A few months ago, I found myself asking some questions: in the sufferings of life, what feeds my soul? What keeps me in tune with the heart of God? What keeps me in tune with my own heart?

I’ve been thinking of these questions lately because I’ve been coming out of a long season of cynicism and suffering. What has sustained me these past years? What has given me the ability to keep going, to keep putting one foot in front of another, day after weary day?

​I discovered some clear answers.

The love of friends and family who check in on me. The love of my husband. The love of my church family. When I felt frazzled and frayed, unraveling like a cheaply made sweater, love sustained me.

Check-in texts, just saying “how are you doing today?” or “praying for you!” undergirded me like two-by-fours. Walks and lunches with friends were release outlets, giving me a place to express my fear and grief. My co-worker’s couch in her office was a place to rest, knowing that she shared in carrying my burdens when they were too heavy for me to carry alone. I thought all this darkness would scare people away – but it didn’t. Instead, thoughtful friends brought flowers, dinner, sweet gifts. I was surrounded, enfolded in the “everlasting arms” of God through His people. Love fed my soul.

Ah, music – that great and glorious gift! Few things help me grieve, fill me with hope, and quiet my spirit like music. Somehow music removes the chains of emotional constraint that I often feel. I’m quicker to cry, quicker to smile, and quicker to take deep breaths when I listen to music that sings of truth. I put together a playlist that I called Grace and Peace, and I played it over and over and over again.

And singing! In the season of suffering, I’m mostly quicker to cry when I’m singing. Something about having to mouth the words that I long to be true opens the floodgates of my soul. It really doesn’t matter if it’s beautiful Gospel truth or guttural cries for redemption. Having an outlet, an expression for these emotions (whether I’m singing or just listening) buries truth deep in my soul, feeding it life.

I have a dear friend who recently told me, “You are 100% an artist!” I was a little dumbfounded. I mean, I knew I had some artist in me – certainly plenty of “free spirit” and not so much “Type A,” but her revelatory statement made me realize why stories feed my soul. Artists need stories. (So do Type A’s, but they may be a little slower to realize that.)

We need stories because we need to see someone (fictional or real) who is living out this life, suffering and rejoicing, living and dying, loving and struggling to love. “How to” writings don’t hit the mark. Stories do. And especially when I’m suffering, I need stories to shine light into the dark. I need the humor, the pathos, the joy and sorrow to help me see the humor in my own life, my own pathos and joy and sorrow as part of my share in humanity. Writing the stories of my own life has given me perspective. Stories feed my soul.

For the last several years, I’ve battled cynicism. I think it started when I was in campus ministry, burning out and unable to fend off the depression and unbelief that burned in my soul. The Bible seemed to mock me.

Oh, I knew that the Bible was supposed to feed my soul, but when I read it, all I saw was jeering. All I heard was accusation. All I felt was rebellion. And I was in full-time Christian ministry! The suffering of the last few years has changed that. (And the counseling sessions, healing prayer weekend, move out of vocational ministry for a time, and marriage definitely played a role as well!)

But I’ve still approached one-off Bible verses, handed out like band-aids for gunshot wounds, warily. Imagine my surprise as I hesitantly decided to post them on my dresser and bathroom vanity and then found them to be life-giving! I clung to them like a shy toddler to his mama. I thought of those one-off verses throughout the day. I put my hope in the promises they hold out – promises of who God is, promises that He sees me and knows me and is here with me and goes before me, promises of hope and love that feel warm and welcoming when my suffering leaves me feeling cold and isolated. The Bible has indeed sustained me, fed me, given me hope.

​”The Lord Himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”  ~ Deut. 31:8

“Wait on the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage. Wait for the Lord!”  ~ Psalm 27:14 

“He has made everything beautiful in its time.”  ~ Ecc. 3:11

In each of these rich soul foods, there is an underlying foundation: There is a God. He is all-powerful and all-good. He loves me. He is intimately acquainted with my ways. He is constantly present with me, whether I’m stumbling through the valley of shadows or soul-delighting high on the mountaintop. He will never leave me or forsake me, but instead He tenderly cares for me – through His Spirit, through His people, through the beauty of His creation. Even when I’m mired in the quicksand of suffering, even when I’m hardened by cynicism, He is at work.

All of this beautiful soul-food is a revelation, and what it reveals is Him. My hungry soul is filled with manna from heaven.