Tending Your Soul with Three Questions

Tending Your Soul with Three Questions

The backyard grass reminds me, when I choose to look, of a deep thirst. The past few weeks I’ve tried to reassure myself that rain is coming and one good soaking should take care of the dryness problem. Brown grass isn’t really that bad anyway, right? Too many years of big city apartment living seem to have left their mark in the form of apathy toward yard maintenance. 

But even though I tried to convince myself that the yard looked quite a bit “less brown” after the thunderstorm a few days ago, the lush green color didn’t actually return. 

The reality is that we need to locate a sprinkler and provide our dying grass with more regular watering. And if I want my soul to thrive, in a similar way, I need to stop ignoring its signs of deep thirst. 

This past year I’ve discovered three questions that have helped me to better tend my soul:

  1. What do I need?

When my fourteen-year-old son was diagnosed with brain cancer in January, I realized that this simple question could help me decide what to put on and keep off my plate. I decided that I needed to turn off the noise of the news because world crises were just too much. And, I did not have the capacity to commit to a small group at church, as much as I would have liked to. 

Asking myself what I needed throughout my day brought answers as practical as: I need a haircut, I need a walk, I need a nap. As best as I could, I tried to fit those things in around chemotherapy and hospital visits. 

I decided to continue meeting regularly with my spiritual director, and she recommended adding a counselor as well. I also decided to reach out to a soul care friend who had just walked through her own cancer journey. These three women provided the wisdom and insight that I needed, encouraging me to stay connected with my soul so that I did not crash and burn.

  1. What do I want?

Last fall I was able to get away for two personal soul care retreats, guided by my spiritual director. Those retreats were restorative and enabled me to better hear the voice of my Shepherd. Practicing lectio divina with passages like Mark 10:46-52, in times like those when I am able to quiet my heart, have helped me to place myself within biblical scenes and to imagine Jesus directing his questions to me. How would I answer? What do I long to ask of Him that only He can do? Maybe you could take several minutes right now to read this passage out loud and consider Jesus’ invitation to bring your deepest desire to Him.

“Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means “son of Timaeus”), was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.”

So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.” Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus.

“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him.

The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.”

Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road. 

  1. What do you want?

Last fall I joined a two-year program with the Soul Care Institute, and in May we had our third retreat virtually. My son and I were staying at the Ronald McDonald House in Chicago that month for his radiation treatment, so I wasn’t able to fully engage in our scheduled time alone with God. 

One day, though, during the retreat, when we were out on a walk with his wheelchair, a fly landed on my son’s shoe, and he surprised me by responding, “Hello, fly. What do you want?”  His gentle question was the perfect extension of the Welcoming Prayer by Fr. Thomas Keating that our cohort had read together that morning in our Daily Office:

Welcome, welcome, welcome.
I welcome everything that comes to me today
Because I know it’s for my healing.
I welcome all thoughts, feelings, emotions, persons, situations, and conditions.
I let go of my desire for power and control.
I let go of my desire for affection, esteem, approval, and pleasure.
I let go of my desire for survival and security.
I let go of my desire to change any situation, condition, person or myself.
I open to the love and presence of God and God’s action within.

My son’s idea of asking the fly on his shoe what it wanted was a question I realized that I could ask about anything. Without knowing it, he had shown me how I could live out the Welcoming Prayer and invite whatever God might bring into my life for my healing. Instead of defaulting to frustration with interruptions, I can cultivate curiosity and pursue wholeheartedness instead. I want to grow in asking, “What is this unwanted situation revealing about me?” instead of “How can I get out of this or avoid it happening again?”

As you tend your soul, wherever you are right now, what questions do you find helpful to ask? What does the “grass of your soul” look like?

Recommended resources:

The Soul Care Institute

Rest: Living in Sabbath Simplicity by Keri Wyatt Kent

Wholeheartedness: Busyness, Exhaustion, and Healing the Divided Self by Chuck DeGroat

Invitation to Retreat: The Gift and Necessity of Time Away with God by Ruth Haley Barton

The Discerning Heart: Exploring the Christian Path by Wilkie and Noreen Cannon Au

Soul Custody: Choosing to Care for the One and Only You by Stephen W. Smith

Photo by eulauretta on Unsplash


  1. Phyllis September 28, 2020

    Thank you so much for this. I’m definitely going to work through your recommended resources.

    Also, here’s a cancer hug for you and your son. I have felt rather alone at times, walking that hard path over here, but God gives so much grace to go with cancer!

    1. Jodie September 28, 2020

      Phyllis, thanks so much for your encouragement, as one who’s in the “cancer club.” I have also felt that there is a lot of grace on this difficult path. Blessings to you, esp when you feel alone. Hope you can participate in the upcoming VA retreat 🙂

  2. Bayta Schwarz September 29, 2020

    This reminded me of the topic we reflected on in my journaling group back at the end of May “How can I come out of this thing (pandemic) better than I came into it?”. I ended up with the image of a three-legged-stool: 1) recognising my limitations and the level of stress I’m under. Giving myself permission to rest. 2) Investing time (and other resources) into things that are good for my soul. For me, those are times of quietness and contemplation but also seeking opportunities for growth, both personally and professionally. 3) seeking to remain outward-looking (ie not just focussed on my own needs). In that particular context, I know recognising these and trying to keep them in balance/tension, helped me make wiser decisions in terms of using my time and energy (ie not jumping at every opportunity going but also not drowning in the situation).

    1. Jodie January 4, 2022

      Bayta, somehow I missed your comment when you shared it! Just reading it now and am struck by your wisdom. Thanks for sharing this picture of the three-legged stool and the practical areas that you’ve chosen to focus on. Even though it’s been over a year since you shared it, we’re still in the same place, aren’t we, of this longer-than-any-of-us-expected pandemic: asking ourselves How can I come out of this better than I went into it? Bless you in wherever you are in this journey today.

      1. Bayta Schwarz January 5, 2022

        Oh – I’d completely forgotten about this. This was actually a helpful reminder as that situation still continues and I have now also just made an international move. Thanks, Jodie!

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