Soul Aches: What makes your soul ache?

by Michael McCartney

My soul is aching today. It has been wounded, leaving me feeling isolated and alone. I should be “happy,” but I am not. I feel trapped and betrayed.

Have you ever been there? Can you relate to what I am experiencing today?

I have been a pastor now for over 32 years, and I still experience an aching soul from time to time. It’s a hurtful, lonely, and painful experience—one you want to deny and push under the business of life. People have told me to just get over it, to try speaking positively, to look at the good. It will go away, they say.

But it seldom works that way. I wish it did. I wish I could say a magical “A-bra Ka-da-bra” prayer to wipe away the hurt! But I want to be honest with myself and with you. And the truth is, the hurt still lingers under the surface of my life and ministry.

Psalm 6:3 “My soul is in anguish. How long, O LORD, how long?”

What makes your soul ache? Do you even know? Here are situations I have experienced that cause my soul to ache.

1. A broken relationship.

I went to the spring concert for our Christian School last night—and ran into all kinds of people who had left our church for various reasons. I smiled at them, they smiled at me, and we even hugged (well, most of them did), but I felt an ache in my soul knowing everything was not okay with them. A nice façade masked the reality that all was not well.

I recall when I broke up with my first fiancé. A flood of ache and pain broke out in my soul; I felt stung. The break-up grieved my spirit, and I turned to a pastoral couple for help. I could not push in the pain down any longer.

Job 7:11 “Therefore I will not keep silent; I will speak out in the anguish of my spirit, I will complain in the bitterness of my soul.”

Is it healthy to let it out? To vent your anguish verbally? To let out the ache, hoping it will fade? Some don’t think so! But I know it helped me in these hurtful moments of my life.

2. The experience of today’s church life.

As a pastor I know I should not say what I am about to say. I have always said when I retire I am going to write a book entitled, Things I Could Not Say as a Pastor, but here is one of them.

My soul aches over the condition of today’s church in America. It’s so diluted, deceived, self-centered, consumer-driven, cruel, judgmental, lacking empathy, hypocritical, spiritually barren, socially isolated, biblically illiterate, and weak. So many people jump from church to church, uncommitted to one local church. They get offended easily. They don’t admit their mistakes, and they have critical spirits—often directed criticisms toward their pastor.

Wow that felt good! I needed to get it out of my soul!

So, how are you doing with my complaining? Detoxifying my soul about the current condition of the church? Do you think I am just a cry baby? Maybe I am being too negative. Some would say so.

1 Chronicles 22: 19 “Now devote your heart and soul to seeking the LORD your God. Begin to build the sanctuary of the LORD God, so that you may bring the ark of the covenant of the LORD and the sacred articles belonging to God into the temple that will be built for the Name of the LORD.”

My soul aches for the Church because most attenders, it seems, do “church” for themselves and not for God. If we want the ache to leave our souls, we need to get back to doing church for God—not for ourselves.

3. A sin-filled society.

My soul also aches over sin—the sin all around me and even my own sin.

Does your soul ache over sin? Sin is so destructive—so cruel, so abusive, so shameful, so evil. Yet our world is following sin deeper and deeper into an abyss of pain and suffering. Many choose sin over right living. Some are even proud of their sins (which, according to Scripture, gives them the name “fools”).

I don’t want to be a fool. I want to be wise and stay away from sin, because it rips my soul apart. Sin makes my soul bleed and ache.

Proverbs 13:19-21 19 “A longing fulfilled is sweet to the soul, but fools detest turning from evil. 20 He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm. 21 Misfortune pursues the sinner, but prosperity is the reward of the righteous.”

4. The pain of rejection.

It’s the big “R” word: “Rejection.”

I have dealt with rejection many times since I was a boy, none more so than when my father told me, “You are not my son.” Even recalling that horrible moment right now at age 58 brings up a soul ache. He said it after a fight we had when I was 11. I was trying to stop him from beating up my mom.

The physical wounds have healed, but the wounded soul still surfaces from time to time. It did the other day when my wife and I went to see the movie, I Can Only Imagine. As I watched the troubles between that father and son, it really hit me dead center in my soul. My heart ached increasingly with each beat .

Proverbs 24:14 Know also that wisdom is sweet to your soul; if you find it, there is a future hope for you, and your hope will not be cut off.

How is your soul?

I have heard a lot of emphasis over the last few years on “Soul Care.” I have been to seminars that focused on the topic. I have read several books on it. I have even preached on it. I have listened to sermons about it. It’s a relevant topic that seems to be coming out more into the open, simply asking: How is your soul?

Jesus said in Matthew 16:26: “What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?”

Jesus said in Matthew 22:37: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”

Jesus emphasized the importance of your soul’s health—not just for eternity but in the here-and-now! Your spiritual success in life depends on the condition of your soul!

So, how is your soul?

John Orberg states this about our souls: “If your soul is healthy, no external circumstance can destroy your life. If your soul is unhealthy, no external circumstance can redeem your life [Soul Keeping: Caring for the Most Important Part of You (p. 40). Zondervan (2014-04-22). Kindle Edition.]

Our souls ache because they crave God. They want his presence dwelling within. Our soul has a longing for God’s presence because he designed us that way.

Ortberg says that while reading through the Bible, you get the sense that the soul was designed to search for God. The Hebrew Scriptures—which might be thought of as the Great Soul-Book of human literature—are almost obsessed with this thought. Listen to these few verses from the Bible:

  1. The soul thirsts for the Mighty One (Ps. 63:1).
  2. It thirsts for him like parched land thirsts for water (Ps. 143:6).
  3. Like a laser it focuses the full intensity of its desire on him (Ps. 33:20).
  4. It lifts itself up to him (Ps. 25:1)
  5. It blesses him (Ps. 103:1–2, 22)
  6. It clings to him (Ps. 63:8)
  7. It waits for him in silence (Ps. 62:1).

Ortberg notes: “Indeed, the soul lives in God. The soul seeks God with its whole being. Because it is desperate to be whole, the soul is God-smitten and God-crazy and God-obsessed. My mind may be obsessed with idols; my will may be enslaved to habits; my body may be consumed with appetites. But my soul will never find rest until it rests in God.” [Soul Keeping (p. 116).]

Our souls need to be connected to God’s presence, What changed and transformed the disciples in Acts 2? A connection of their souls with the Spirit of God. It was an internal connection, not an external one. It changed their perceptions. It drove out their fears of the future. God wants to make every moment of our lives glorious with his presence. Ortberg states, “Every day is a collection of moments, 86,400 seconds in a day. How many of them can you live with God? Start where you are and grow from there. God wants to be with you every moment.”

As I sit today in my favorite place for spaghetti, I look around and see a lot of aching souls—people in desperate need of soul care. They are dealing with hurts using the wrong medicine. A few are at the bar using drinks for their aching souls. One lady is all alone, talking to no one, looking sad. She stares blankly at a baseball game on the bar TV.

Others ease their pain using other TV sports as medication. Many are using food. Still others stand outside on a cold, wet day, sucking on cigarettes to try to calm their inner needs.

I see a man with his mother at a table. She is in a wheel chair and appears to be very sick. I see her aching soul in her blackened eyes, and I see his ache as he looks at her with sorrowful eyes.

I am also one of those in this place with an aching soul. I have chosen spaghetti to ease my hurt and pain. I am not really hungry, but today I am trying to soothe my aching soul with food (not a good idea when you want to lose weight).

So, I empathize with those around me. I know this soul problem is for real. I wonder right now what others may be using to ease the pain of their soul? Shopping, spending money, movies, fantasy games, porn, sex, anger, pot, parties (which my neighbors really like and feel is a great solution to soul aches). I am sure many other ways of dealing with soul aches are in play as well as I sit here and ponder “Soul Care.”

Psalm 31: 7 I will be glad and rejoice in your love, for you saw my affliction and knew the anguish of my soul.

I must admit after eating my spaghetti that I feel a little better in spite of how much it cost. ($18.00 for spaghetti? Really?) But maybe it’s not the spaghetti that has helped so much as the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Sitting and writing about my soul ache has made a way for the Spirit to help.

Many deny their soul aches. Have you ever done that? Many in this place are denying that their soul aches. Many Christians deny their aching souls as well.

But I think you get my point—soul aches are all around us if we will admit it and look for them. (They show up even now in the conversations I overhear in this place. No, really! “Quiet, I don’t want people to know I am listening to them as they sit next to me.” But they are so loud and vocal about their life soul aches, I hear every word they are saying.)

Soul aches are nothing new to God or his people. Just read Psalms, Lamentations, Job, Jeremiah—and the list could go on.

David, “a man after God’s own heart,” experienced soul aches and its isolation. He had to deal with people trying to kill him, with the betrayal of a fatherly figure he had served faithfully, even with sin itself. These all created unwanted aches and pains for our hero of the faith. That’s why he cries out in Psalm 6:3 the big God question: “How long Lord?”

I too am saying the same thing today, “How long Lord?” Just give me a time frame. Is it two days? Two weeks? But I hear no answer to my question, to my soul ache.

So, what is a man or woman after God’s own heart going to do?

Deuteronomy 10:12-21. 12 And now, O Israel, [add in your name] what does the LORD your God ask of you but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, 13 and to observe the LORD’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good? 14 To the LORD your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it. 15 Yet the LORD set his affection on your forefathers and loved them, and he chose you, their descendants, above all the nations, as it is today. 16 Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff–necked any longer. 17 For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. 18 He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing. 19 And you are to love those who are aliens, for you yourselves were aliens in Egypt. 20 Fear the LORD your God and serve him. Hold fast to him and take your oaths in his name. 21 He is your praise; he is your God, who performed for you those great and awesome wonders you saw with your own eyes.

Maybe, I could not have come up with a better answer to my question than this passage of Scripture. It speaks to me. So, read it again and again and let his Word sink into your aching soul. Let him bring healing to it like only he can! He knows how long it will be for you! He knows what you are going through. So let him speak to your aching soul!

Michael McCartney is pastor of Christian Hills Church in Orland Hills, Illinois.