Few people actually understand the word soul.
Even though it is used with great frequency and confidence in our culture I bet if you asked people on the street to define the word few people could give an accurate explanation. I looked back on the archives of my blog to see if I had ever defined it and I hadn’t. I think I have been afraid to because I felt that I wouldn’t have the ability to explain it and just make people more confused.
Without getting too complex, the soul is the deepest and “most basic level of life” in the human being. Think of the soul as a root system to a great tree. The tree may bear fruit, may blossom, may grow great branches and rise to the heavens but all of that is due to its roots. If there is damage to the root system then the tree will have problems even if it is not visible just yet.
I couldn’t help but think of an elaborate and often unseen forest root system when I read what Dallas Willard said about the soul. Willard said, “The human soul is a vast spiritual (nonphysical) landscape, with resources and relationships that exceed human comprehension; and it also exists within an infinite environment of which, at our best, we have little knowledge.”
We may need to differentiate the soul from the self especially as we hear people discuss “self care” and “soul care.” Self care would be largely addressing our physical need for rest, good nutrition, recreation, connectedness, and achievement.
Soul care benefits from self care but it must also include our deepest need for meaning, love, purpose, spirit, joy, and peace. I can practice good nutrition and get plenty of rest and that would be a blessing to my soul but I would still be deeply in need of love and spiritual abundance. Soul care is only provided by God through the means of grace such as worship, prayer, scripture reading, fasting and other spiritual disciplines.
When we think back on our spiritual journey and remember those times when we felt closest to God or felt completely in his will we were reaching into that deepest part of our self – the soul. The reason that those times felt so right and so beneficial was because our soul, being the all encompassing deepest and most important part of us, was involved and enlivened and nourished. Those moments were restorative to our soul and there is nothing more important to God. The Psalmist says, “He restores my soul: he leads me on paths of righteousness for His namesake.”
Perhaps this further understanding of the soul will help you recognize areas where you are not caring for your soul or reasons that your soul is disrupted or damaged and can move past just self care to something God truly wants to bring you.
*I was inspired to write this post after listening to James Bryan Smith’s “The Soul Knows Best” episode of The Things Above podcast. I would recommend you listen to this for a fuller and richer understanding of the soul.