Sunday, June 21, 2009



I have a confession to make. For the last couple of weeks, my travels have increased, my schedule was tighter and I have been attending to different matters that were not going the way I had intended. I have felt tired. I have sensed my frustration and anger rising. And if I am honest with myself, I know that something is amiss – in the deeper places of my own heart.

And then at a recent conference, someone mentioned H.A.L.T briefly. I could not shake this off my mind and decided to sit on this concept for awhile. H.A.L.T. is an acronym for Hunger, Anger, Lonely and Tired. It is a concept actively adopted by recovery groups like Alcoholic Anonymous (AA). It basically teaches that those recovering from addictive behaviors must pay attention to their simple needs. They must not allow themselves to get too hungry, too angry, too lonely or too tired. The basic assumption here is that when one gets too hungry, too angry, too lonely or too tired, they become vulnerable points that trigger troubled behaviors or relapse into addictive behaviors. Therefore knowing how to pay attention to one’s emotions and body language is the beginning of learning to care for oneself that leads to the road of recovery.

I realized how parallel this concept is to the spiritual journey. No wonder HALT is also a concept used by World Teach in their curriculum for holiness – when one is too hungry, angry, lonely and tired, one is more prone to being tempted and falling into sin.

I suspect my personal confession is not an uncommon state of the heart that represents most Christians in the marketplace – since one is often juggling between meeting deadlines, completing projects and managing home finances. There are family obligations to meet, children to take care of and evening and weekend church responsibilities to fulfill. What about unplanned emergencies and crisis, an on-going conflict in a significant relationship and perhaps an unspoken chaos and dysfunction in the family that leaves us drained and helpless. And perhaps there is a painful longing and a prayer that doesn’t seem to be answered. There are many unmet expectations. And the list goes on.

And so the critical question is, how does one not only be attentive to what is going on within ourselves in the midst of life demands but more importantly, how does one be attentive to what is God saying and doing in such times.

H.A.L.T. as Indicators of Your Soul
Allow me to invite you to take a brief inventory of yourself. How would you describe the state of your soul in the last one month?

  • Can you remember the last time you felt your hunger? How did you respond to hunger? Do you binge? Do you skip meals? Do you ear regularly? Have you been hungry for too long?
  • How often have you been responding in anger to situations in your life? How are you responding to conflicts at work and in your relationships at home or with significant others? How are you managing the various demands in your life? What has been occupying your mind and heart that triggers frustration? Have you been angry for too long?
  • Have you been feeling an acute sense of loneliness within you even when you are with people? Have you felt lonely for too long?
  • When have you felt tired and have been longing to find rest and a place to get away? When was the last time you felt really rested and refreshed? Have you been tired for too long?
These are questions we need to ask our souls every now and then.
Although HALT is a commonly used concept in recovery programs, HALT can also be seen as indicators to help us become whole in our spiritual life. HALT are points where one becomes more susceptible to fall into temptations. One generally would be unable to make favorable judgment calls and have greater tendencies to succumb to sin. So if we recognize our HALT points, we can become aware of the state of our soul.
It may help to look at a description of each need and what is beneath them:
  • Hunger is a desire for food – something that nourishes your body is depleting.
  • Anger is an emotion resulting from a perceived loss. It is often a reaction to pain or being hurt. It is an urgent plea for justice and action.
  • Loneliness is a heart’s yearning for love without conditions, limitations or restrictions.
  • Tiredness is a message from your body telling you that your energy level is depleting. It is an indication of diminish of strength. Your body is longing for rest and restoration.

Each has a message to say. The tendency for most of marketplace Christians is that we tend to get trapped in the doldrums of life and demands that we are numbed to our emotions and have trouble recognizing HALT. And for many, when we recognize it, we turn a deaf ear to it or we hide from it. For others, we live and strive thinking that the world will collapse without us!

Do not underestimate HALT. Neither should you fear it. Talk to your anger. Do not be tempted to fill your loneliness. Face up to your tiredness. Allow them to speak to us - they are our friends with a message for us.

Knowing and accepting where you are could be the beginning of something new.

H.A.L.T as a Warning to Stop
H.A.L.T as the acronym suggests means ‘stop’ or ‘come to a standstill’. When we become in touch with hunger, anger, loneliness and tiredness, it is like the flashing red light on the indicator of our spiritual-soul-meter crying out to tell us something is amiss. We need to stop to find out what is going on.

Elijah is an excellent example of a prophet who was in a state of fear, anger, loneliness, exhaustion and hunger, when he was running away from Jezebel who was trying to kill him. (1 Kings 19:1-1). And the first thing the Lord provided was shelter for his head so that he can lie down to rest. Then he was provided with a cake of bread baked in stone and a jar of water. Then the Lord listened to his frustration which was filled with fear, anger and loneliness.

Sometimes we stop in time when we notice the flashing of the red light. Other times, due to our own foolishness and ignorance, we stretched the flashing light a little longer and we crash - by default. We all know too well that we cannot drive our car forever without refueling or servicing. And so, STOP we must. Due to the law of nature, HALT points will inevitably lead to a standstill. However, our standstill can be a choice or a consequence.

Consider unattended loneliness. Henri Nouwen wrote, “When we act out of loneliness our actions easily become violent. The tragedy is that much violence comes from a demand for love. The human heart yearns for love: love without conditions, limitations, or restrictions. But no human being is capable of offering such love, and each time we demand it we set ourselves on the road to violence. How then can we live nonviolent lives? We must start by realizing that our restless hearts, yearning for perfect love, can only find that love through communion with the One who created them.”

The truth is, unattended hunger, unattended anger, unattended loneliness and unattended tiredness will eventually lead to violence, destruction and ultimately, death of the soul and spirit. This is a standstill of consequence.

Stopping as a choice is to attend to what is going on inside – and this brings about new life. And this is crucial for the soul and the spiritual journey.

H.A.L.T. as an Invitation to Return Home
When we stop, we discover one of the most life-giving ways that God can offer to us just as He did with Elijah’s H.A.L.T. in 1 Kings 19 and His loving question to Elijah, “What are you doing here?” When we stop, we begin seeking for Him. And when we seek Him long enough, we shall find Him in the quiet whisper. We hear His question to us and we hear His instructions to us.
When we stop, we return to the One who created us. Returning to Him means returning Home – the deepest place of our heart where He resides. We rediscover who we are in Him, who He really is and what that means for us.

We have been created – to desire for eternity – the new heavens and the new earth. Anything that draws us away from this centre will always cause a dissonance within. That is why this earthly home has only temporary effect of satisfying our personal agenda - the reason why money, status, power, security, material things are constant target of pursuits but never able to satisfy.

Yet, in His goodness, He will always allow us to catch a glimpse of eternity on earth. Home gives us a sense of belonging, a place of warmth and a sense of rootedness. It is interesting to observe that when we are hungry, the most expensive meal in the trendiest eatery may not satisfy us as much as a simple home-cooked meal. When we are angry, we desire to be honest with our struggle and have our struggling voice be heard without being judged. When we are lonely, a companion offering the presence of unconditional love and acceptance gives us a sense of belonging which is more important than a thousand competing voices demanding our attention. And when we have travelled around the world and lived in the most expensive hotels, tasted the most exotic food and met the most interesting people, inevitably tiredness from travelling will set in and a desire to rest and a longing to return home emerges – even to the most humble of our quarters.

In our spiritual journey, consider every moment when we experience HALT as an invitation not only to stop and see what’s going on inside. It is an invitation to return Home – where Christ lives.

There is a striking conversation between Jesus and the disciples in John chapter 1. When Jesus asked John and Peter what they were seeking, they called Him Rabbi and wanted to know where he lived. Jesus’ response to them was an invitation to His home. And again in John 14:23, Jesus says, ‘If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.’

One of the most fascinating features that struck me about Jesus in the gospels is the way he often asked a question that point people to their deepest need –“What are you seeking?” (John 1:38). In this narrative, observe the disciple’s asking of Jesus place of stay. One wonders if that question came from the deepest place of their hearts – a longing for home.

And so it is the same with us. When we experience H.A.L.T., this is an invitation from the Lord to us in two ways. He invites us to ask ourselves what we are seeking deep within us – when we are hungry, angry, lonely, tired? Then His offer to us is - ‘Come home’ to Him.

HALT is an invitation from the Lord to return home. Come home so that He can feed you. Come home so that He can refresh you, speak to your soul and give you shalom.

Two years ago, I spent 3 weeks in a cabin in Fox Island, Gig Harbor, in the State of Washington for a silent and solitude retreat. The only thing I was allowed to do was to have my bible, journal and a 90-min session with my Spiritual Director every morning at 7.30 am. In the silence and solitude of my own company, I cannot but confront the deeper darkness of my own soul. The most healing part of the retreat was that the confrontation of the self was done in the presence of the One who holds and loves me deeply. I saw my Creator and my Father with new eyes and heart. I saw myself in new ways – in freeing ways. And they gave me new perspectives to the whole of my life story in light of the Father. In many ways, I met the Father, sometimes personified in the Spiritual Director and oftentimes in my time alone with Him. And when my three-week ended, I returned home to California and the days ahead were often filled with a new sense of me, Him and shalom. But there are days I would miss Fox Island, the cabin and the Spiritual Director. And there are days that the darkness of the self emerges as I live life in a broken world. But I know a little more now, that my dissonance was often His invitations. And my longing was deeper than just Washington. It was a longing for the true Home - the Father.

Today, when I am in the place of HALT, I remind myself about home. I remind myself that I have wandered off a little and I need to go home. I need to return to the Father.

And so, two weeks ago, in my tiredness and my anger, I attended a day’s silent retreat. I befriended my tears and I responded to His question to me as I meditated on the post-resurrection passages assigned to us by the retreat guide. The retreat ended. My situations did not change. But I noticed my anger subsided significantly!

A week ago, I had a soul-to-soul talk with a friend. It was freeing to be listened to and not be judged. The conversation was good for the soul.

A few days ago, I took a day off from work so I can take a long walk and sleep in.
My journey continues as I learn to sit with my Father – often in the crap of my H.A.L.T. – and hear Him afresh!

There is sacredness in HALT because they lead us Home – where Christ is.

What is His invitation to you?

Ng Wai Ling

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