Hi friends. It’s been a while since we’ve connected. I had a tough summer that included the illness and passing of my mother-in-law, followed by a tough autumn that included too many sports, too much overschedule and a kid with a broken collarbone. But I’m on the mend and wanted to check in and let you know that I’m healing one day at a time.
I started the journey of “Just Change Lanes” a year ago, and I’m taking some much needed time right now to process everything that has happened to me over the past year. This healing has recently required a complete restructure of my life, from my short and long-term goals to my day-to-day activities. In order to give this time the respect and honor it deserves, I’ve needed to step away from almost everything and decide what I am serving and what actually serves me. This is a precious and holy time. I know that sharing my stories and connecting with people that read them on a regular basis is one of my biggest joys and will resume again when I am ready, but for now it might be pretty sporadic!
During this time of self-reflection, I have realized that I have spent most of my life trying to figure out my purpose from the outside in: what do I see others doing? What does a “good” child, family member, employee, friend, Christian look like? What does it mean to be successful? What are the people at the top doing, and how can I learn from them? How can I get to a point where I’m free to stop climbing the mountain and just enjoy the view for a minute?
In the past few months, this is what this deconstruction period has taught me: we were not created to live our lives by drawing on what is outside of us to inspire us, to motivate us, to tell us our purpose or who we should be. Everything lasting and meaningful and true must come from within us first. Maybe this isn’t anything new to most people, but for me it turned everything upside down.
I’ve always felt that God/Jesus/Spirit was something that lived outside of me. I was taught that prayer was something we did to ask this entity to “come down” from somewhere and help us out. I’ve grown up thinking that you had to ask Jesus to “enter your heart,” I’ve listened to people pray for the Spirit “to enter” a place, heard church members ask for God to “be with” a person who was suffering. So, in my mind—if we have to ask these entities to “enter,” “fill” something, or “be with” us…where are they hanging out until we ask them to join us? And when do they leave us and go back to that place and how do we know if we need to ask them to be with us again?
It’s always seemed really lonely to me, that we are always having to ask this presence that supposedly loves us and wants us to be happy to come hang out with us–to be with us. In my mind, I’ve always wondered what was so wrong with all of us that this presence didn’t want to stay with us, that we were always having to ask it to come be with us. Exhausting!
During this time of introspection, I’ve decided through lots of research and re-thinking that God isn’t somewhere else, waiting for me to ask Him to come join me on the journey. God doesn’t need to be asked to do something, or be somewhere—because He’s already there. We just need to realize it for ourselves and acknowledge that everything we need He has already given us, and Spirit is within us all the time. One of the Bible stories I keep reading over and over lately is the story in 1 Kings where the prophet Elijah is hiding in a cave and asks to see God for himself. And while Elijah is waiting, he lives through a tornado, an earthquake and a fire—and he fully expects to experience God in these big events and is pretty disappointed when he thinks that God doesn’t show up.
However, it is only when the turmoil and craziness passes and Elijah is alone with himself that he hears “the still, small voice of God.”I can remember countless times when I have been at the end of my rope, praying and calling out to God “Where are you? Come help me with this!” Wanting to see or hear something, or at least FEEL something that would let me know that He was with me. Wanting a large show of support…when he was quietly telling me everything would be all right the whole time.
I think it’s pretty important that one of the adjectives used to describe the voice of God is “still.” I’ve been a speech-language pathologist for 15 years, and I have never once evaluated a voice I would describe as “still.” What exactly IS a “still voice?” How can a sound have tangible qualities? When I started digging deeper to find the answers to those questions the magic started to happen for me, and continues to unfold. It is no coincidence that I chose “Still” as my word for 2018, as it has come up again and again in my journey this year.
What I am realizing is that when I fill my hours and days with thoughts, busy-ness, schedules and events I effectively render myself unable to just be QUIET for a moment and listen to the “still, small voice” of God that has been present all along, coming from the inside out. It’s always been with me, audible just below the volume of the static created as I tried to find purpose from the outside in.
I sleep every night with a sound machine beside my bed cranking out white noise. I started using it when my youngest child Maryn slept beside me for the first few months of her life. I am such a light sleeper, and she was such a noisy dreamer, that I would wake up every hour all night long—unable to train my mind that every little whimper didn’t signal disaster. A friend mentioned getting a white noise machine to effectively train my ears to only listen to Maryn’s louder cries. It worked like a charm, and I’ve used a sound machine to help me sleep for over 8 years now.
As I have used this time of introspection to be a better listener of the inner voice within me, I realize that the chaos, the striving, the comparing, the climbing of trying to find my purpose through things on the outside have effectively become a “sound machine,” blocking out the still, small voice within. And once I realized that I could turn off the “white noise,” a new world has opened up to me—one that I am just now starting to explore.
I’m not going to get into the details of that exploration yet—that is much more for another post. But if you’re interested in tuning out the white noise around you and starting to listen to your inner voice, I can tell you what is working for me:
- Meditation. I have said it before, and I will say it again—meditation has changed my life. Meditation is not just some Eastern hocus-pocus yogi thing. It’s not any different than taking time for a morning Bible study. Except instead of focusing on something external, like with a Bible verse or story, you focus all of your intention within yourself. You don’t study, you listen. Be still. Try it for 3 minutes, then 10 minutes, then 15 minutes. 15 minutes a day will change your life. I use the free meditation app Insight Timer—there are great “learn how to meditate” meditations to choose from, based on the time you have available. You can read a few more of my meditation tips in my blog post HERE.
- An open mind. I’ll be honest and say that some of this “look inside of you” stuff seemed pretty “woooo-woooo” to me. Like hippie spirituality. This is not how I was taught to connect to God—this is something that was completely foreign to me. I even wondered if Christians were supposed to meditate. I know this might sound really over the top to some people reading this, but I grew up taught to be worried that everything might be one of Satan’s traps to drag my soul to hell forever. What if this was some sort of trap? To use a Southern Baptist phrase from my childhood: What if I was going down “the slippery slope?” So I sat with that thought for a while, and here’s what Jesus and I agree on: if what you are doing makes you a more free, kind, loving peaceful person—it is of God. Period. God wants me to tell you that pursuing your inner voice is okay. Meditation is okay. Give yourself permission.
- Self-compassion and grace. It’s hard to be “present” and not allow yourself to go back to the old patterns of trying to use outside sources to help define you and your purpose. Trying to stay in the moment and listen to your inner self requires discipline and skill that must be built up over time. I still find myself getting pulled back into thought when I’m trying to meditate, and it requires a lot of grace to keep going. Try small steps. Set a target of sitting in the quiet for 5 minutes each day. Order a book that explains self-introspection and read it for a little bit each night before you go to bed (I’m currently reading Eckhardt Tolle’s The Power of Now and plan to follow it up with A New Earth.) Most importantly, give yourself the love and grace you would give to anyone learning a new skill. You’re not going to perfect it
- Make yourself a priority. If you’re too busy DOING, you’ll never get to enjoy BEING. Look at your schedule. What can you cross off you list as not vital? What can you delegate to someone else, reschedule, or cancel? During this time, I have found it of utmost importance to give myself ample time to heal. I have cancelled most non-essential events. If it hasn’t been vital to my job, and it doesn’t make me immediately think “Hell, yes!” when I consider its importance in my life, it is a no. I’m sure I have passed up some great opportunities. But the greatest opportunity right now is for me to rest and heal—and I can’t do that without time and space in my life. And every moment I make that choice is worth it.
I’d love to know your thoughts on finding your own “still, small voice.” How do you connect with your spirituality from an internal perspective? What do you do that helps you dial in to your inner purpose and turn off the “sound machine” of chaos and craziness? Feel free to comment below, I’d love to hear from you!