The Lesson We Can Learn from Kids About How to Care for Our Souls

Sometimes we give the last bit of our time and energy to trying to change our minds, when what we need to do is simply rest our bodies…

mental health

Photo Credit: Ffîon via Compfight cc

It’s the first heat wave in our new house.

And, for some reason, the air conditioner won’t turn on.

And I’m out of town, working long hours, getting my new therapy practice up and running. My family’s back home sweating, and I’m at the office putting all my blood, sweat, and tears into this new enterprise. Do I quit early and go home and try to fiddle with the faulty appliance? Or do I stick with my professional obligations and call in other professionals to fix the A/C?


I work until 11pm, travel an hour home, hit Walmart at midnight, install a new thermostat (which still doesn’t fix the problem), and fall into bed for four hours of sweaty sleep before the kids wake up for school. Because my unspoken motto is:

If life throws you lemons, juggle them all day long and finally think about making lemonade when you’re too tired to drink it.

The Inside Depends on the Outside

I write a lot about the importance of what’s on the inside—this soul-thing at the center of us. When we find our center, we find what’s beautiful and, indeed, divine nestled right at the core of us. We find a voice like grace, assuring us we are beloved and we belong. We find our passion, like electricity, sizzling and waiting to be released. We find out our soul is our true self, and we discover this good thing in us is the good thing in everyone else, as well.

But the truth is, the inside of us—this mysterious soul-thing—and the outside of us—this not-so-mysterious flesh-and-blood thing—are intimately connected. Our body is not just some dispensable and inconsequential container; it’s an incubator. It provides the space and the substance in which our true self is nurtured and cultivated.

If we don’t care for the incubator, we are being careless about the brilliant soul it is meant to grow.

The Wisdom of Children

I wake up after four hours of sleep and I’m tired and cranky and of course I am—the body sustains the soul and my body is lacking the sustenance it needs to keep my interior world running smoothly. But I ignore it, because when life turns up the heat on me and I get pushed beyond my limits, I don’t slow down.

I trade sleep for coffee and hustle harder.

The heat wave is intensifying and they’re talking about cancelling the soccer games later in the evening. Which is when I think to myself, “Well, that’s silly, if the kids get hot, they’ll just stop running.”

When our kids get tired and overheated, they just take a knee. They just listen to their bodies and give them the care they need. Is it any wonder their little souls remain so playful? We don’t need to worry about our kids overheating; we need to be concerned about ourselves running hot and refusing to slow down.

At what age do we start silencing our bodies when they’re begging to be cared for?

And at what age will we finally slow down enough to give our incubator a tune up?

Enjoy the Lemonade

Two days later and the heat is still waving.

But, it turns out, the only thing broken about our air conditioner was my ability to find a switch the kids had found and turned off. And the kids did play soccer. But when they got too hot, they asked to sit out for a period, and everyone was still smiling when it was all said and done. And watching them take care of themselves was like a mirror I couldn’t ignore.

So, this morning, when I got home from dropping them off at school, instead of diving right into my writing and my to-do list, I rested on the floor for a few moments. And stretched.

And this afternoon I’m going to meet with a chiropractor to discuss the back pain I’ve been ignoring for a month.

And tonight, I’m going to bed early, with all sorts of important stuff undone.

And already I feel a little less cranky and a little less resentful, because already I’m remembering that, for the most part, I get to decide which lemons I pick up. And the ones I do pick up, I don’t have to juggle frenetically. I can hold them lightly. While lying down. And, when I’m ready, I can slowly begin to squeeze them.

Like children, our souls want to make lemonade.

May our grownup bodies be rested enough to do so. And rested enough to enjoy it.

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Disclaimer: My writings represent a combination of my own personal opinions and my professional experiences, but they do not reflect professional advice. Interaction with me via the blog does not constitute a professional therapeutic relationship. For professional and customized advice, you should seek the services of a counselor who can dedicate the hours necessary to become more intimately familiar with your specific situation. I do not assume liability for any portion or content of material on the blog and accept no liability for damage or injury resulting from your decision to interact with the website.

Kelly is a licensed clinical psychologist and co-founder of Artisan Clinical Associates in Naperville, IL. He is also a writer and blogs regularly about the redemption of our personal, relational, and communal lives. Kelly is married, has three children, and enjoys learning from them how to be a kid again. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

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22 thoughts on “The Lesson We Can Learn from Kids About How to Care for Our Souls

  1. Great post!! I’m learning to make a lot of lemonade these days as I continue to fracture different body parts due to osteoporosis. I’m learning to listen to my body as your children do and it’s actually becoming easier for me to accept my new “lifestyle”. Instead of plowing through life my injuries are forcing me to stop and smell the roses. Thanks Kelly for the reminder this morning!

    • Patricia, thank you for this perspective. I’m sorry to hear about your condition, it sounds incredibly painful. We need people in your situation to remind us that even our worst pain can be redeemed a little if it slows us down and forces us to pay attention. Again, thank you.

  2. Our body is not just some dispensable and inconsequential container; it’s an incubator.

    What a powerful sentence. If we are incubators then that means for years and years we have allowed things to slowly fester and create all sorts of negative things in our lives.

    As always I am pleased to note that you make the simple even simpler. I will apply that to what I do today, each and everything. What I incubate affects my soul and mind and the people around me.

    If I am cognizant of this the benefits are never ending. Again, thank you Dr. Flanagan.

    • Beautiful addition, Allison. Your talking through the implications of our incubator— to help fantastic things flourish or foul things fester— was the step my sleepy mind needed to make its best use of today’s writing. You and Kelly put things just right and in just the right perspective for me. Thank you both!

      • I agree, Shel! Thank you, Allison, for broadening the metaphor, while keeping the simple stuff simple! And, Shel, as always, thanks for the alliteration. 🙂

  3. Thank you for this excellent article. I could see myself in what you are saying, and will try to” stop and smell the roses today!.

  4. Thank you so much for reminding all of us how to care for our souls.. We all know what we need to do but too often we get caught up in all the demands that we and life put on us. I really needed to read this article today… Running on empty, little sleep last night, drinking coffee a lot of coffee and 101 obligations today. BUT I will go to bed early and maybe take a day off in the near future.. just for me. Have a great day!

  5. The juggling of lemons indeed…and the coffee that promises one more minute of productivity~truth told! I imagine if we all drank in your words today, the lemonade would sweeten our disposition and at the day’s end tattered body and soul would feel less seperate and less thirsty. 🙂 I lost my Bible for a few days and reached for Eugene Peterson’s The Message. These words have also quenched a parched place in me this week. Psalm 61:8 “And I’ll be the poet who sings your glory-and live what I sing every day.” Fleshing out the soul piece and peace of who we’re created to be takes practice and fuel. Thank you for words of wisdom and encouragement that inspire us to live well Kelly. Have a lovely week!

  6. Once again, a timely reminder that we must care for ourselves, both body and soul. My friend Sara says her Superpower is knowing when to step back and rest. So smart. That IS a superpower. Thank you for another memorable post. Good luck with the Chiro and the stretches.

  7. Priceless truths once again helping me become more and more “untangled” and finding my true self!

  8. Great, great post 🙂 I am so glad you took the time to nurture yourself. Among many changes that have taken place within me in the past 1.5 years, self-care is definetely on the top 5 list. I didn’t even know this concept existed. And, when I learned about it in therapy and put it into practise, it was truly eye opening and life changing. May we all learn to take better care of our magnificent selves!

  9. Another great article Dr. Kelly (Flanagan), unfortunately, we constantly over-ride what we should do. Yes, children are so more able to read the body and know when to stop. They lose it as they get older, as we have. I have been learning for some years now, to truly love myself. This entails looking after the body. It is the body that gives us all the messages that most of us ignore, but the body tells us the truth. Your story really exemplified that. I am gradually learning to listen more and more to my body, very much a work in progress, but it is amazing how when I keep myself truly connected to me, I know just what it is that I must do. When I am connected truly to myself, I am connected to the All, and it is from there that I am beginning to know what the next step is for me. And when I am not connected, which happens quite a bit, I then fall for the sort of thing that you did, over-ride what should have been done, and driven yourself on, and exhausting yourself. It is an exciting journey I am on, and I can see you are also on your own journey, you are very aware, even if sometimes it is after the event. I can relate to that, ouch, ouch.

  10. Weeeeeee…as I’m reading this post there is a pile of laundry waiting to be put away and I can hear my kids goofing off when they are supposed to be in bed. I am taking your advice to just rest and absorb this lesson. Your new practice website looks fantastic and so cozy. Good luck with it.

  11. I am just smiling because I literally picked whole baskets full of lemons yesterday and was planning to sqeeze the heck out of them to make lemonade, but was so Busy trying to do Important Stuff that I didnt get to it. Instead I get to take bunches of lemons to my work and swim team mates, and feel good about giving, including giving myself a break 🙂

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