Each year when the basketball season began, legendary coach John Wooten said he would spend significant time showing his players how to put on a sock.
Wooden would lay the sock out flat, pull it on, highlighting that the sock had no folds or wrinkles. He would then watch each player put a sock on each foot and directly critique the player if they made even the smallest error.
Wooden was much more flexible in other areas (he cared nothing at all for how the players put on their shorts or walked into the locker room). But socks are foundational. If a sock isn’t put on correctly, a small crease can cause a blister and blisters will inflame and disturb the rest of the athlete’s entire body: how they move, if they can cut, how high they can leap.
Wooden knew your foundation affects everything else.
Imagine a weight lifter reaching down to clean and jerk hundreds of pounds. Now imagine the same man with a severe foot injury. Even a man of extraordinary strength will not be able to lift much over his head if he has a broken toe. In fact, a splinter may reduce the amount someone can raise by hundreds of pounds.
In the same way, we set ourselves up for failure if we don’t recognize that our lives are heavy lifting, and there are all kinds of potential splinters. Being aware of what is and is not foundational in our lives is essential to living well. If the platform from which we seek to do the heavy lifting is shaky, unstable or even rotten — we certainly will fail to lift anything substantial. In fact, if we live life injured, we will not be able to avoid frustration. Our foundation comes first, and the foundation of a human life is a human soul.
Now, you don’t have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.
And your soul alone — not your appetites, your politics, your habits or your beliefs — is foundational. Your soul is your passion, your personality and your will all put together. Everything you love, the way you react to opposition, every target you pursue, every action you begin is determined by the health of your soul. If we do not rhythmically care for our core, we will not be able to lift the enormous weight of life, nor help those around us thrive.
Personal health comes first, and then it spills.
Many of us, perhaps rightly, think those who look after their souls first are selfish people — the good life is one of service and enduring hardship for the sake of others. Yes, there are certainly times to give your blood, sweat and toil for those you serve. But this cannot be a 24/7 description of your life. When you pour yourself out for another, at some point you must refill. Only a fool tries to drive another hundred miles in a car with flat tires and a blinking gas light. Your soul needs food.
So what does this look like? What would it possibly mean to care for your soul?
I embrace the Christian tradition in which we see Jesus doing those activities that feed his inner life. He chose to retreat, he studied life-enriching…