that buoy with a sense that something had changed, that I was somehow different from when I first stepped in the water. And so it is for our souls. From the moment we step into the waters of soul care, as we reach for God’s presence, as we rest in him, and as we return with him, we are being changed. This change is not just for our own sake. The transformation we experience is both for the sake of our relationship with God and for the sake of our relationship with the world.
There are many traits we exhibit as we allow the Holy Spirit to conform us to the image of Christ, and one of them is courage. In the same way that every great adventure begins with remembering, every great adventure produces courage, and courage makes us more available to the call of experimentation and risk-taking. As church planters, this is one of the best gifts we have to offer the world around us: a willingness to forsake the known for the hope of what is possible.
We can provoke our spiritual curiosity around returning by asking questions like “what transformation is God offering me for the sake of my community?” “What fear might be holding me back from experimenting?” and “What challenge is the Holy Spirit empowering me to face with courage?”
What good would you like to see in the world around you as fruit of your particular transformation?
As we live in this rhythm of Reaching, Resting, and Returning we have the opportunity to cultivate our spiritual curiosity and live into an invitation for an adventure unlike anything the world has to offer. What new questions might you ask, what experiment might you try, what risk might you take in the care of your soul?
Join a Fall ’18 Learning Cohort
 Barton, Ruth Haley, Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership.
 Foster, Richard. Freedom of Simplicity
 Lewis, C.S.. The Silver Chair
 Aquinas, Thomas. Summa Theologica