(Photo courtesy of ICON Media Group)
The Soul Care Initiative
An Interview with John Eldredge
By Sarah Komisky
You never know what you’re about to expect when you talk to a bestselling author, especially one like John Eldredge. I mean what do you say to the person who penned so many books you respect like “Wild at Heart” and “Captivated?” Someone who has come alongside so many on their recovery journey as a therapist and president of Ransomed Heart, a ministry devoted to helping others discover God in their place of healing. There was so much to say and with his newest book release, “Get Your Life Back,” I was even more honored to get to talk to someone who articulates so beautifully faith and soul care.
When I got the phone call from John, I was instantly put in a space of calm. His voice is just as tranquil as his written tone. Gentle and not rushed. He listens well and does not interrupt. Yet, he provides margin for you to be human. Margin for grace. It is evident in his speech. John cares. Especially about people and that is why I was so grateful to have a conversation with someone who was genuinely compassionate and concerned but also willing to offer practical, simple advice for those in need at this time. Here is what he has to share on practicing balance in life, processing with God, dealing with loss, the importance of beauty as a soul care tool, and much more.
Sarah: I was looking at your book and just thinking about the COVID-19 crisis and quarantine. And it was interesting that this was written prior to everything happening in our world. And you said in your book, that we were just going mad as a culture of constant distraction and busyness. This month, at Marked Ministry our current magazine issue theme is called, “History Makers.” So, I was curious, at this time where things are uncertain and life has had to slow down, talk about what this book means now to you?
John: I think Jesus knew what he was doing in having this book come out in February because the core of it is soul care. I think we just need to remind people, like this is really hard – this whole quarantine, changing news and uncertain future. This is actually really hard on the human heart and it’s really hard on our souls. It’s really stressful to have so much change thrown on us instantly. And so this is a time more like any other, a time to take care of our souls. The temptation is to stay all day online, binge watch Netflix etc. But it’s like getting through the quarantine by eating potato chips – that isn’t a good plan.
Sarah: I was going to ask about social media and technology in your book. Interestingly, we have that even more now that we’re doing everything online. So how can we have balance in this time that we are using technology more?
John: So we need to be all the more conscious to put some boundaries around it. So a couple simple suggestions would be, don’t check your phone first thing in the morning. Don’t check the news, texts, because as soon as you pick up your phone or get on your laptop, you are in the matrix. You are already sucked down the river. A real simple soul care practice would be 15 minutes in the morning I’m not looking at technology first thing. I’m going to make a cup of coffee. I’m going to listen to some music. I’m maybe going to sit on my porch and just be a human being. And then, I would say the same thing at the end of the day. Put a boundary at the end of the day. If you want to sleep well by the way, the data is don’t be looking at screens right before the time you go to bed. So Stasi and I are trying to put some boundaries in the evening, 8 o’clock we’re going to do real things. We’re going to play a game, we’re going to go for a walk, listen to some music again. Like do something real. And simply, those two choices, you’ll notice the difference and your soul will thank you for that. That your not on technology all the time.
Sarah: I like that you shared that as well, I was thinking about another interview that you did and you were talking about your own struggles to be present with your loved ones that actually inspired writing this book. We’re having more time to be with our loved ones, but yet we’re still struggling with distractions. Speak to that, how did you start to begin to take those simple steps in that direction?
John: I think we’ve already discovered after six or seven weeks of this digital life that it’s not the same thing as real human contact. To choose towards real human interaction and I realize some folks are actually still alone at home and that’s real rough. But I would really recommend, talk to your neighbor over the fence. Or, get in your car and drive over to your friend’s house and you sit in your car and they sit on their porch and you talk to one another. Just conscious of people alone, but the people who are together, this is an opportunity to do some fun things. Like build a model airplane. Or learn to paint together or play basketball in the house. Turn this into fun. Turn this into play. Human beings need play, big time. And a lot of us have lost most the things we did for play. Especially in places like California where we can’t even go in the ocean anymore? How crazy is that? We need to look at this as a time where we’re going to choose the real verses the artificial. We’re going to choose real human beings verses digital ones and we’re going to learn to do some things. Like if it’s been a while since you’ve cooked, take up cooking again. Or teach your kids to cook, which would be even more fun. Show them how to make a chicken soup. Chop garlic. Chop onions. Sauté. Because as you do that, your interacting with each other and interacting with real things, not digital things. It’s very healing for the soul.
Sarah: One of the practices I really liked was when you were talking about emotional benevolence in your book, you said that God taught you how to give everyone and everything to Him. Just as a therapist, how can we practice this in a time when anxiety and depression is so heightened?
John: So back when 911 happened, they did some psychological research after and what they discovered was that people who watched the twin towers go down on television had the same PTSD as those in New York. What we’ve discovered is simply consuming traumatizing news, traumatizes the soul. Most of the news is recycling bad news. I would really urge people to make their news intake about five minutes a day. Like get in, get the basics, and then get out because its not good for the human soul, and then this is what I began to discover as a therapist, I think everyone is under compassion fatigue. Because for about twenty years ago now, really since the iPhone, right there in our hand, we’ve had the tragedy trauma drama of the world, delivered to us every day. And we just take it in! We’re like, ‘whoa earthquake in Turkey, whoa, another shooting in Atlanta,’ and you don’t realize what it’s doing to your soul, and then you add to that the uncertain future. Everyone’s trying to figure out ‘whats’s gonna happen?’ And the problem with living with that next news report and that next thing is, you’re going to get really anxious. What I recommend is every day, particularly at bedtime, you pray the prayer: Jesus, I give all of this to you. I give the pandemic to you. I give the future to you. I was never meant to carry this Lord. Like, only You are God. Only you are Omniscient and only You are powerful enough to carry this. So, it is a wonderful practice to turn it over to the Lord every day. And I do call it a practice because it’s kind of like learning how to ride a bike. It’s a little wobbly at first, you try to turn it over and then you take it right back, and then you forget to turn it over for a couple days, and that’s OK. Look at it as learning how to ride a bike, you’re just getting started. And If you can begin to turn it over and practice it, you’ll get better at it and as you do, oh, my, goodness, you’ll actually feel the relief.
Tagging onto the prior question, you also address loss in your book. And I really loved that you said losses matter. And all of us have experienced loss in one way or another in this season. So how can we take time to honor those losses and process them in healthy ways?
So this morning, I was feeling a lot and I wasn’t even sure all that I was feeling. And so I just sat down with my journal and I just began to name it. It’s so important for you to name what your feeling and why. With our losses, we name – this is the loss I’ve experienced. Put it down on paper or say it out loud. It’s really important to put words to partly because your letting our soul acknowledge, that was a loss. We’re missing graduation this year, it’s not going to be like it was. Or, gosh we can’t get that trip we were looking forward to. Or, bigger losses, I’m not going to get my job back or I lost someone I love. Describe for yourself, how that makes you feel. Just to name those losses allows us to pause for a moment and honor them. We say, that’s real. We just don’t rush for the bag of cookies or turn on the TV, we acknowledge the loss and the beautiful thing is, that it is actually a part of the healing process.
Sarah: Another thing that I liked was when you talked about beauty. And that’s something I think we can all not think about or neglect. And you said to take time to let that minister to you whatever your appreciating and receive it into our souls and let it do the work. So expand on why beauty is such a healthy tool for our soul?
John: Yeah, this is really cool. A couple ways to think about it – why do we send flowers? We know this instinctively. Someone loses something, we send flowers. Someone’s not well, we send flowers. Someone’s in the hospital, we send flowers. We know. Somehow beauty comforts. Beauty heals, beauty is filled with the promise, beauty actually brings hope. Because when your in the presence of beauty, evil doesn’t win. When your in the presence of beauty, your reminded how good God is and how wonderful life can be. We needed oxygen to breathe and so God created a planet that’s absolutely saturated in it. We needed water to survive, and so God saturated the planet with water. And look, He did the same thing with beauty. All around us every day. People’s faces. Human hands. Your neighbors garden. Music. The sound of birds. Even the sound of rain on the roof. And what I’m suggesting is you need to get beauty into your soul every day. You stop and let it in. Pause. ‘Father, thank you for this beauty, I receive the gift to my soul.’ And here’s the really cool thing, people in hospitals recover faster, need less pain medication, and are released sooner if they simply have a window looking on nature. Isn’t that wonderful? God made nature to heal us, let’s drink it in. You can still get beauty in this quarantine. Beautiful music, the grain of wood on your table, the sound of the songbirds outside. And I’m recommending to people, watch the nature shows, watch Planet Earth. it’s so gorgeous, you practically start worshipping, it’s very, very, healing.
Sarah: I want to talk about focusing on God. In the midst of this crisis, there has been this spiritual awakening. What does that mean to you, what have you observed, and how can we get back to prioritizing God in our lives?
John: In the modern world and just the pace of life, and all the stuff we had to remember and do, we were all very distracted. And personally, I found it hard to give God my attention. And then you add to it technology and all that and then I found it really hard to give God my attention. But while we are sheltering, we have a little bit more room to begin to give God our attention. It’s almost like healing our ability to give God our attention. Let’s be kind folks, it’s not gonna happen like, ‘oh good, suddenly I have a deep life with God!’ It’s not gonna happen like that. But what we can begin to do is, that idea of not looking at technology the first thing in the morning, instead, give that time to God. Listen to some worship music, read some scripture, listen to a good Bible teaching podcast, let God have some of your attention again. Let’s look at the big picture for a minute. Why did Satan send everybody home during this pandemic? I’m not really sure but we know it’s doing a lot of destruction in the world, the economies and all of that. But then you also want to ask, why did God send everybody home? And I think part of it is to get our attention again. Because He knows when He has our attention, we can receive His love, counsel, a life He’s trying to offer us. So my thought is, let’s make the Enemy regret this when suddenly everyone’s giving God their attention.
Sarah: Many of your books tend to focus on embracing our God-designed roles. In terms of this new book, how do you see that portrayed in terms of rest and what God’s calling us to?
John: Friends, you got to think about it this way – you were born for this moment. God knew that you were the person to put on the planet for this time, including the pandemic and everything that’s going to happen afterwards. When we come out of this, we’re coming into a different world and it’s going to take strong souls. So, the idea behind this book is, let’s get strong, let’s go deep. Because it’s the strong people who are going to provide the hope and leadership when we come out of this thing.