The division of labor at our house allots to me the job of grocery shopping and cooking. I enjoy both, provided I have time. If I’m in a rush though, both turn into tasks.
I’ve gotten the hang of shopping, largely because I have cooked long enough to have a style and I know where my stylistic items are located. Only once in a while do I have to double back. Neither am I bashful about asking for help.
The majority of my shopping colleagues are women. This is good. Women are prettier than men. Women are more pleasant than men—except when they are not, then they are worse—and if you go to the grocery right after lunch, women are not as intense as men. The nicest thing about women is they are happy to help. If I say, “Do you have any idea where raisins are?” women will help, even if they have no idea.
I don’t just ask for information either. Sometimes I ask for guidance. Being nurturing souls, women happily guide me.
Up until a couple of Thanksgivings ago, I had tried everything I knew to make green beans into a signature vegetable. My efforts were edible, but not distinguished beyond being green.
I was shopping for the holiday. I saw green beans on my list. Looked around and noticed a confident-looking black woman. I assessed whether she had time for me, then interrupted her shopping.
Well, Helen was a fountain of guidance. We talked, and by the time we parted to different aisles, I knew what I needed and what I needed to do. I’ve since modified a few things, but I make a signature dish of soul-food green beans that are to die for.
It makes sense that we need a measure of faith to believe.
You are expecting me to share my recipe. Not going to happen. If I tell you my recipe, you will make my recipe, and then it won’t be signature anymore.
I’m kidding—mostly. I’ve told you this story because, a) it’s true, and b) because it came to mind this morning as I was contemplating soul food, not Helen’s or the kind you get at Drew’s Place, but the food necessary to keep your soul going and growing—in signature taste.
The Bible teaches us that our spiritual lives are lived by faith, not by what we see (2 Cor. 5:7). It makes sense that we need faith to believe in God whom we cannot see. It makes sense that we need a measure of faith to believe the history of Jesus Christ’s life, death, and resurrection.
Where I bogged down, once I was under the house, wasn’t faith about God’s existence, but faith in God’s character: Will He do right by me? Over time, this exhausted my soul. In the parlance of those who taste wine, it rendered my soul insipid, i.e. without distinction. Let me paraphrase Jack Lewis from his book, A Grief Observed: I have never feared that I would stop believing in God, but I desperately feared what I believed about God.
There is plenty of light to justify faith when I’m at Sunday School. But for the last 1,968 days and counting, I’ve been under the house and have come to two conclusions: a) it is dark under the house, and b) there is no Sunday School meeting under my house.
I’m not intending to be critical, just candid. I have discovered light under my house—and this is why I’m writing to you—but it took some time for my eyes to adjust to where I could see.
Intellectually, I knew—and I know—that God was just as present under the house in the darkness as He is above the house in broad daylight. In retrospect, it wasn’t that my faith waivered, but rather it was the duration of demand upon my soul’s faith that depleted me. It wasn’t that I stopped believing God inhabited the darkness (cf. Is. 45:3, *) under my house, but rather that my soul lost track of Him, and when that began to occur, my soul was susceptible to doubt—about everything, including God.
I’m just a guy writing about some light he sees from under his house.
I’ve written to you about restoring my soul, recovering it, and caring for its depletion. But I want to be more specific about the food I fed my soul—indeed, still am—on route to restoring my soul’s health. I won’t tell you how I make green beans, but I will give you the recipe for my soul food.
Jesus’ disciple, Peter, writes extensively about suffering and hard times. I appreciate his style. He’s efficient, like Hemingway, but unlike Hemingway, he’s positive. I suspect when we meet Peter, we will say, he’s irrepressible, optimistic, indomitable. He writes honest words, but his outlook is encouraging and practical.
Here’s the passage that got me thinking this morning, and ultimately put me at my keyboard writing to you about soul food:
In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ; and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls (1 Pt. 1:6-9).
There’s a lot here—enough for a good preacher to convert into a series—but I’m not a preacher. I’m just a guy writing about some light he sees from under his house. Here are two observations and one takeaway.
First, when Peter says, “In this” in the opening sentence, he is referring to the confidence that is ours as recipients of God’s mercy to save us and give us hope. He notes in context, that this mercy of God’s is great and our salvation is not only hope for life, but it is our inheritance, it is imperishable, undefiled, will not fade, and is secured in heaven by the guarantee of God’s word.
There’s not much wiggle room in that pledge of covenant, is there?
Second observation: Even though we can’t see God, and even though our faith in His mercy toward us is tested mightily, we still love God, believe in Him, and have joy inexpressible and glorious.
That’s a nice verse.
Under the house, in the darkness, with my face in the dirt, I take inventory: I wouldn’t say I lost hope, but “joy inexpressible” and “full of glory” are not the phrases that come to mind to describe my condition. Under there, I prayed, and I tried, and I sought counsel, and I asked for help; I knew my soul was depleting; I believed in God, but there wasn’t anything I could do to escape the beating.
Let me search my soul with you for a moment: In retrospect, I’m not certain I could have avoided the depletion in my soul that I’m endeavoring now to restore. Looking backward, did I make soul-mistakes? Yeah, sure I did. But no matter who you are, how brave you fancy yourself, or how strong your pledge, if the torture is sophisticated enough, you squeal like a little girl—and I did. Could I have done some things differently? Yes, but I’m not ready to say that if I had quoted another Bible verse, prayed longer, different, with greater faith, or if I had only taken one more day off, or stood on my head naked in the corner that I would have escaped the fate I now suffer, that of a depleted soul.
Could I have been ruined—under my house? I don’t think so, not without my collusion and ascent. Could I be broken under the house—even broken badly? Sure, but the definition of “broken” is not nearly as objective as “ruined.”
I have a broken hand that doesn’t work like it used to, but it isn’t ruined. I fell off my bicycle years ago and split my face open. I didn’t ruin my face, I just look more like Harrison Ford now.
After being under the house all these years, my soul is scarred, but it isn’t ruined. As I said a few lines ago, to be ruined requires collusion and ascent, and I didn’t. I held onto hope in God by faith, often by a gossamer thread, but always with the confidence that my soul belongs to God and He holds me in an iron grip riveted together by covenantal pledge.
The ingredients for soul food are listed in Peter’s passage.
When I describe the intensity of my experience, the act of jettisoning my soul’s cargo, the labor of placing one foot after another, and so forth—what is actually transpiring as I lift each step is the soul-demand required to persevere in the assurance that God holds me by faith, not the notion that I hold Him by faith.
And here’s the takeaway I promised a few paragraphs up: This labor of faith—one step after the other—results in the salvation of my soul.
This outcome (v. 9), to use Peter’s term, that saves my soul, is not implying a supplement to the saving life of Christ. We know better than to believe there is anything we contribute to salvation or the maintenance of salvation. Rather, the salvation Peter refers to is soul-saving in that it secures, creates confidence, and provides anchorage for my soul when I feel as though my soul is in jeopardy.
To maintain my soul-food-making metaphor: Faith is the method by which I cook. As an experienced cook—one who is in the kitchen, mixing it up, living to the fullest—I know my methodology of faith must allow for two things: belief in a recipe, thoughtfulness, and time to prepare.
The ingredients for soul food are listed in Peter’s passage (and elsewhere). When Helen told me her grandmother’s recipe for green beans, there wasn’t anything in there I hadn’t heard of. Rather, it was the way she put the parts together, the care with which she did this, and the time invested to get it right that put the soul into the pot of beans.
Let’s talk ingredients: My soul—how I think (mind), how I feel (emotion), how I make decisions (will), and my capacity to live a robust life (heart)—was depleted and needed attention. My soul lost its flavor and depth. It became bland—insipid.
My mind was not stimulated by the inanity of my insurance company’s representatives. Their business model is small, duplicitous, and bullying.
The spectrum of my emotions went into hiding and left me with two options: polite or angry. I’m here to tell you, being polite in an effort to manage anger is a tedious undertaking.
My only choice (will) was to continue forward, to continue spending what my soul didn’t have, to continue doing to myself what the insurance company desired in hopes they could keep the money they owed to Dianne and me because I gave up. What a sorry, small way to spend your soul.
I wasn’t quite a walking dead man, my heart just felt like I was. Many, many nights I looked into the mirror as I brushed my teeth and was scared by the hollow, battle-weary, shell-shocked eyes looking back at me.
How do you nurture and replenish a malnourished soul with signature soul food?
What do you notice about each aspect of my soul’s predicament?
The outlook for each—mind, emotion, will, heart—was wearying, small, limited, and uninspiring. In and of themselves, these are hard labor, but the torpedo to my broadside was the clear sense that this battle was unnecessary, immoral, pointless, and thus without honor.
Our souls are meant to fly, Plato believed. Peter writes in his second book that our souls are divine (1:4). The language of the New Testament, and the Greeks who did more thinking about the soul than anyone else, attach femininity to our souls: responsive, beautiful, passionate, engaging, caring, tenacious, loving, respecting, admiring, alluring, mysterious. David ascribes to the soul the repository of deep feeling: joy, grief, trembling, love, dedication, sorrow, trust, commitment. Paul says our souls are the seat of life and worth. When God made mankind, He said He made us living souls.
I think Plato got it right. Our souls are meant to have wings and fly.
But not even a bat could fly under my house.
At least, I didn’t think so for a long time. I’ve decided otherwise, tested my decision, and am here to report that I’m correct. Yes, yes. The Bible was correct long before I was correct, but let’s not sweat details (smile).
Here’s what I needed to know: How do you endure a small, depleting, dark world that you cannot escape? How do you nurture and replenish a malnourished soul with signature soul food?
Here’s my recipe for soul food: Like Helen and my recipe for green beans, I’m indebted to Gordon MacDonald’s thoughts in A Resilient Life for elements of this recipe. How do I replenish: literature, thoughtfulness, activity, a hobby, ongoing learning, friends, and time.
For this article, I want to emphasize literature, thoughtfulness, and time.
My current reading is 60% spiritual, 40% otherwise. Very little of what I’m reading is without substance because there are no throw-away ingredients in soul food.
I’m reading subjects that are stimulating and expansive, the opposite of my “Homeowner’s Policy.” Obviously, I’m reading the Apostle Peter from the Bible. I’m also reading history, apologetics, social philosophy, and art.
If I pick up something to read and it doesn’t interest me, I lay it aside. I’m being very picky about what I listen to (I’ve turned the radio off) and view. I’m not going to put celery in my signature green beans and I’m not going to subject myself to the social rancor about politics.
When I read something interesting, I write about it. I talk about it. I look into it further.
King David didn’t deny being face down in the dirt (under the house), but neither did he resolve to just eat dirt.
If something interests my mind, I choose with my will to consider it in more depth, embrace it emotionally, and live with it long enough that I take it to heart. This is what MacDonald means by thoughtfulness.
For example, I discovered in my reading a vision reported by Julian of Norwich, in which she says, Christ appeared to her holding in His hand a little thing, like a hazel nut, and saying, “This is all that is created.” This idea, this image of Christ holding the entirety of everything in His hand (including my house and me) and it being no larger to Him than a nut, inspired my thinking, comforted my emotions, created pride in Him within my heart—like a younger brother for an Older Brother—and I collected an acorn from under my oak tree and placed it on my dresser as a reminder. Why? Because I knew later in the day I would “be under the house.”
This is an example of soul food and how you make it.
You say, I’m not much of a reader. I understand. But here’s the deal: If all you do is converse with customer service at the insurance company, you may as well eat chips for your diet. If you aspire to recover, to replenish, to grow, to flourish, and ultimately to fly then you must ingest soul food. You can read. You can listen (audio books, podcasts, YouTube, lectures, conversation with a mentor). Somehow, somewhere, you must engage nourishing ideas or your soul food recipe is going to be seriously lacking. Forget about signature.
I’m only telling you my story to inspire you, to perhaps create a bit of traction, to cast a bit of vision from the light I see under the house in hopes you can generalize from me to you and discover some light. In one sense, I’m not sure how you will assemble the ingredients that ultimately comprise your soul’s food, but I can tell you with some confidence what sorts of things will ruin your chances.
Doing nothing is a bad plan. Just continuing to make the same, old, green beans holiday after holiday, in hopes that more butter will help, is soul-withering because it is action without vision.
Listening to, looking to others for guidance who are determined to reside in a small world is a bad plan. As I said in another article, I quit calling the insurance company. It cost me a lot of money, but it preserved some of my soul’s capital to not wallow around within that obstruction.
Giving up and declaring your destiny to be that of a snake, crawling on your belly like a human reptile, licking up dirt with your tongue, is a bad plan. David noted his depleted soul in Psalm 119:25 and said, “My soul cleaves to the dust; revive me according to your word.” Note the shift in his thinking? He didn’t deny being face down in the dirt (under the house), but neither did he resolve to just eat dirt.
There were several things Helen told me to do, some of which I hadn’t tried, and some of which I had. The main thing I was doing that sabotaged any hope of creating a signature soul-food dish was rushing the recipe.
Before I let you go, there is metaphorical wisdom in Helen’s guidance about the time it takes to make a signature dish.
My earliest prayers, my most intense prayers, under the house were, “Get me out from under here, please. Deliver me, Lord God.” He didn’t.
Once I got farther into the darkness, I prayed, “Lord God, heal my soul, please.” He didn’t.
Initially, God’s failure to answer my prayers was disorienting. It’s one thing to get the flu at Christmas, ask God to heal you, and He doesn’t. It’s flu season and you got the flu. That you contracted the flu at Christmas is inconvenient, not divine indifference. But to be the victim of duplicity, bullying, and downright stupidity that compromises your health, wellbeing, financial integrity, and professional labor? If there was ever a prayer that God should answer, this would seem to make the top ten list. But, He didn’t.
At least, God didn’t answer in the manner I anticipated when I first prayed. During my disorientation over His failure to comply with my request (smile), I was susceptible to the discouragement I’ve described.
Looking back, there are two elements of time that are important. First, it is not reasonable to believe I had time while in the midst of the storm to feed my soul with the finest fare available. Napoleon said, “An army marches on its stomach.” Feed the troops well, and they’ll march. But when the army is in the trenches, they eat MRE’s (meals-ready-to-eat) out of a bag.
Given the duration of time, and the intensity of time, under the house, my soul should suffer depletion. That it is does not imply failure. To recognize this, is legitimizing. To deny this with some cliché or notion of praying harder, etc. is a form of denial.
Second thought about time: Just like I learned from Helen about making green beans, there is no substitute for time in the recipe. Now that I can see the light—some light—I’m being diligent to ingest great food for my soul.
It felt like God did not answer my prayers for deliverance and healing. More to the point: It felt this way because I prayed on Tuesday and felt the same on Thursday. There is no such thing as an unanswered prayer. Father God (cf. 1 Pt. 4:19) is in the process of delivering and healing. His dish is cooking and His intention is to make a signature dish. Given the ingredients, i.e. you and me, this takes time even for God to make (smile).
Looking into my heart, there are a few more thoughts from the light under the house. More soon.
*See also: Job 12:22; Ps. 18:11; 139:11-12