When I was in college, I tried to get better at being more active in my faith, so when they offered spiritual direction sessions, I thought maybe I should give it a go. I don’t even remember what actually was all involved, but I do remember the day my already struggling spirit started slipping even further away. We were supposed to be listening for God’s guidance in our lives. The only problem was, I didn’t know what I was supposed to be listening for.
I desperately wanted a stronger relationship with God, the kind of relationship I read the saints had with Him. I just didn’t know how to get there. I will never forget the morning I sat with the woman who was supposed to be giving me spiritual guidance but instead just kept questioning me on what God was telling me. When I explained to her that I didn’t think He was saying anything, she told me, very sternly – well then, you just aren’t listening hard enough.
I was devastated. Here I was, making an effort to try and strengthen my faith, at a time when the world around me was attempting to pull me further away from it, and instead of guidance, I felt like I got judgment. That woman reaffirmed what I thought to be true – I wasn’t worth helping; I was too far gone. So I left that session, more broken than I was when I came in, and I trudged on through college.
I trudged on through life, believing that everything wrong with me was all my fault. I knew I had value, God pulled me out of believing the lie that I was worthless in high school, but I still wasn’t living my life for God. I was trying to impress the wrong people and get noticed for all the wrong things. I thought if I couldn’t hear God, I guess I might as well listen to the pressures of the world around me. I had no problem hearing that.
The trudging on changed, though, when I went to a charismatic prayer group. I didn’t really know what “charismatic” meant but I knew it was going to be a little different than I was used to. And it was, very different. I sat quietly and prayed and sang with the other participants, but it wasn’t until the meeting was actually over that God chose to speak to me, and for what I think was the first time in my entire life, I heard Him loud and clear.
I had gone to the prayer group that night with my sister-in-law. I lived with her and my brother at the time, and she knew how deeply I was struggling. When the group was over she asked if I would let her and some of the other people in the group pray over me. I said sure, expecting that they would just extend their hands and say an Our Father or something and that would be that, but that was not that and this experience opened my eyes to the way God communicates.
I sat down in a chair and they all huddled around me. Two of them put their hand on my shoulders, and two put their hand on my knees. Mind you this was at the time I had trouble allowing people to hug me, so I was a bit out of my comfort zone. We all sat quietly for a little while and suddenly I started getting really hot. I thought it was just because this wasn’t something I was used to; but soon it would be revealed to me that the heat was from the Holy Spirit working inside me, wanting me to hear Him.
After a few minutes had past, one of the women asked if anyone heard anything or had any visions. My sister-in-law spoke up and said, “I heard Beloved, He called you Beloved!” When she said that, I could feel the tears welling up in my eyes. Here I was, uncomfortable when people hugged me because I thought I was repulsive, and God was calling me His Beloved. I held it together, though. I hated crying in front of people; I thought it was weak to show emotion (I mean c’mon I’m German). That is, I held it together until the next woman spoke up.
Someone asked another person praying over me if she heard or saw anything, the woman said, “no, I’m sorry, I haven’t heard anything, I just can’t get the words out of my head from the song we sang before ‘You are Mine.’” At that point I lost it, without understanding what was even going on, I was sobbing, sweating and had the runniest nose ever! Someone ran to get me tissues and when I finally looked up, everyone was staring at me with concerned faces. Apart from my sister-in-law, I had never met any of them before that night. They didn’t know me, and even my sister-in-law didn’t know the immense pain and deep wounds I had kept hidden since I was a little girl.
That song was one of the songs I always remembered singing in church as a child, and the chorus always got me choked up, “do not be afraid I am with you, I have called you each by name, come and follow Me, I will bring you home, I love you and you are mine.”3 That poor woman had no idea what she said to make me breakdown in the way I did. The strange thing was that as soon as the sweat, snot and tears had come, they were oddly gone. It almost felt like I wasn’t the one crying those tears.
Once I had composed myself, I explained that I loved that song. I just could never believe the words were meant for me, yet here I was, knowing that God had been trying to tell me how much He loved me since He created me. I couldn’t believe them because I didn’t understand how God could be speaking them to me. It was just a song, written by a person, they weren’t God’s words… or were they?
I know now that God doesn’t always talk to us like He talked to people in the Old Testament; He tends to use a different means of communication than simply calling out our name (because that might freak us out if we aren’t ready for it) – God uses each of us. That song might have been written by a person, but it was clearly inspired by the Lord. All the songs that we sing in church give praise to God, and in turn, He uses them to speak to us. I wasn’t getting that, so He totally consumed me and revealed to me what He had been trying to tell me for years.
He ripped the claws the devil had in my heart right out, and He let me know that He uses physical and internal signs to speak to me. He showed me that He uses tears, and even body temperature, to draw my mind towards something, and it is those “somethings” that can help relay His messages.
I’m not saying that every time you cry or sweat or get goosebumps (another way I’ve noticed God calls my mind toward something) that you are receiving Divine directions. If that is the case then I’m clearly destined for Ryan Gosling because the Notebook gets me every time. We are emotional beings, we react out of compassion, but God also uses these sensations to speak to us. It’s that sense of “just knowing.”
I find now when I have to make a big decision, I pray over it, and then I just sit and think it over. When I get to the thought that is aligned with God’s will I might get goosebumps, or find myself overcome with a joy that doesn’t feel like it’s all my own, so much so that a huge smile just shows up on my face. It’s at that point I know if I make that choice, I am pleasing God.
Notice how I said, if I make that choice. God’s grace comes first, we have the free will to choose to accept or reject this grace, but it is always God’s gift that instills life and goodness within us. God isn’t going to force us to do anything, even if it’s what is best for us; that is the gift of free-will. We are not His slaves. We are His children. It is up to us to choose to align our will with His, knowing that God’s will offers us lasting joy.
God is always calling us; He is always courting us. Once we know how to hear His voice, it’s up to us to decide if we are going to answer His call or if we are going to send Him to voicemail because we are afraid of what we might hear. As tempting as it may seem sometimes, don’t send Him to voicemail. True happiness can only be found in God.
Don’t be discouraged though if it seems like you aren’t “hearing” anything. You may be like I was all those years ago, trying to figure out how to hear God only to be told you aren’t listening hard enough. If you are truly seeking out God, I assure you, how hard you are listening is not the problem – how you are listening might be.
If you are trying to listen while also trying to talk, it just doesn’t work well. I can testify to that! Like some people are afraid of the dark, I am afraid of silence. I always have music on or some sort of background noise. I shared this with a wise nun once and she told me if I have that much anxiety about silence, I am afraid of what I might hear. She was right.
I shouldn’t be afraid of what God wants to tell me. I beg and beg for Him to guide me, yet I still struggle to hand over the reins, which is ridiculous because God has never led me astray. I have led myself astray, I say yes to everything people ask me to help with. I over commit to things that I’m not even good at, yet I often forget that I can’t do everything. I tell myself I want to be a helper. I mean, that’s what we are created for, right?
What I’m really doing though is making myself feel useful – if David was a man after God’s own heart, I am certainly a woman after Martha’s (Luke 10:28-42) – anxious about many things, so focused on hospitality and service, that I end up forgetting the good portion – sitting at the feet of Jesus.
When we deny ourselves the Good Portion, when we use our mouths to say yes before we use our minds to evaluate if we should, we aren’t being helpful; we are, in a way, being selfish.
Ok, I hope I didn’t lose you there. If you are an over-committer like me, being called selfish in regards to your helpfulness might rub you the wrong way. It shouldn’t, though, once you take a step back and begin to look at why you are so gosh darn helpful. The question you have to ask yourself is two-fold: why and for who? Why am I saying yes, and who am I saying yes to?
Are you truly saying yes to God by saying yes to absolutely everything that comes your way? Not if those things don’t bring you, and others, closer to God. We all have talents. The skills God gives us are to help other people get to His Kingdom with us. However, if we become so focused on doing everything that comes our way, we are denying others the ability to use their gifts.
We can also find ourselves so overwhelmed that we get to the point where we are sending God to voicemail again because we aren’t taking the time to answer Him when He calls. We need to wipe our hands, get out of the kitchen and sit at the feet of our Savior, allowing ourselves to be consumed by His loving guidance.
Now is the time to slow down, pause, and allow God to speak. When I was in the depths of my despair I did a lot of yelling, I never did a lot of listening. I didn’t want to admit it then, but I was afraid of what I might hear. I was afraid to let go of all the lies I was holding on to, because up until that point, those lies were all I really ever knew.
How crazy is that? I was holding on to the pain like a comfort blanket, a comfort blanket stitched with thistles and thorns. I kept myself busy and surrounded by noise so I could tune out everything else. I was afraid of the honest silence.
When I stopped fearing the silence, I started seeking out the Lord. Just like Elijah, I didn’t find the Lord in the heavy rock crushing wind, or the earthquake, or the fire. I found Him in the whisper (1 KINGS 19:11-13). Open your heart to God, allow His love to enter into the very depths of your soul, and wait for His whisper.
3. David Haas © 1991 GIA Publicaitons, Inc.