The sunflower radiates its gold, and the tomatoes redden heavily in my garden these days. Like our souls, they each need certain basic things to grow, but their flourishing depends on attention to their particular needs, circumstances, and seasons. Each plant variety has its own best habitat, its own best time to be planted, its own best soil conditions. Being attentive to what’s best for each plant, we cultivate them accordingly. Likewise, it is for our souls.
The Holy Spirit likes to get dirty and bring life in the plot of your life! The Spirit wants to work and play with you, enjoying the abundance of life within you and with you. Cultivating your soul with the Spirit will bring an overflowing life as you tend your particular conditions for growth, your personality, and your seasons.
There are general guidelines for soul flourishing—prayer, worship, and fellowship—but each person is different. For example, one person’s growth in patience may require a great deal of practicing mindfulness to calm her synapses from the onslaught of stress, another’s may simply require a reminder of the patience of the Lord in a breath prayer.
The first may need the help of a counselor to guide them to be mindful—the practice of paying attention to one’s breath and body in the present moment in order to relieve stress. This pairs exceptionally well with becoming aware of God’s presence in one’s life. Regardless of one’s stress levels, this spiritual practice is foundationally life-giving! It has made an enormous difference in my awareness, felt experience, and my confidence in God.
The second, breath prayer, is a simple, personal, and profound way to connect with God in the present moment. It is most effective when you choose a simple phrase that is meaningful to you. Then pray it as you breathe in and out. It could be “Lord, have mercy,” or “Be still and know that I am God,” or “Glory be to God,” or “Come, Holy Spirit.” These are common ones, but there’s nothing to stop you from making your own.
I find I like a simple address to the Lord on the inhalation, “Lord” or “come”, then a short phrase on the exhalation, “have mercy” or “Holy Spirit.” Practice when you notice your breath during the day, anytime you need to dial down the stress, anytime you need the Lord’s presence, or when you don’t know what to do. Utilize anytime at all to return to the present as you breathe. You can change the words to whatever you find connects you to the Lord in your particular season. It fosters a simple, personal, ongoing connection between you and the Lord.
Without intentional personally meaningful practices to foster soul growth, our spirits become compacted and hard. In cities and intensive farming, the soil suffers becoming terribly compacted. It prevents air and water from reaching the starving roots. The earth absorbs toxins from all sorts of processes that are intensely concentrated upon it. In cities, soil is often not valued, trampled, moved aside, and seen merely as a support for the heavy structures of life above it. In farming, it is valued but in a manipulative way—how much can be extract from this square foot?
In God’s economy, soil is the basis for life. All life returns to it in order to bless it and create more life. Call it an ecological version of the promise to Abraham who was blessed to be a blessing (Genesis 12:1-3). Erosion provides minerals, decomposition enriches soil, rain and sun bring life in their cycles. Even animal waste is a rich source of fertilizer. From this mixture of blessing erupts a flourishing planet covered in millions of varying ecosystems, each with its own special concoction to nourish the unique plants of its habitat.
Sometimes we hard-pack our souls trying to use the prescribed, generalized methods of connecting with God. We pour on a certain kind of prayer in an effort to water, we stand in the sun of one kind of worship hoping it will tweak life out of our struggling garden, only to find our plants grow meagerly. When we notice this, do not fear, choose to wonder, and explore the invitation to discover new ways to connect with God and care for your soul.
God invites us to worship, pray, and fellowship but each of us lives in different habitats, different sets of specific circumstances with our own peculiar pressures and gifts, with our own particular personality’s endemic to ourselves. We are each a unique plant in our own specialized habitat. The work of cultivation in a spiritual life is to partner with the Spirit, observing, responding, planning, and learning. As we gain a closer understanding of God's tending of our souls, we grow, bearing fruit the of the Spirit.