It’s hard to admit, but I sold my soul to academics last year and endured severe gastritis as a result of chronic stress. I’ve told my family and a couple close friends that I’ve dealt with a deep depression, where I’ll feel completely empty for no apparent reason. Why? After studying the soul, I understood it’s because my soul was sick.
I remember crying after I failed my first test ever at Biola. The test indicated I was a failure––in my mind, anyway. Later on, I realized there’s more to life than letters on my academic transcript. I used to think I could only glorify God through what I do, yet as this year has progressed, I’ve learned God cares more about who I am.
Anybody who’s grown up in a Christian household knows how many times Jesus criticized the Pharisees for their legalism and showiness. These people considered themselves superior to others in society because they strictly followed God’s word, but they were pretty much heartless humans.
Although I seek to glorify God through the things I create, such as articles I write, my desire mirrors a Pharisees’ at times because I base my value of works instead of receiving God’s grace. He’ll love me no matter how much I accomplish.
I think back to some people, both non-Christians and Christians, I’ve met in my life. Some of the people who’ve touched my life the most haven’t really done anything by our society’s standards, yet they’ve still done a lot. How?
It’s because they care about people. They’ll invite friends over for lunch, show incredible hospitality, and even help outcasts in society, such as homeless people or abuse survivors. Some of these people even told me, “I’m not really talented.” In the corporate world, some may deem them unproductive, yet they’ve done so much through generosity and compassion––aspects of who they are.
One word sums up who we are: the soul. Proverbs 27:19 says, “As in water face reflects face, So the heart of man reflects man.” Our heart, not actions, define our character. You can still do great things with horrible intentions––just think about people who donate to charities for selfish reasons. Their donation doesn’t make them a great person––true generosity makes someone a great person.
As Jesus says in Mark 8:36, “”For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?” What good is it if I have stellar grades, yet I become dismal and void at the same time because I’m so exhausted and deprive my soul of the joy it craves?
Dallas Willard effectively defines the soul in an excerpt from The Pastor’s Guide to Effective Ministry.
“the hidden or ‘spiritual’ side of the person. It includes an individual’s thoughts and feelings, along with heart or will, with its intents and choices. It also includes an individual’s bodily life and social relations, which, in their inner meaning and nature, are just as “hidden” as the thoughts and feelings.”
Reading through Satisfy Your Soul for one of my Talbot classes described the turmoil I’ve endured spot-on. In chapter two, it lists six ways the soul suffers, one of which is functionally.
“The ‘performance syndrome’ traps the Christian who thinks he can measure his worth by how much he accomplishes for God. Something inside says that if he does the correct things and does them long enough, he’ll be spiritually mature” (55).
That’s the attitude which overtook my mind this past year. As a creative person, I felt like I couldn’t fulfill my calling if I wasn’t creating. That extended to academic assignments as well. Earning a B on a paper or project meant I wasted the talent God gave me––or so I thought. I lost sight of who I truly was and subjected myself to emotional turmoil.
After this, the author (Demarest) effectively sums this up in a sentence that’s now forever imprinted on my mind.
“It has been said that God made us human beings and not human doings” (55).
It’s so simple, yet profound.
In Soul Keeping, Jon Ortberg explains how Willard told him hurry makes a soul unhealthy.
“Hurry is the great enemy of spiritual life in our day. You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life,” (20).
Well, it’s no wonder I always felt agitated and anxious. I often told myself, I don’t have enough time in the day for everything. On Wednesdays, I worked at the pool at 6 a.m., went to my job at the Blackstone Cafe at 7:15 p.m., ran back to my apartment (literally), then sprinted to the pool for my 12:30 shift, then went to Symphonic Winds rehearsal, had an hour break, then a 4 p.m. therapy appointment, worked on homework for another hour, then had class from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Basically, my life was a recipe for overwhelm.
Now, being busy isn’t necessarily bad. The main concerns are a) rest time and b) inner peace. If business costs you rest time and a peaceful soul, then maybe it’s not the best thing. We have a term for this: “Work-life balance.” Work is important, but things that bring our soul joy are equally important.
With this in mind, grad school will look a tad different this semester. I won’t ignore my guitar all the time. I did a better job of spending time with people this semester, and I’ll continue asking my friends if they want to grab coffee. I’ll try hard, but if I get a B, then at least I know I tried and am not worthless––all that matters is I learn something from each class. I’ll focus more on soul-care and emotional health. Overall, considering both spiritual and physical health.
I refuse to sell my soul for good grades and other’s approval yet again.