Before I really began my own meditation practice and dove into the mystics and understood the power of contemplation, retreats or events that had any focus on silence and used words like “room”, “space”, “gentle” and “slow” seemed like a waste of time. I was motivated, smart and wanted to go places in God- whatever the hell that meant. I wanted a retreat experience, a camp weekend, a prayer night, that did work. I didn’t have time for gentle rhythms and soft spaces. I didn’t want to do a prayer walk, I wanted a counseling session. I didn’t need to prayer journal, I wanted to have demons prayed off me. I didn’t want quiet reflection, I wanted to be told what to do.
I wanted to be told so I would know what to do.
I wanted the aggressive discipleship. I wanted to be given a packet, a handout, that listed the ways to overcome my sin, my issues, myself –and I wanted someone to help me do it.
When I moved home and started going to our church, I was super frustrated with the lack of (perceived) spiritual direction in my life. After one particularly long rant about how I wasn’t growing spiritually or getting what I needed, Stephen gently said, “Maybe that’s okay. Katie, maybe you have to figure it out yourself. If you were back in Chicago, you’d be doing whatever those women told you to do, which is fine, but maybe you don’t need that.” That idea didn’t land for a couple years, but I am so very glad it finally did.
There are lots of caveats to trusting our own voice, to believing our gut. We know them all, all the what abouts: what about when you’re in sin, what about when you’re in a really unhealthy place, what about when you’re super broken, can you trust your own knowing then?
I don’t want to spend much time on caveats for a number of reasons, one being I think we as women spend far too much time there. We live our lives in caveat. We live small, held back, restrained lives that are boxed in and set by caveat. I’m so weary of half living- of dancing on the edge of my own life because of caveats. Of having my boundaries set by them. And a caveat is only perceived at best, so I am limiting my life and experience based on a maybe. And the chorus of women around me, the women who don’t know if they hear from God, is coming from within their own boundaries drawn from fear and caveat.
But I will say this, to the general caveats of fully listening to ourselves (God in us), because I do think it matters and I think it gives us more freedom to surrender to our knowing. When we are deep in sin or brokenness or pain, be it addiction or mourning or loneliness or fear or depression, we still know the truth. Knowing the truth is what fuels the pain of our experience because we know we aren’t living in line with what we know to be true and right and good. Unless someone has a specific mental illness or handicap, their knowing never shuts off. Whether someone listens to that or not is not indicative of the knowing being there.
Caveats fuel fear and they keep us playing and staying small. Some out there idea that is a maybe at best, telling us we can’t trust ourselves? That’s scary shit. And that keeps us from moving. It keeps us surrendered to authority in a way that doesn’t worship God. It worships man and man’s opinion.
The fact that we can read an essay on trusting our gut and that God in us is just as legitimate and valid as God in a male pastor or one of the authors of the Bible and have our first reaction be a series of “yes, but what abouts” is startling and sad. Instead of joy and elation and a resounding holy shit, we’re free, the song sung is, it’s not that simple.
What if it is? What if it really is this simple?
One of the hardest truths for me to come to terms with was that I didn’t know my own voice. Like at all. When I started mediation, there would be prompts when I’d be encouraged to listen for something inside, or sometimes I did a form of free journaling, and other times I’d be asked to produced a mantra, a short prayer, to focus on. In the beginning, these were the most frustrating activities for me because I wanted to be told what to do, what to think, what to focus on, what to write about. And because it took awhile, a long while, for me to be able to tell which voice I was hearing inside was God- was my own.
I wonder how many of us don’t know the sound of our voice. I wonder how many of us can sit in the silence and even name the voices and responses we hear.
I also wonder if we knew our own voices and were certain of what was coming up or out was actually us, if we wouldn’t be less scared of trusting ourselves.
It’s impossible to trust what you don’t know.
As I started to learn what my own voice sounded like, I became more and more aware of what reactions and thoughts and feelings (like shame and guilt) were actually my own and what were the voices of others. For me, there’s this weird, big voice in my head that at first sounds like me, but it’s what I think the crowd is perceiving. Not what I know others are thinking or what I’ve even been told other people think, it’s this giant voice of my own guess of other’s perceptions of me. Another voice in my head is Stephen. Sometimes I hear my dad. Other times I hear my friends, like Amanda. But I now know those voices, I now know what’s me and what’s not me.
Around this time, around the time when Stephen told me what I’ve basically spent seven years trying to figure out, I had some reckoning to do. Part of my paralyzing fear of my own voice came from a really obvious source: fear. But for me, it was a specific fear. It was the fear that drove me to Christian self-help isles and wanting to know how to pray the “bondage” off.
I was afraid of making mistakes.
Since I knew I couldn’t trust my own voice and didn’t even know my own voice, I was terrified of making mistakes. What if I do the wrong thing? What if I mess everything up? What if I think I know, and I’m wrong? I mean, if I do what I’m told is the right thing and it ends up not working out or being a mistake, at least it’s not on me. It’s on whoever told me to do it. It’s on my spiritual authority. There’s a weird safety net in there that kept me from even wanting to know my own voice.
So, for a long time, I stayed small.
There isn’t space for messing up. We put the highest value on success and triumph, and shame failure. We are very uncomfortable with anything but good. When something is hard or goes wrong, we breeze past it with quips about what we can learn and where we’ll go from here.
Messing up, real or perceived, is equated with not hearing God correctly. So the pressure to “do the right thing” is massive. That pressure kept me in a place drawn safely in by caveat, relying on spiritual authority to have the last word so I could be sure this was right.
But what if mistakes aren’t even a thing? What if instead of mistakes, we’re just doing something new? Like what if we listen to ourselves, do what we know to be right, and if that changes, cool.
What if we become super okay with making mistakes? What if we accept that as part of life, not something to fear and insulate ourselves from?
Because at the end of the day, it’s our freaking lives. It’s not our spiritual authority’s life, it’s no one’s but ours. And I’ve made so many mistakes even with spiritual authority. If I am going to live, I’m going to make mistakes. And if I’m going to make mistakes, I want to make my own damn mistakes. I want them to be choices I made because they were right for me, not because I was told or because it was what I perceived to be right according to the culture I’m in at the moment.
What if we didn’t see mistakes as failure, but as Maya says, knowing and doing better? What if what I do tomorrow is radically different than what I did today not because today was a mistake but because tomorrow I know more than I do today?
What if, sisters?
What if we were free to live? To own our own knowing and live by it? To quit living in the caveat and playing small, to grab our lives and our stories by the balls and go hard? To live the shit out of our lives?
What if we committed to learning the sound of our own voices and choose to defer to that instead of the others taking up room in our minds?
What if we gave out only grace to ourselves about the choices we make?
What if we refuse to be boxed in?
What if we believe God? What if we believe that God is in us, as much as His breath filled up our lungs and we were born of His heart?
That sounds like God. I can hear that.
Biblical References: John 14:17, John 1, John 14-17, Isiah 49 (v15), Matthew 6: 6-9, John 10:27.