The Common Cold of the Soul

Dr. Henry Blount, Jr.
Dr. Henry Blount, Jr.

I am constantly amazed at two things about human nature.  First, how wonderful people can be.  They seem to know who they are what their purpose in life is all about.  There are so many people in this world who will never make the history book, but they will go out of their way to help others, doing great things.  They are not necessarily doctors or lawyers or Indian chiefs, but just down-to-earth people who know what their mission life is, and they go about living the abundant life that Jesus mentioned.  “Goodness” doesn’t take a lot of publicity, but you can count on so many people, especially during a crisis or trouble.


And then, I am also amazed at the number of people who never seem to reach their potential.  They just sort of drift along, hoping somebody will rescue them from boredom, or a dull routine.  They aren’t motivated to reach out or to try to make a difference in anything.  They seem to have what Gregg Levoy calls, “the common cold of the soul,” which describes those who give up on their dreams and gravitate toward comfort, living a dull, play-it-safe existence.


Garrison Keiler tells about an older man who realizes the years have slipped away and his life has missed something.  One day, he hears some kids who were full of excitement and life, and he thinks to himself, “I wish I could be like that.  I just seem to go through life with my eyes closed and my ears shut.  People talk to me, and I don’t even hear them.  Whole days go by and I can’t remember what happened.  The woman I’ve lived with for thirty-six years, if you asked me to describe her, I’d have to stop and think about it.  It’s like I’ve lived half of my life waiting for my life to begin, thinking it’s somewhere off in the future, and now I’m thinking about death all the time.  It’s time to live; to wake up and do something.”


The other day, I went up into our attic and rummaged through a lot of stuff we don’t use.  I found a Christmas package that had never been opened.  I didn’t even know what year it was given.  It was from a family member.  It was a nice gift, but had never been acknowledged.  Likewise, some people are born with wonderful gifts, but they never “open the package”.  Paul, in the New Testament, wrote two his protégé Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:14: “Don’t neglect the gift that you’ve been given.”  Timothy had the gift of teaching, speaking in public and preaching.  He took Paul’s advice and became a very effective minister of good news.


I believe we have to determine whether we will be a spectator in life or one who participates in it.  If we are not careful, we can spend a lot of precious time watching others live life (television) and give in to spectator-itis.  The role of spectator doesn’t appeal to me, even in retirement, although at times, it’s tempting.  We talk about being retired and we save money for it, and count the days or months or years until it comes.  But lo and behold, many don’t know what to do when it does arrive—I certainly didn’t. Unless we have a creative hobby or something to get us off the couch, our bodies begin to shut down and our creative juices begin to dry up.  And we wither on the vine.  That’s the common cold of the soul.  You feel useless—because we probably are at that moment.


Yes, I know it’s important to relax and reflect and “goof off” at times.  But this can turn into an addiction.  John Ortberg has a book entitled, “If You Want To Walk On Water, You’ve Got To Get Out Of The Boat”, published by Zondervan Press.  He mentioned:

“Abilities and gifts that never get cultivated and deployed,
Until weeks become months
And one day you’re looking back on a life of
Deep intimate gut wrenchingly honest conversations you never had:
Great bold prayers you never prayed,
Exhilarating risks you never took,
Sacrificial gifts you never offered,
Lives you never touched
And you’re sitting in a recliner with a shriveled soul
And forgotten dreams.
And you realize there was a world of desperate need
And a great God calling you to be part of something bigger than yourself.
You see the person you could have become but did not;
You never followed your calling.
You never got out of the boat.”


We may have to get out of our comfort zone and take a few risks.  But perhaps, this is the remedy for the common cold of the soul.  Amen.