A friend of mine started a now-thriving candle business last summer, crafting gorgeous fragrances to bring light and levity into people’s homes during a dark year. She carefully matched scents with treasured moments and memories, like “Front Porch” and, my personal favorite, “Mama’s Biscuits.” As I’ve witnessed countless times, Megan is truly gifted at creating atmosphere, and as she carefully poured the white wax into jars and shipped them out to eager customers, I knew she was shaping spaces in hundreds of homes beyond her own.
She experienced a bizarre conundrum when, after contracting and recovering from COVID-19, she struggled to recover her sense of smell. What’s a candle girl to do with all the white wax candles that were poured in health yet left unlabeled with their scent? I imagined it was something like that geology test I failed in college, in which I was asked to identify fifty different rocks. The problem? They were all gray—and I forgot to study.
When our senses fail us, it’s a disorienting experience. As Megan made her way through a pile of seemingly identical candles and lamented her loss of smell, and as she and others who’d lost their sense of taste lamented the now worthlessness of cheesy pizza and rich chocolate cake, I had a thought: Physically, this loss is unusual—but spiritually, this experience is hauntingly familiar. Isn’t it?
After all, this is the spiritual experience of those who do not know the Lord. Jesus touches on this experience when He quoted the prophet Isaiah in Mark 4, saying,
“‘They may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!’” (Mark 4:12, NIV).
Jesus had been teaching in parables, offering words that He knew were nonsensical for those who did not recognize Him as the Savior. They had no taste for these words. However, for those who recognized Him as Savior, these words invited His followers to taste and see, to savor and wonder—the way a food lover might attempt to discern all the ingredients in a sophisticated dish, the way a geologist can expertly identify distinctions among different rocks. Those who follow God are given the good gift of a soul that can taste and see.
Before we came to know the Lord, our souls could not properly perceive Him, but when our spiritual eyes were opened and we encountered Jesus for the first time, the senses of our souls were awakened to new dimensions of delight and wonder. Do you remember? What details can you recall from your soul’s experience of salvation? The psalmists frequently borrow sensory language to talk about the experience of the soul, and I think it’s a useful practice both for rejoicing over what God did when He saved us and for paying attention to what God is doing as He shapes us more into His likeness.
After all, the soul saved by God has a buffet of experiences over the years of being shaped and parented by Him. The soul can taste and see, the soul can hear and touch—and the soul can feel totally numb.
In this imperfect world, numbness is a sad reality for all of us—even for those whose souls have belonged to the Lord for a long time. Think of it: The psalmist invites us in Psalm 34:8 to “Taste and see that the Lord is good!” but how often do we open God’s Word and realize our spiritual taste buds remain unaffected? That which once tasted like cake is now cardboard. We know the gospel offers a sweet aroma that can transform the atmosphere of our souls, and yet its scent is lost to us. That which once smelled welcoming and wonderful is now merely a lump of wax. We can read about the aroma of Christ and lament, “I don’t remember the scent!”
What can we do when our souls have lost their sense of smell? Their sense of taste? Their ability to meaningfully experience the goodness of God and His Word?
POINT TO THE PROBLEM
Just as the loss of taste and smell has helped the sick become aware of their sickness over the past year, identifying spiritual numbness can help us become aware that something ails our souls. Numbness unacknowledged can lead to a crisis of faith, but noticing numbness is an act of faith. It says, “I know God is still good, and the problem is that my senses cannot perceive it in this season.” There is no shame in pointing to the problem—and in fact, this is the first step toward health and restored senses.
PRAY OVER THE PROBLEM
Scripture is clear that God is aware of every inch of our insides. Psalm 139 begins with King David saying that God has searched him and known him, and as one commentator explained, it’s as if He’s MRI-ed our souls (v. 1). God is aware of your soul problem already, and coming to Him will not lead to shame but to intimacy. Think of the tenderness a parent feels when a son or daughter finally wants to talk about a problem the parent has perceived for quite some time. Oh, how Father God must look at His children with compassion when they come to Him with their soul ailments!
Psalm 139 ends with another thought on searching, but this time King David is not simply saying that God has searched him—he is asking God to search him and to reveal anything in him that grieves God, and that He might lead him in the path of life instead (v. 23-24). We can take a cue from King David and invite God to search us and expose anything that grieves Him. There’s a strong chance those things that grieve the Lord are the very things that are causing the numbness. Sin always numbs us to true goodness.
As you pray and ask God to search you, you can remember that throughout the Bible, He shows Himself as a God of restoration. He loves to make things new! You can borrow words from King David again in Psalm 51, which is all about repentance and restoration. Wedged right in the middle, you’ll find your heart cry: “Restore to me the joy of Your salvation” (Psalm 51:12a, NIV).
PREACH TO THE PROBLEM
Consider the difference between a cheap orange candy and a juicy, ripe orange. Only one is truly orange—but the real thing is what makes the other one taste like the imposter it is. Just as sin numbs us to true goodness, the “good” promises of sin begin to taste phony when we intentionally hold them up against truth. What do you know to be true about the Lord? Write down your thoughts, and collect verses that you can proclaim when numbness settles in.
PROTECT AGAINST THE PROBLEM
Just as someone shopping for perfume has to pause and “reset” between sniffs of the various fragrances, we need spiritual points of reset to keep our soul senses functioning well. Committed church participation, personal Bible study, sabbath rest, and gospel community (like a small group) are steady, built-into-the-routine points of reset that can offer opportunities for our souls to remember what is true. These things can be easy to dismiss, but being faithful to practice them is soul care. Of course, these practices do not save us—but they remind us of our Savior, and that’s crucial!
If these practices are deeply integrated into your life and you still feel soul numbness, come to the Lord in prayer, invite your small group to pray with you, and consider a “jolt” like fasting or taking a time of extended solitude and invite God to search you and restore the joy of His salvation. And have faith—God is still good, even when our glasses are too foggy to see Him well, even when our taste buds have been scalded with hot coffee and can’t taste, even when our ears have endured blasting music and can’t hear.
Soul numbness tempts us to succumb to it, but battling for the senses of our souls is a worthwhile endeavor, just as it is worthwhile to fight to love a spouse not superficially but sincerely. A sincere, soul-sensing love of the Lord is a beautiful gift that will enhance the atmosphere around us, just as a candle enhances the atmosphere of our homes with a gorgeous aroma.
As Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthian church, “Thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of Him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.” (2 Corinthians 2:14-16).
What does the aroma of Christ smell like? Oh, friend—it smells like life.
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