When I became a Christian, which was when I was a teenager, I spent a lot of time reading the Bible. I loved it. I look back on that season with fondness disbelief. I wish I loved the Bible even a fraction of what I did fifteen years ago.
I was shuffled into small groups, went to a couple camps, and I was teaching Sunday school. My closest friends went to church and the parents of other kids quickly adopted me as their own. I was being discipled through all this intentional and unintentional programming. And I loved it.
I had a lot of questions. I mean, I still have more questions than answers and if you spend time with me, you know I ask a lot of questions. Coming in a little late to the game, I had a lot to learn about this new culture I had so eagerly joined.
The one thing I didn’t have questions about was hearing God.
Ever since I was small, I’ve felt and known the presence of God. I’ve had a deep sense of knowing all my life and faith in God, the belief Someone exists, has been easy. Effortless. I do not take this for granted.
It was a couple years into my walk with the Church and during my time at Bible college that a new concept started emerging: discernment. Now, I’m sure I heard this word before, but I just assumed it meant knowing. During this new season, this word was meant to emphasize a choice- a selecting, a sorting through, a combing-out. This word signaled the presence of more than one option. That there was something else, something more, something other, something apart from the deep knowing.
This made sense to me in a lot of ways. Sometimes there are a lot of options, a lot of choices, so it would be right to pick the best, most right one. But what didn’t make sense to me was the strong undercurrent of an idea that we shouldn’t or couldn’t trust our knowing. That our deepest instinct, our gut, could not be trusted.
Slowly from these ideas and conversations around discernment came the concept of spiritual authority. Again, I’d heard of spiritual authority- respected pastors, trusted them, but I didn’t know how it worked out in the day to day other than Sunday mornings they were the ones with the mic. I learned that the role of spiritual authority was to help you know if what you’re “hearing” is God.
They’re your gut.
Again, this made sense and I was earnestly trying to understand these concepts. I assumed pastors went to college and learned the original languages the Bible was written in, understood the cultural context in which it was written and generally would be a class of people who had more knowledge about Biblical interpretation. Our spiritual authority was there to teach us, help shape us, guide us into deeper knowing. What didn’t make sense to me was the sometimes present implication that our own gut, our own knowing, may be wrong while theirs would correct.
This is when things got tricky. See, a lot of my friends didn’t hear God the way I did. The ages we were and the developmental place were in at the time didn’t allow us a ton of big picture self-assessing. Looking back, we know they didn’t hear God -and that’s totally fine. They may have felt God, they may have had hunches, they may have just simply known what was God and what wasn’t. The way the wind knows where to blow.
So when we started this conversation around hearing from God, a large swath of my peers dropped off mentally and emotionally because, well, they just didn’t hear God. And, luckily, it turns out, they didn’t need to because spiritual authority.
I became obsessed (still am) with experiencing God. The conversation was so nebulous and frustrating. The thing I heard over and over again was I don’t know if I hear God. I thought that surely we must be missing something. Surely this isn’t that complicated. I mean, if the people in authority got this hearing God thing down, why can’t me and my friends access it? Also, if God created us to be in relationship with Him, why would interacting with Him be this massively discouraging and confusing thing? It felt off, but not off on God’s part, off on the teaching part.
Nearly every sermon I got to preach or every workshop or camp lesson I was in charge of was centered around experiencing God. The resounding chorus was God is distant, God is far away, God doesn’t speak to me. I didn’t believe that was true of God so I chased down connecting with Her for me and everyone around me.
I graduated college with all kinds of questions, bad and good theology, and zero motivation in my relationship with God apart from just simply knowing Him (which at the time felt like shame and being lazy, now it feels like sweet wide open pastures). My love of the Bible was all but gone and I equated the Holy Spirit with arms high in worship and maybe speaking in tongues. ((I need to be clear that this was my journey, and there is no blame on my college or church. That should be clear, but if not, there it is.))
I started going to a super conservative church with an incredibly high value on discipleship. The Holy Spirit showed up in this church the way I wanted and liked. I had a friend going to another church in this denomination and she was being discipled by like four women. She lived in a discipleship house. Most thoughts she had and all her feelings were run past these people. The entire discipleship relationship was built on hearing God. The person who was discipling you helped to determine if what you were thinking or feeling or hearing was really, in fact, God.
They were your gut.
While I still love this church and think they’re advancing the Kingdom in some of the most tangible ways I’ve personally seen, this whole premise, if done even a bit incorrectly, feeds into the notion that we are made to hear from God in this one, specific way and we cannot trust what we think we know.
Eventually, I ended back at what is now our church in Saint Paul, and the pastor was using a question through his messages and conversations with parishioners. The question was simple and direct: where do you see God moving in your life.
He didn’t use the word hear. There was no skill involved here, no sin to get rid off that may be clogging your spiritual ear canals. This question started with the assumption that we were all capable of seeing and that God was moving in front of all of us. We could all answer this question equally.
I started reading new to me books and listening to new to me people talk. I read the mystics and ancient texts and did yoga and started to connect some dots over the next six or seven years.
In the last two years in particular, I’ve started meditation. “Quiet time” used to mean worship, journaling, praying, reading the Bible. Now it means sitting cross-legged or laying palms up focusing on the Presence. And in this practice, I have learned that my gut, my knowing, isn’t bad. It isn’t wrong. It is in fact, very good. The knowing that lives inside of me, that sometimes works through words so I can hear, and other times works through wind so I can see, and still other times works through a deep down feeling of whether or not something is for me, that knowing is good. And that knowing can be trusted. I can live from that knowing. That knowing is the Holy Spirit inside of me.
A year or so ago, I was sitting with a friend as she was processing some pretty big life change. She and I share a lot of things, one of which is anxiety that tends to fuel transition in negative ways. She was working through all the options out loud, going through all the pros and cons, trying to imagine and hash out all the what-ifs. I was exhausted listening to her- exhausted on behalf of her. Mostly I felt a deep empathy for her because this was me a few years earlier. See, she couldn’t make a decision because she said she didn’t know what God wanted her to. She didn’t know which one was the right choice. She couldn’t discern Him through it all. She couldn’t hear God.
So, I said what I wished someone would have said to me when I was 23 and feeling like every single decision was the most important and that the “narrow gate” meant there is one right choice for every single option presented to us. I said, “What does your gut say? What do your insides feel like doing? In which direction do you feel pulled? What if God speaking to you is actually you just knowing? What if God “speaking” is you intuiting because He’s in you- and you started good. You started in His heart, so what does your heart want? What if He’s not speaking in words because He’s already spoken in your knowing, in your desires, in your bones? What if She’s not speaking because She trusts you?”
What if, sisters? What if God is way bigger than the quiet times we can only have once a month because we desperately need sleep and we can’t find our journals and the time we get to ourselves needs to be spent washing our bodies? What if we can hear from Him in our own words? What if He’s not speaking because He already spoke us into existence and He trusts us? What if we started believing that our leanings, our desires, our gut instincts are not only good but just as valid as hearing words spoken?
What if you trusted yourself? What if trusting yourself looked a lot like trusting Him?
What if your own knowing was enough?
For so long I just wanted, felt like I needed, someone to see me. To hear what I was hearing, nod in agreement, and validate my words or experiences or feelings. I wanted to know what I felt and thought and wanted and heard were legitimate and right, and I thought I needed someone else to make them legitimate. I need someone else to tell me they were right. I needed discernment and confirmation.
But then I didn’t move. I waited. I waited, hoping to be noticed and seen and affirmed.
We can affirm ourselves and get to work. We can believe we are good and our knowing is enough. We can trust we “hear” God through seeing movement in our lives, feeling feelings in certain moments and the simple yet profound gift of intuition.
We can trust ourselves. And then we get on with it. We can get to the work of our lives.
Come back tomorrow and join me as I write about why we’re afraid to do this and how we can overcome that fear and give ourselves permission to trust our own voice. Let’s chase down freedom together.