What If: I Cannot Trust My Inner Voice?

There is a voice inside of you
that whispers all day long,
‘I feel that this is right for me,
I know that this is wrong.’
No teacher, preacher, parent, friend
or wise man can decide
what’s right for you – just listen to
the voice that speaks inside.
Shel Silverstein

As a kid, I was not a lover of words. I did not read. I did not enjoy writing. There was one exception to this rule. I had a handful of books that spoke. Their words lept off the pages to give feelings and meaning to my very confused thinking. As a pre-teen, Go Ask Alice was one of my favorites. Dark and twisty should have been a life label for me in 7th grade. As a younger kiddo, Where The Sidewalk Ends was a favorite ‘I’m pouting in my closet’ read. There seemed to be an understanding of mutual head dwelling with these authors. As I have worked to understand my own inner life, I came across this 1996 poem from Shel Silverstein’s children’s book, Falling Up. The line that had me hooked was “a voice inside of you that whispers all day long.” Two things struck me. One, the voice is whispering so I have to quiet my mind to hear it, and the voice speaks all day long.

One of the single greatest impediments in my ability to listen and trust my inner voice is a very real fear that my own voice is not trustworthy. I grew up with a foundational understanding of my sinful nature, an understanding that I could not escape from, an understanding that I was not able to overcome it. And while I cannot recall a specific conversation where I was told that my intuition was not trustworthy, I developed that belief and I certainly don’t think that thought pattern was ever discouraged. Even when I began to shift to a creation narrative that was founded in a place of goodness, the presence of Original Sin in our world penetrated the ‘goodness’ of my own voice.

I can honestly say that I cannot name one time, not one single time, that I have trusted my intuition and inborn voice 100%. For four and a half decades I have continually told myself that self-revelation was not of God. Sure, I could wrap it in the correct words like ‘Holy Spirit’ and ‘God’s gentle voice,’ but I have feared that the whisper was my own…forever. As I have worked to try on new models of faith, I have defined some aspects of this thought insanity differently, especially as a parent. I remember the first time that one of my girls said, “I just get this weird feeling, Mom.” I almost cried. They heard from themselves and BELIEVED. I’m sure I dork-factored this simple statement by vomiting words of encouragement at the revelation. Many times since then, I have (in so many non-chill ways) told both my children to TRUST THAT VOICE OF KNOWING.

Even when I have been unable to listen to my own voice, I have worked so hard to develop in them a belief that their intuition and whispers are trustworthy. When I think back on the most devastatingly painful moments of my life, I am able to identify that so, so many of them could have been avoided if I had just – for even a tiny second – trusted my own internal voice. I could have challenged my self-inflicted shame of “good girl” choices. I could have stood my ground and not gone or done or felt obligated. I could have stepped out of relationships and into good risk. Perhaps, in some weird way, I could have lived the life that the Divine intended for me all along, instead of avoiding the preconceived judgement that I knew would come if I ever trusted.

A wise soul said something the other day that flat threw me for a loop in the best way possible:

"There is no process or system that is better to trust than the deep loud internal discernment God gave me." -my friend Kim

With these words, I began to unpack my fear. How do we start trusting? If you want to learn from a middle-age Kindergarten level truth seeker, here is my wisdom. I can’t hear if I don’t stop talking. Listening is not possible if I am constantly making noise. So the very first thing I need to do is shut my hole. While I am quiet, I breathe. My only “words” or “prayer” in breath is to breathe in Goodness (or the Divine, or Knowing – whatever you invite to teach you) and breathe out fear. I have so many fear voices, so I have to give them a swift kick in the ass to be able to hear my own truth. And then I sit. Sometimes in the silence. Sometimes as I drive. Sometimes as a listen to some music. And as the thoughts and words come, I don’t fight them or their origin or their “truth.” I listen. And then I listen some more.

What I know about growing and changing thought patterns is that it’s takes work. I cannot un-learn years and years of conditioning without years and years of new practice. I’m sitting here today, as I type on my porch, smelling the tomatoes and basil of my garden and listening. And what I hear is good. It’s my voice. It’s my truth. Me. Mine. Goodness.

What If: I Can’t Find a Spiritual Path That Seems Genuine For Me?

This week, I sat down with the last 6 ‘What If’ Questions on my Numbers spreadsheet and I stared at this one. I know what I need to say. I know what I want to say. But typing it just seems to be a bit harder than I ever imagined. For those that have held tight with me the last 40+ days, you know that blowing up my boxed-up world is challenging for a single track thinker. In genuine vulnerability, this question asking series started from a place of fear of the ‘what if’. If I began to publicly say some of the things that have been rolling around in the depths of the deep, what happens? What I found is that I am still here. A bit more free. More empowered. Absolutely, more sure of myself than ever before. So, back to our question today.

The box we are exploring is one of the very square shaped boxes in my mind’s historical journey. Each “spiritual path” is a neatly packed box. We have the Jewish box, Buddhist box and the Hindu box. Can you see the acceptable “other religions” categories? We have the Christian boxes (each with their worthiness pre-determined) of Catholicism, Evangelicalism, liberal theology, protestant roots and traditional liturgically intense practices. And THEN we have the ones that I was taught are the no-fly boxes of cultish expressions of faith. All of the boxes.

I remember the first time I read a book on contemplative prayer practice that drew parallels to the meditation practices of eastern faiths. I almost closed the book. WE DON’T BELIEVE IN THESE THINGS. And by we, I mean that the brand of religious expression that I was buying at the time. But I began to explore these ideas of stillness and intention and I did’t combust. My next big boulder of struggle was literal biblical understandings, even going so far as to question heaven and hell. What if? What about…? As I began to study, the cardboard walls of my boxes began to soften with the water from my tears. On many days (let’s be honest, late nights) I would take a breath and say in my deepest spaces, ‘I don’t believe that anymore.’ And then I would cry. Sometimes the tears would be a glorious release. Sometimes the tears were from the pain of loneliness. In many seasons, I have felt like I was walking out on a wobbly branch of a forbidden tree, alone and scared.

The number of times that I have admitted that my box was inadequate for my truth is terrifying. If you have not guessed it from the last many days, I’m not sure I even have a box anymore. I have fully embraced that there is not ONE spiritual path that seems genuine for me. However, there is MY spiritual path. And that, dear friends, is very genuine. There is much of this season that is confusing, but there is one thing that is NOT genuine: to stop searching and exploring. Out of fear of doing it wrong or an unclear direction or any other speed bump, the thing that I cannot and will not shake is the journey. I am a spiritual person. I am deeply tied to exploration and question asking. I will never not be able to connect the dots of the Mystery with the revelations of truth in my own existence.

I love the question asking of the Jewish faith. I am obsessed with the deep history of the Orthodox Christian church. I find grace and peace in the openness of the modern Episcopal Church. I am learning and growing from the inner contemplation of the Buddhist faith. I read with great excitement from many spiritual teachers that would quickly tell you they are not religious. And most importantly, I have learned to listen, sit and discern my own truth. This single act of freedom has allowed me to let go of finding the ‘right’ in favor of the ‘best’ or ‘most true.’ If there is one thing that I have embraced in this season it is my full acceptance that the spiritual journey is a deeply personal one. Those that chose to judge or convince or manipulate with fear or threats of pain and judgement are not the ones that I’m here for. There is nothing “genuine” in that kind of spirit quest today.

May we find the holy spaces with genuine searching and learning. We are worth it.

What If: The Responsibility for My Spiritual Connection Was On Me?

To begin this post, I need to give a bit of groundwork. The heart of this question came from a conversation that I shared with a friend months ago. We were discussing the framework by which we are finding spiritual connection and the heartbeat of the conversation shifted to our personal responsibility for that journey. The more we talked, the more clearly I began to see the reality of the American Church.

I have accepted the consumer mentality of church attendance for years. I have fought it with all of my church leading ability, but for the past 30 years the pattern of participation in the life of the church has significantly morphed to a ‘what can you do for me?’ mindset. In seasons of personal frustration, I have fought against this current. But years ago, I gave up fighting. I have pressed into personal internal work and trusted that those that were ready for this track would join me, appealing program or not. I have thought less about target audiences and attention seeking models and more about if this is what I need, maybe someone else will see it as valuable. This is great for many, and off-putting for so many others. It is a shift. No longer am I catering to what is convenient. Instead I am focused on calling others to own their own journey.

This does a few things. First, it makes it look like you don’t “care” about people. This is anti-pastoral. Secondly, it can come off as elitist or closed off. I can assure you that is not my intent. Instead, I think asking people to own their own journey is actually quite open. More open, in fact, than anything that I have been a part of in the discipleship journeys or Bible studies of the past. Finally, this shift puts the responsibility on the participant. And guess what? People don’t like responsibility. It is heavy. It demands work. Especially in the spiritual journey. It requires looking for yourself at the things that you cannot embrace or own. When you are no longer spoon fed “truth” or a particular belief system, and instead are forced to decide if you care or value these things at all, the hard choices begin to appear. You have to own it. For yourself. And hot damn, that seems real and true in ways that are anything but consumeristic.

I want to talk to my friends that are sitting on this fence. The ones that know that they don’t fit in the system but just can’t imagine what it looks like to think about owning (really owning) their faith. The ones that do the things because you are supposed to. The ones that answer the questions the way that others want you to because it is just easier than disturbing the calm of status quo. To tell someone that you are changing the way that things have always been done or believed or participated in or accepted is terrifying. Especially when it comes to owning your faith. So much of our system of organization in the Church has pre-determined eternal outcomes and perceived truth. But, I need to let you in on a secret. THAT IS A LIE.

If you own your faith in a way that calls you to walk away,

If you find that you don’t believe what you once did,

If you listen, really listen, and find that your soul tells a different story today,

You will be ok. I am ok. I am here to be a witness, you will live on the other side.

And what if, the story on this side is a more beautiful, free, freeing, melodic, harmonizing, trusting truth than you could have ever dreamed? That’s what owning your spiritual journey looks like. When you find that the handcuffs are removed and you are finally free to reach for the most loving and generous parts of your own soul, you realize that is the very space that Creation and Healing is the most alive.

The single greatest thing that has kept me from this part of my own journey is that I have bought the shame based lies that I was not capable of being trusted. I had deeply embedded belief grooves that held my heart hostage that my “sinful” nature was not able to be barometer of goo. Instead, I needed to rely on the smarter, more studied, more spiritual people to do this heavy lifting for me. My job was simply to digest their truth and to participate in the prescribed path of connection. By doing the correct activities and following the path, I would find soul contentment. Well, guess what? That didn’t happen.

But when I allowed myself to do some guilt free breathing. When I took a long deep, open, full-lung breath of what felt warm and welcome and ME, something happened. I didn’t feel like I was breathing a tank of artificial air. There was no life support needed. Because, I had the capacity to do this all along. My Creator wired me to listen and hear and discern. The very stillness of Sprit that I have possessed from birth was absolutely sufficient. It was my inability to trust myself, my unwillingness to flex the muscles of exploration for fear of non-conformity that paralyzed me all along. I have a new tool kit these days. In includes intention setting, meditation, prayer, listening, study, reading, trusting others to speak Divine inspiration to me and most importantly reflecting on what the Teacher is telling me through listening to my own spirit. This beautiful reconstruction journey is wonderfully mysterious and wildly freeing.

What If: Everything Cannot Be Solved in the Pages of the Bible?

This is an easy one for me. It can’t. I said it and I’m not going back.

Somehow, that does not seem to satisfy the heart of the question, so I am going to try and put thirty years of wrestling with this one into a few paragraphs. I’m sure that this will be wildly insufficient, but I need you to know my starting point as it relates to the Bible. I have spent many years learning how to study the Bible. I have studied for memorization. I have read for direction. I have examined for the storyline. I know the content. But it has taken me years to make peace with the scriptures.

When I graduated from high school, I received multiple books that had topics with associated chapter and verse. Where should I turn when I was worried? When I was doubting? You get the point. The number of times I would feel something very normal and human and I would go to these books so that God could “correct” my doubt or fear or pain are too numerous to count. I spent many years forcing a text about a struggling widow or a leper onto my 23-year-old struggle. And while there is constancy in the heart of the message, it never fit and often left me feeling unseen.

There was a turning point about 10 years ago when I began to find a pack of thinkers with whom I could resonate. My desire to learn from and be shaped by, yet not be shamed by or mistakenly instructed in a way that was never intended, was lived out in their writings and lives. While I have countless voices that speak truth on this subject to my soul, I need you to know about the Holy Trinity of scripture shapers for Lacy Hilbrich. As I have learned and questioned and opened myself up to see that the text is a story of the people of God and not an instruction manual, it changed the way I want to see God.

“The Bible is not an argument. It is a record of human experience. The point is not to prove that it’s the word of God or it’s inspired or it’s whatever the current word is that people are using. The point is to enter into its stories with such intention and vitality that you find what it is that inspired people to write these books.” 
― Rob Bell, What Is the Bible?: How an Ancient Library of Poems, Letters, and Stories Can Transform the Way You Think and Feel About Everything

“Bible stories don’t have to mean just one thing. Despite what you may have heard from a pastor or Sunday school teacher along the way, faithful engagement with Scripture isn’t about uncovering a singular, moralistic point to every text and then sticking to it. Rather, the very nature of the biblical text invites us to consider the possibilities.” 
― Rachel Held Evans, Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again

“Many Christians have been taught that the Bible is Truth downloaded from heaven, God’s rulebook, a heavenly instructional manual—follow the directions and out pops a true believer; deviate from the script and God will come crashing down on you with full force. If anyone challenges this view, the faithful are taught to “defend the Bible” against these anti-God attacks. Problem solved. That is, until you actually read the Bible. Then you see that this rulebook view of the Bible is like a knockoff Chanel handbag—fine as long as it’s kept at a distance, away from curious and probing eyes.” 
― Peter Enns, The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It

My love for reading scripture only deepened when I began to let go of the worry of getting it right. When I embraced that reading the text was a conversation starter rather than an ending point, I began to love the story of God more. What we know from scripture is the heartbeat of God told in the stories and voices of the people of God. In reading, we are invited into the way that the Spirit has worked throughout the ages. This is refreshing news for many of us that have faced the reality that this one book is not the answer manual to every modern question and problem. Often the solutions I am looking for are not on the pages of Ephesians or Deuteronomy, but if I take the faithful journeys of the past and sit with the truth, I can find my own way to listen to God.

What If: Faith is Just an Excuse to Serve Another Agenda?

I find this to be one of the most fascinating and real questions asked in this process. And while it is a wildly entertaining philosophical conversation, the reality of the truth behind it is terrifying. The reason that we want to ask this question is because we know it happens. We need to look no further than our Twitter feeds to see the way that all good things are hijacked by those that refuse to protect holy and beautiful space.

At the heart of faith is a deep desire for connection. We long to known and be known. We stumble and fall and rise and soar in our efforts to connect. Along the way, both the expressions of religious alignment and the desire for control seep into our ego-centric wiring and distort our pure efforts. Countless times, in countless seasons of leadership, I have watched really great people be blinded by the need and desire to stake their claim not in the pursuit of Divine connection but in authority, positions, causes and security.

The really scary part of this experience is that these movements of human control rarely begin with malicious intent. Often, the gentle lull of right (vs wrong), truth (over deception) and wisdom (above immaturity) is the ignition spark that becomes an idol. Time and again, I have been witness to the working of the great magnifying glass of human ego that fuels a shift from holy pursuit to personal agenda. There is a moment, maybe even unnoticed, when an issue, belief or political gain moves from a spiritual aim/tool to a need for victory and control. This slippery slope is a dangerous, subversive shift. With the power that may have started as a calling, passion or stirring, the use of a spiritual cover often excuses the originator from the criticism and correction of others.

While my personal witness is primarily limited to Protestant Christianity, one needs to look no further than some of the greatest atrocities in history to see this exact situation flourish. While the “biggies” are easy to spot (often in hindsight), the more concerning modern dilemma is being lived out on the pages of our political systems, our denominational divisions and our justice movements. Please don’t mishear me. I believe, with all of my being, in a holistic approach to faith that demands action in the name of truth. What disappoints me most these days, however, is the accepted disconnect with the heart of God and the identified agenda. If you are a follower of the teachings of Jesus, and you hijack his message to give cover to your platform, shame on you. If you have studied the Quran or the Talmud and you are accessing holy truths for your own gain, I call heresy.

Of all of the ways that people of faith twist and distort the sacred for the things of self, this single spiritual misstep is one of the most costly. While many world religions differ on context and pathways, there is a constant thread that resonates throughout time. God is God. And the reason this is vital is the opposite motivation of this question: humility. With as much as I hate to admit this truth, the acceptance of the power and role of the Divine is a leveling, humbling, shaping and ego killing admission of powerlessness. Without this realization, and a constant leaning into the truth of relinquishing of power, we are not living in a posture of release. If there is one thing that I know is vital in the moments of surrender, it is deep desire to pursue the aim of not setting the agenda anymore.