a few days ago i had coffee with a friend. in our time together i shared some sadnesses i had recently faced. among his empathic responses was a suggestion that i might be encouraged by a reading of the minor prophets. i was taken aback. this is a colleague-friend. a psychologist. a person who never gives platitudes or easy answers or passes off engagement by recommending a book/song/movie. a person who lives authentically, who sweats and swears, and is one of the few therapists i refer my own family, friends, and clients to. one of the last things i would have expected to hear from him was a suggestion to read the bible, and the old testament at that. because he knows me well and i trust him deeply, however, i sat down with habakkuk later in the day. half way into the second chapter i came across the following words and couldn’t move past them. they had nothing to do with why my friend had encouraged me to spend some time with this small book and yet they spoke deeply to me. this is what i read:
“look at that man, bloated by self-importance - full of himself but soul-empty.”
let me re-phrase:
“look at that person, bloated by self-importance - full of them-self but soul-empty.”
soul-empty. i know what that condition feels like. i fear that most of us do in this self-promoting, social-media-presence-maintaining, 24-hour-availability-driven reality in which we live.
i often feel as though we’ve traded in self awareness for self promotion; presenting ourselves for loving ourselves. we have resorted to giving the world outside of us the power to determine the condition of our internal world and can do so in more immersive ways than we ever thought possible. i am every bit as guilty of this as every other person who relates to these words.
often i find that my soul has been neglected for days while i’ve been busily attending to all kinds of other “entities.” like filling my stomach with water rather than food, i feel full but have no real nourishment to sustain me. i’ve gone to work and returned home, i’ve cooked dinner and done the dishes, i’ve updated my status’ and posted instagram photos, i’ve kept track of my twitter feed and responded to emails. i’ve watched entire seasons of shows, been distracted by mindless youtube searches, and pinned inspirational quotes to pinterest boards. i’ve spoken to large audiences and volunteered at church. i’ve texted “i love you’s” and “you are amazings” and “don’t forgets...” but i’ve forgotten my self along the way. not the self i project out into the world, not the self that bumps into others or posts things online or dresses to go out but, rather, the self that resides deeply in my core. the self/soul that needs quiet to be known, stillness to be understood, and intentional care to be healthy and strong. funny, how i never fail to charge my electronics but i frequently force my self to run on empty. rarely do i ignore a message indicator on my phone while i routinely ignore those coming from the deepest part of my self.
so i re-read the words i found this evening and wonder in what ways my soul emptiness is related to my need to feel/look/be important out and about in the world. let me re-phrase: when i buy into being “important” in the world, what impact does that have on my sense of sturdiness/groundedness/health? what does it mean if i only feel important in relation to my actions and interactions? why do i notice when i loose “followers” here and there? why do i feel a tinge of discomfort when an unflattering photo is tagged or a published opinion is challenged caustically? why does it matter that my instagram photos never seem to draw more than 20 likes? do any of these things really have anything to do with who i am at the core and with who i invite you to be with me?
it matters because, whether i like it or not, i’ve bought in. i have filled my life to over flowing once again and have failed to maintain the norms that i know i need to be truly available to either myself or others. when i do this, i am reminded of what it feels like to be soul-empty and yet to feel “bloated.” to inflate my importance in the world and to it and yet to feel completely un-attended to by my own self. to fear making space for soul care because i know i will find it empty and uncomfortable and awkward at first. and those things should be avoided at all costs...right?
i am vulnerable to soul-emptiness when i do not create space to stay in touch with my self and with Love. i am likely to fall prey to petty comparisons and revert to the use of social media “measuring sticks” when i forget to attend to the message indicators of my body, mind, and heart. when i know what i need to be grounded, to be able to handle a truthful assessment of my strengths and weaknesses yet don’t make sure those needs are met i put myself at risk for soul-emptiness. when i lose touch with an ability to handle the consequences of my actions/assertions or don’t make time to fully feel my feelings or know my thoughts i passively feed the emptiness. i know these things, yet even still, they are hard to attend to.
a soul-full existence for me includes a deep recognition of being gazed at and loved by True Love. an ability to wait. to be still. to be content as-is. it requires discipline and diligence and solitude. it also opens the door to a deeper way of relating. rather than needing to be simply important, the soul-full person is simply able to be with others, open, available, and groundedly present.
it is inconvenient to make space for this kind of living. it is counter cultural and may mean that we loose followers and “friends” along the way. it is beautiful and uncomfortable. painfully difficult and amazingly simple. steady. soulful. soul-full. and important. and far from emptiness of any kind.