Confession: I hear voices.
Throughout my day, I hear voices in my head that comment on my actions, and, as a result, influence my choices. Sometimes, I even hear the words of the voices coming out of my mouth.
The voices do not frighten me. They are usually comforting. I don’t always agree with them, but they often tell me things I need to be reminded of. As an added bonus, the voices are often right about whatever they are talking about.
Let me be clear, although these are the voices of people other than myself, I realize that they are still, somehow, a part of my psyche. Before you get too many images of an angel and a devil sitting on my shoulders, let me provide some more details.
Who and what do I hear?
I’ll start with my grandmothers’ voices. Both my grandmothers had a daily presence in my life both as a child and as an adult. I lived very close to both while I was growing up.
During college and into adulthood, they remained people I called (or who called me) consistently. One of them got up VERY early in the morning. We’re talking 4:00/4:30am. The other was more of a late night person. She would easily still be up at 10:30pm.
Regardless of the time I was driving into work (like the time I was going in at 5:45am) or the times I was up with a newborn or sick child, there was at least one of them who was available by phone.
One of them made these delicious, traditional candies and cookies each year in December. I had her teach me how to make them when I was a young teenager. Once her energy wouldn’t allow her to make them (it took an entire day of constant work to get them all done), I picked up the torch and began doing it.
Even now, I make them, faithfully, each year. I call it my annual memorial to my grandmother. While I’m making them, I can literally hear her voice, still giving me instructions. “Those are too big, Katherine. Don’t get in a hurry. Make them smaller. That’s perfect.”
Who else do I hear?
I took piano lessons for about 8 years when I was younger. The teacher I had for the majority of those years was a very kind and disciplined lady. She would write all kinds of notes on my piano music to remind me of ways to play better.
There were the little eyes with glasses that reminded me to “look out” for a transition that tripped me up. There were the finger numbers written in to help the piece flow more smoothly. I still have and play some of that music; her writing still there.
However, when I’m playing (or, now, coaching my daughters as they are learning to play) I hear my piano teacher saying things like “Pay attention to phrasing and dynamics. You want to make the piano talk, not just push the keys.” and “Curve your fingers!” I even hear myself quoting her words. It drives my daughters crazy.
I also hear one of my past bosses, each of my parents, and friends who I used to spend lots of time with. It matters not that the people are still living or dead. Statements like these come into my head, through another person’s voice, from time to time:
- “Collaboration takes longer, but it is a better way to work.”
- “Have you gone to her?” (this said if I’m having difficulty working with someone)
- “The greatest distance between hope and despair is a good night’s sleep.”
- “When everything else in your life is uncomfortable, your clothes shouldn’t be.”
- “A fool and his money are soon parted.”
I find that the voices I hear most frequently are those of people I spent (or spend) a considerable amount of time with. This can also work against me, though. If I’ve spent time with someone or something (think Facebook, certain magazines or TV shows) that is discouraging to me, I can tend to hear those messages again, too.
These negative messages are often heard in my own voice. The psychological world would call this “negative self-talk.” I know these messages don’t always originate with me, but are instead triggered by someone or something that challenges my security. These are the voices I want to silence:
- “You didn’t say that well. She’s probably mad at you.”
- “They probably think you don’t care.”
- “He thinks you aren’t very smart. I can’t believe you did that!”
- “You aren’t doing enough.”
- “You look frumpy. Why don’t you spend more time on clothing?”
Aaaaah! Just writing those statements makes me cringe, both because I’ve shared them (out loud) and because they can be so damaging to my perspective.
Why do I tell you all this?
I’ve learned that if I want to maximize the encouraging messages and minimize the negative, crippling messages I have to be more intentional about what I expose myself to. I have to train my brain to listen to Jesus’ voice above all else.
Next, I have to seek out and spend time with people who are encouraging and make wise decisions.
Finally, I have to minimize my exposure to negative, discouraging messages that distract me from my focus of getting to heaven, whether they come from media, other people or my own negative self-talk.
If we know Jesus’ voice, we will hear it in our heads. We will be able to distinguish His voice from the other, competing voices.
John 10:2-4 says “But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.”
A little further in that same chapter, John goes on to quote Jesus saying “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” (John 10:27-28)
Now, I love a good metaphor, but they don’t speak to everyone. No pun intended. Allow me to clarify the passage I just mentioned. We (humans) are the sheep and Jesus is the shepherd. The door and gate are the way to eternal life, eternal security, for our souls.
How can we let God’s voice (and His son, Jesus’) become familiar to us? How can we know it so well that we will hear it, recognize it, and allow it to call us away from other things?
First, we have to approach Him. “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.” James 4:8a.
There are plenty of other examples of this message in the Bible, but I chose this one because it is so concise and to the point. Another one to look at is Proverbs 2: 1-5 that talks about seeking wisdom and sound guidance like a hidden treasure.
Next, we have to soften our hearts and minds to really hear what He has to say and filter out all the other voices of distraction. This will build a real faith.
Romans 10 :17 “So then faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ.”
As I mentioned, surrounding myself with encouraging people and messages (yes, there are positive messages in media!) will make the voices I hear more positive. There are so many people who will also build my faith and point me to Jesus and the message of the Bible. These are the messages I need to dwell on as much as possible.
I’ve found that I have to be pretty intentional about what is coming into my mind. It is so easy to go through life just watching what is in front of me. Just reading what is in front of me. Just clicking on the link that is in front of me. Just staring at my phone. Ouch. Those are hard choices to make.
These are daily, minute by minute choices I have to make sometimes. And these are just some of the ways that those negative voices get into my head. Very sneaky, isn’t it?
Comparing myself to others’ standards and the world’s standards will only lead me to feeling prideful, or even more uncomfortable, discouraged and inadequate. I must minimize these negative messages. They put distance between me and Jesus. I can’t draw near to Him if I’m distanced from Him. I am enough for Jesus if I am diligently seeking Him and doing my best to obey God’s Word.
If you aren’t recognizing Jesus’s voice above all the others, perhaps it’s time to get to know Him better.