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Five Warning Signs That You Are Spiritually Malnourished (and What to Do about It!)

March 21, 2023

He was eating, but he was starving. 

My eleven-year-old son was not getting the nutrients he needed, and he was becoming thinner by the day. Late one night, I whispered to my husband, “Do you think something is really wrong with our son?” I hoped somehow a whisper would make it not real. But his warning signs had reached a level we could no longer ignore: depression, chronic stomach pain, lethargy, and a fever. Something was really wrong. 

After blood work and rounds of tests, we finally received a diagnosis: Crohn’s disease. So it was time for a diet change. 

And the parallel with my own life became uncanny. I had been consuming large amounts of Google for answers, had stayed up late rehearsing each fear about the future and my son’s health, and was continually overwhelmed by other people’s opinions about our situation. I, too, needed a diet change. A spiritual one. I needed to start consuming nourishing principles and practices for my soul. 

So what are the warning signs that you are spiritually malnourished? Conveniently, I offer you a food acronym: TOAST. Which may sum up just how we are feeling. Chances are, you are experiencing one or more of these signs right now. As you read, take note of the symptom as well as the simple practice you can try to nourish your soul. 

5 Warning Sings That You Are Spiritually Malnourished (And What to do About It)

T: Are You Tired? I was so exhausted by all the scrolling, researching, and deep diving to find solutions. I had also bought into the lie that it was all up to me, so I couldn’t rest. Over time, I had neglected the rhythm of work and rest. Our Sabbath practice had fallen by the wayside. How are you resting? Do you practice a weekly Sabbath where you put down your phone, your scrolling, your comparing, and your social media, and you let your mind and heart rest? When I began to practice the Sabbath again, I started to recover my soul. My rules for the Sabbath are very loose: a nap must happen, phones need to be parked for long periods of time, no social media for the day, get outside. That’s about it. The rest of the day can include a variety of other things—but no work, no productivity, no to-do lists are involved. Give it a go. See what you think. As Jesus said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28, esv).

O: Are You Overwhelmed? When waves crash over a toddler in the ocean, the child is completely underwater. They are overwhelmed. So often, the opinions of others bury me, my security, and my confidence. We need to replace others’ opinions with God’s opinions. Because His opinions—the truth about us—will never change. When you find yourself underwater because of someone’s opinions, turn to Luke 15:20 and slowly read it five times. Overwhelm your mind with the truth that God sees you, is filled with compassion for you, is running toward you, is embracing you, and is kissing you. God’s heart posture toward you is an active, compassion-forward, running-toward-you kind of love. This verse is worth memorizing: “While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him” (Luke 15:20, esv).

A: Are You Anxious? When my son was first diagnosed, I lived with a level of anxiety that was unsustainable. Here’s a simple practice I began to use each morning (adapted from James Bryan Smith, author of the Good and Beautiful series): 

  1. Write down everything you are anxious about, big or small.
  2. Go back through this list and record what you can do about each problem. (Can you make a phone call? Can you ask a friend? Can you get to the grocery story?)
  3. Then look at what is on your list that you cannot do anything about. Write out a prayer to God about the things that are out of your control, leaving them in His hands. 
  4. Close by reading Psalm 23.

S: Is Shame Your Soundtrack? So often shame is starving us from being free, secure, and confident. We need a new nourishing narrative to rehearse. Try replacing your shame with worship. For me, taking a ten-minute walk around my block while listening to “The Blessing” by Kari Jobe allows the truth of who God is to pastor me into a place of peace. 

T: Do You Feel Trapped? We can often feel as if our current season will never change. Or that we ourselves are stuck and can’t change. But here’s the good news: for now is not forever. Every season will change. And we are not stuck, we can grow, we have choices, and God is not done with us yet. Philippians 1:6 attests to this very gift of God maturing us and bringing us to completion one day. Try this breath prayer as a replacement to feeling trapped:

Inhale: God you are working

Exhale: even when I can’t see it.

As we examine our warning signs of spiritual malnourishment, may each simple practice be a meal replacement to bring us a little more freedom, a little more wholeness, a little more healing. Applying truth to action, over time, can change the very course of our life.

Get your copy of Starved, here.

Amy Seiffert is an author, speaker, and monthly YouVersion teacher. She also serves on the teaching team at her home church, Brookside Church. Previously she was a Team Leader with Cru at BGSU and has worked with them for more than eighteen years. Weaving biblical wisdom through her presentations, Amy inspires, teaches, and humbly invites any willing spiritual pilgrim to walk alongside her in the pursuit of truth and the knowledge of God. Amy is married to Rob, and they live in Bowling Green, Ohio, with their three kids.

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