Our vegetable garden is starting to look pitiful. The beets have stopped growing as have the carrots. The tomato plants are shriveling, the beans slowing their production, and even our prolific cucumbers are disappointing. In the flower garden, the perennials are fading.
Since everything has a season, all this is very natural. But what about me? I look down at my hand—and see liver spots! Ugly. My hair is thinning and greying. My sleep is often interrupted. My walking is curtailed. Should I take up a lament?
The Apostle Paul suggests; “We do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day…so we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Cor. 4:16,18).
This ‘outward wasting’ is part of the human condition. Paul suggests that we not let this aging process discourage. Instead he urges us to focus on our inward selves, the unseen and eternal part of us which can be renewed day by day.
The Bible calls that inward, invisible part of us our soul or spirit. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind”(Matt. 22:37). (Although some Christians believe that we are composed of three parts; body, soul, and spirit; my study of the Scriptures has led me to believe that soul, spirit, and heart are often used interchangeably. And thus, in my view we have two parts: one temporal—the body, and one eternal—the soul/spirit/heart.)
Our emotions, intellect, and will reside in our souls. So even though our bodies may deteriorate, our souls can thrive. While marketing gurus focus on beautifying our bodies and hiding our aging, we can please God by looking to Him to beautify our souls. How? Through attention to the Scriptures and a life of prayer.
Throughout its pages, the Bible urges all disciples to cultivate soul-health. “Blessed are the poor in spirit [humble],… those who mourn [are honest about themselves],… the meek,… those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,… the merciful,… the pure in heart,…the peacemakers”(Matt. 5:3-9). We can ask the Holy Spirit to produce in us “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control”(Gal. 5:22,23).
As we approach that time of life when our bodies fail, we can give more attention to the state of our soul. And isn’t that what the world needs anyway, more beautiful souls? People like Joni Earkson-Tada who has blessed so many disabled and others. People like Amy Carmichael who from a bed of illness rescued Indian temple prostitutes. People like Joy Ridderhof, also laid aside by illness, who conceived of recording the Gospel in all the world’s languages.
And so Lord, as my life becomes somewhat physically circumscribed, help me to give more and more attention to cultivating love in all its facets. Prepare my soul for eternity by using me until then to bless others.