Utterly alone, you don’t believe anyone could understand the way you feel. Lost, you don’t know how you’ll ever find your way back. And then…a friend calls at just the right time. A song says the words you needed to hear. You read a line in a book that might have been taken out of your very journal. Suddenly, you know there is hope. You aren’t alone. If someone else has felt this way and found their way forward, so can you.
Liz Ditty’s book God’s Many Voices: Learning to Listen, Expectant to Hear was my friend calling to console me, the song to my heart, the “me too” moment that spoke hope into my weary soul. Though I’ve had the joy of meeting Liz, fellow Redbud Writer’s Guild member, in real life it was through the words of her book that I realized just how valuable her voice is to anyone longing to see God more clearly.
I was thrilled to support a fellow author in her book launch and get an early peek at her new book. But I mostly wanted to read it hoping it would meet me in the way I so desperately needed. I knew Liz to be dynamic speaker and spiritual director and I so longed to hear from someone like her that would walk with me to the Father I felt like I had lost touch with.
“It’s possible to seek God’s voice but not seek God. We won’t find Him if we are moving toward our own goals and desires and trying to see Him there. God is who He is, and if we want to hear Him, we have to come to Him in our own broken desire to love Him. Listening should be an act of love, not a grasp for certainty. We have to move only toward Him and His love, not toward His wisdom or blessing or direction.” - Liz Ditty
My early life of faith was lived out in an evangelical tradition that places a heavy emphasis on hearing God through Scripture. I am so grateful for a tradition that instilled a hunger for God’s Word in me. But over the years I’ve been exposed to many other traditions—from the Episcopal church of my college years to the Coptic Church of my time in Egypt, the traditional church of South Asia to the Benedectine Monastery where I discovered the daily office, and the contemplative prayer of fellow authors and friends. I’ve learned that we have many ways of attempting to hear God and I feel like I’ve dipped my toes in the water of many disciplines but never gotten very far in actually listening through any.
In the wilderness I have found myself in after our international move, I knew God hadn’t stopped speaking and I was trying to listen. I just wasn’t hearing anything. I kept going back to the ways of my youth – read more, study more, try harder. Nothing. For nine months now a still voice has been whispering, “Listen. Just be still.”
As I read God’s Many Voices all those How is Liz in my head? moments showed me this: In all my movement and all my attempts to know the answers of why I was drowning in depression, how to get out, and what should come next—I was looking for answers, for a fix. But not for God.
The book gives you opportunities to sit with what you’ve learned and practice it in various sections, reminding you that God’s voice doesn’t just speak through Scripture. Liz focuses on God’s voice as He speaks through Scripture – yes. But also through Prayer, Community, Our Daily Lives, Coincidences and Interruptions, in Beauty All Around Us, and in Desire, Waiting, and Silence.
“If you are wandering in the meantime of waiting, God is with you. He has something tender to say to you here and a profound purpose for what may seem like wasted time. The promised land will be sweet, but God is not withholding good things from you now. He has good things for you, and He is doing good things in you, right there in the wilderness of waiting.” - Liz Ditty
Maybe you are in a season where God is speaking to you more through nature or through a community. Maybe you are growing and hearing from God or perhaps you too feel a bit lost. And reading Liz’s book has reminded me that all of those places are okay. We all have seasons of listening well, of not really hearing, of silence, and of hearing God’s voice differently. It’s the ebb and flow of life and growth and, I believe, also the creativity and diversity of our God. Right now I am in am a wilderness wanderer, telling myself daily that God is with me in it and holding onto words of people like Liz who tell me He is working even when I don’t see it.
Wherever you find yourself, I know you could use a helping hand to guide you. I encourage you to pick up God’s Many Voices and keep listening. Because I believe if you do, you can expect to hear. I look forward to hearing what God has to say to you.
Listening with you,
On Wednesdays guest writers are raising their voices. Brian Sooy discovered my work through a shared hashtag on twitter and then we discovered we shared much in the world of non-profits and discipleship and traveling. When I read his encouragement to find what space in our lives, I was challenged to search out more space for God to move, more room for Him to breathe into my life. I know you will be challenged by these words, too. - Nicole
Before you continue reading, do this one thing. Go ahead, nobody’s watching, I promise.
Reading will wait. First, close your eyes, and breathe deep.
Breathing deeply is the prelude to a pause that calms your heart and focuses your mind. Breathing deeply gives way to silence, which makes it possible to listen. Not only to listen, but to hear.
One thing to remember: God never shouts to make himself heard. When we fill our lives with noise, as if to kill the silence, we miss the whisper that speaks life and says “You are mine.”
Not only do we try to kill the silence, we fill our lives with the white noise of activity: a ceaseless din of work, exercise, church, meetings, shopping, travel, and more.
It all piles up. Why does it seem as if time compresses and the pace of life quickens at year’s end? Why do we feel weary and exhausted at the dawn of a new year? We become frantic; deadlines of our own making threatening to undo us. The urgent supplants the important; everything seems as if it needs done at the same time; there is no room for white space. When do we rest?
White space is a design principle. It’s the space around the objects on a page or in an environment. White space ultimately serves to draw attention to what matters, or to separate what matters from the visual and spatial noise surrounding it.
In music, it’s the quiet between movements; in journaling it’s the pause of your pen before you commit your thoughts to paper; it’s the space between the paragraphs on this page.
When applied to living, white space is the time you allow for reflection, for dreaming, for thinking, for prayer and meditation. White space appears when you simply stop, and when you say no.
Jesus found white space. More than once, the gospel of Mark shows us how: he went into the hills; he found “isolated places” where he could pray, early and late in the day. Why would Jesus, who had the fullness of God dwelling within him, need to find quiet places to surround himself with solitude?
He was fully God, yet he was fully human. It wasn’t his deity that needed to find white space, it was his humanity. He was like us in every way, with the same spiritual resources and physical limitations we have. Like Jesus, we need to find quiet places to pray and to seek clear direction from our heavenly father.
Our culture places an emphasis on doing. Activity and results are valued over reflection and solitude.
What we desperately need is more white space. Space for prayers and dreamers and thinkers who are also doers.
In this new year, will you allow yourself to be enslaved to the tyranny of the urgent? Or will you allow yourself to sit back, close your eyes, and breathe deeply?
Your work, your family, your school or church is just one part of your life. It is not who you are; it should not define who you are. God calls you to be his child and become more like Christ. Your entire life is a glorious opportunity to fulfill and express your calling in a way that in uniquely yours, and unique to his call upon your life. You’re more likely to discover your calling when you separate yourself from noise and distractions, and listen in the quiet for the voice of God.
God entered this world as a child. Mary held Jesus close, felt his breath on her skin, let his breath mingle with hers. The time for doing would be later. The time for being present was now. At that moment, there was white space.
Jesus spent 30 years in preparation for 3 years of intense and intentional living. He worked, he studied, he learned. He knew his purpose, he understood his calling. He saw the end; yet throughout his last three years left room for white space—to breathe, to pray, to rest—and to remind himself of what matters.
Jesus spent time alone, intentionally. Will you spend time alone, intentionally? Will you say no, will you listen, will you breathe deeply? Let Jesus hold you close, let your breath mingle with his. Be present.
Find your white space.
On Wednesdays guest writers are raising their voices. I think you will love these words of Nancy Roe, that speak of a faith that has grown over the years and through many struggles. Nancy speaks of hearing God's voice in a way that makes me turn to His Word with an expectancy. - Nicole
It is not easy to be me.
My life of 65 years has been a patchwork of light and dark, though the dark has ravaged deep from a young age into the present. Those holds and chains pervade hard, immovable, unyielding, and stubborn. I am too familiar with the lies and nuances, and they hide in the habitual. “The what has always been and what will always be” are insinuated into my psyche. The lies insist they are stronger now that I am older, that I am too weak, too fragile, too broken, too damaged.
I was 18 when my drug addled hedonism and atheism gave way to idealism, discovery, and faith in Jesus. The Great I AM showed Himself to me and I was utterly taken. All and everything, He was my desire. I swooned for Him, floated in Him. Such bliss in those days, heaven pulsated in and through me. The sheer intoxication of Him filled me with the ecstasy of joy, peace passing understanding, laughter, purity, and the warm palpable healing oil of His Spirit.
Heaven came to me on earth for a while. But I was young and had much living and learning in store.
The damage done by legalism and condemnation was far more heinous than I could have ever realized. No wonder Paul wrote so repeatedly, passionately and emphatically in his letter to the Galatians “see what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand!” (Galatians 6:11)
Paul urged the Galatians to listen:
“I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed.” (Galatians 1:6-8)
“Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?” (Galatians 3:3)
Now, I get it.
But then? I was years in a “Christian” mind control cult. Though prior to this at my faith’s inception, the wolves in sheep’s clothing subtlety held sway. All those cunning, cruel, and wicked cords wove through my belief experience, tying me, locking me down, imprisoning me deep. This was new bondage, this religious dread and panic that wove itself into the older tapestry of my childhood guilt and shame.
Fear sets us out as fugitives on the run from God. So run I did, trying to find my way to what was real. But, God... Continue Reading
On Wednesdays guest writers are raising their voices. I am thrilled to share these beautiful words with you from Lindsey Hepler on how she heard, and is hearing, God's voice. I hope they challange you to follow, without question, when you hear God speak. - Nicole
"Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.”
- Psalm 95:7-8
A funny thing happened about one year ago.
It is still hard to find the right words to describe the events that unfolded over the days and weeks at the end of January and beginning of February 2015. The simplest and clearest way to describe it is simply to say this:
God spoke to me. I heard His voice.
The first message came, after a period of intense frustration, as a feeling of overwhelming love and security, a deep-rooted sense that everything was and is and would be okay.
Then, a clear statement; a provocation; an invitation.
Next, a serendipitous meeting, followed by advice offered over coffee and heeded, without question. A prayer spoken, asking Jesus to light my path, one step at a time.
Along the way, I moved according to that same deep-rooted feelings of rightness; and my path was revealed, one step at a time. Continue Reading
I'm delighted to share the first guest post of 2016 with you. It's a fitting first as it is this writer's first time guest posting as well. Please welcome writer, photographer, artist Amanda Taylor to A Voice in the Noise today.
I over think everything, and I do mean everything.
Last year I tried to come up with one word to try and meditate on, one word to lead me through the year and recenter me when needed. I would come up with a word that I thought God wanted me to have. Then I would over think it, second guess it and dismiss it. I would think to myself maybe it’s a word I want but not the word that God wants me to have.
I could never settle on a word. Feeling defeated I gave up and let it go. I stopped thinking about the word and what it could have meant for my year, how God could have spoken to me through that word.
This is year I have taken a new approach to it. I started early in December. As I anticipated the birth of Christ I started to ask God to show me a word that he wanted me to focus on. I started softly whispering to God that I was ready to hear what he wanted to tell me. This year I wasn’t going to try and come up with it on my own. I was going to wait however long it took to hear and feel a word that came from Him, not from me.
Shortly after Christmas I took a trip up to one of my favorite places to think, reflect, recenter. I wanted to hear God clearly. This monastery is so dear to my heart that I feel at peace as soon as I drive onto the grounds.
I sat and wrote some notes to myself, some things to remember this coming year and I thought more about my word and then I corrected myself - God’s word. It was God’s word I was asking for that would become mine over the coming year. But first I had to understand it was his word.
During vespers as the monks sang out the feelings rang through my soul and I quietly sang back. I took in all that God was trying to tell me and for once I wasn’t quick to second guess it or jump to conclusions.
I thought maybe, just maybe, he was pointing me in the direction he wished me to go so I asked louder for Him to please show me what it was he had for me. What word would propel me into the new year and closer to what he had in store for me?
It wasn’t until just a couple days later as I was getting up, still feeling heavy from sleep and groggy in my thoughts, that one word shouted out to me as clear as a bell. I could barely focus on pulling myself together and heading to the shower but one word was so clear it sparkled. Continue Reading
After another packed day Tuesday in Jerusalem in which Jesus confronted religious leaders, taught about the End times , spoke of his death and His return at the second coming, we hear nothing from Scripture about Wednesday. We can only guess what Jesus and His disciples did that day. Did they prepare for the Passover? Did Jesus continue to teach? My thought is that after the exhaustion of the previous days and before the trying days ahead, they retreated to Bethany to rest. To pray. To spend time at the feet of the One who would soon wash their feet.
Today the temple where Jesus spent much of His last week no longer exists. Pieces of it remain and when you visit Jerusalem no matter the time of day or year, you will see Jews and Christians alike crowded around the wall that remains of the temple. Some are silent, some celebrating the coming of age of young men, some weeping and rocking back and forth in prayer. If you look closely in every crack of the stones and littered across the base of the wall, like the delicate wings of birds flapping in the wind, you will see thousands of pieces of paper. They are names and prayers, placed into the wall, in hopes that God will hear and answer. This wall is the closest the Jewish people of today can get to the Holy of Holies to pray as they are no longer allowed to pray on the temple mount where the Presence of God once resided. People from all over the world venture to this place to speak to God. Sometimes songs rise from the side of the Mount and sometimes the sound of actual cries to God can be heard. Though the temple does not remain, God is not silent. In His Word, in the heart of those who seek Him, He speaks...
I have had friends prodding me to blog and God nudging me toward pursuing my writing for a while now. But I have been resistant to lay bare my soul online in a way that is vulnerable, risky.
Well, God's nudges have become shoves and how can I say "no" to Him?
So, here I go, trying to carve out a space for my words in this infinite world online. As I thought about what I wanted to write, what this space would feel like, the same words kept coming back to me...
Not all my friends would believe this, but I am such an introvert. It's not that I don't like to be around people or find joy in my friends. But I need some quiet in all the noise of life. When I curl up with the written word, I find that the world just disappears.
Often when I am reading, a voice breaks through the world that has been created in my head by what I am reading. I will realize someone was actually trying to carry on a conversation with me. I can find such quiet spaces as I enter into the world an author weaves with his words.
The noise of the world just fades away...
I have always loved the Word of God. How amazing is it that God has given us a written record of His words to us throughout the generations, has spoken to us in such a way that He still speaks to us today?
In seminary and since, one of my favorite things to do was study the archeological and sociological aspects of the Bible, to see how understanding the cultural context brings to life, in a new way, what God is saying to us today.
I could sit for hours and study the Bible and when I was young and single, I had opportunities to do just that. I remember sitting on the edge of a dock looking out over the Mississippi bayou reflecting on the things God was teaching me in a sweet time of my life when I was in seminary.
I can still taste the salt of the red sea as I sat next to it and read God's word on a retreat when we lived in the Middle East. These were beautiful times of unbroken devotion...
The world seems like a simple place when you are young, doesn't it?
It is so easy to see life in black and white. When I started traveling overseas, God started to open my eyes up to a noisy, messy world of cultures and religions that lived together beautifully in some places and clashed with a vengeance in others. I saw traditions so beautiful I could cry and political corruption so horrible I did weep. I met people with beautiful stories that could inspire and tragic ones that could break your heart. I saw how God weaves all of our stories together in His Great Story.
Then, I came home from living in the Middle East and my world was turned upside down. Seven months after returning to the states and still trying to reconcile the life lived from two suitcases to a life again full of all the "stuff" in America, we added to the mix a new layer of life.
Our first child was on the way...
Life continued to get louder and louder. Contrasting the call to a simple life and a yearning to grasp the great big world I had experienced overseas, was the longing for security in a world that was spinning. The American economy tanked right when we returned home and found ourselves expecting a child. I worked 50 hours a week between two jobs until we had our daughter, just trying to make ends meet.
I now found myself torn as I wanted to stay home with her but couldn't afford to. We also lived between the dichotomies of building a stable life in the U.S. and missing an international life every day.
God's voice got dimmer and dimmer to me. Those sweet times of devotion I had previously known became gasps of prayers and little glances at His word when I could make the time.
The noise in my head got louder and His voice become smaller...
A new noise was rising all the time as social media and blogging got bigger in the world and in my life. Added to all of the layers of voices vying for our attention daily was an endless stream of friends and strangers speaking into every possible area of our lives. Spend too much time online and you can drive yourself crazy!
Not only did I feel like I wasn't a good mom because I had to work full time, I also now felt pressure to have do and be all that every pinterest or facebook post said I should do and be - to live up to the expectations of a good mom, Christian, person.
I thought I could find ideas and help on how to balance it all, but instead all I found was a load of unrealistic expectations my perfectionist self just heaped on top of an already drowning spirit.
I couldn't even find who I was anymore underneath all of the anxiety I felt. Life felt like chaos and I couldn't hear a single voice in the noise...
Remember those friends who would never believe I was an introvert?
They'd probably also never know I had become an anxious, drowning mess underneath the smile I plastered on. I literally felt like I couldn't breathe some days, but I didn't have time to stop and deal with it. I had a husband and two kids, by this point, to take care of. I had a job to do, a home to run, leadership in ministries to attend to.
It wasn't that I was unhappy. I was ridiculously blessed, so how could I even complain?
But in the middle of a time when I needed help the most, I had never felt so alone. Thousands of voices swirled around me daily, but I couldn't hear one except my own self-doubt convicting me: "You are a failure. You are not enough."
There was only one voice I wanted to hear, that of my sweet Jesus. I knew it was only God's view of me that mattered. I knew the truth forwards and backward, had never stopped believing in His mercy that is new every morning. I believed God was good all the time and that He was in control. But I couldn't get the truth I knew in my head to take root again in my heart and make a difference in my life.
In all the noise around me, I had lost the sound of my Savior's voice and I needed to learn to hear it again...
Finally came New Year's Day 2015. I sat in the quiet of a monastery I love, this beautiful church where I can just feel the presence of God as warm as the sunlight streaming in colored rays through the stained glass. In this quiet, stolen moment I could hear Him like the thunder from the mountain of Moses, clear and real. My pen flew over my journal and I felt so certain of the things He was saying to me and the steps He was asking me to take.
A few days later I tried to steal away a few more quiet moments with Him, a sweet three-year-old curled up in my lap, startled by a dream and wanting to find mommy in the early morning hours. I couldn't hear the thunder anymore, but over the breath of a little boy, I heard a whisper.
And God was in that, too...
So, I started to write - to quiet the noise and focus in on His voice again, to make sense of the noise inside and outside, and to tell others the lessons I am ever so slowly learning every day at the feet of the Master.
As I thought of what I would write, all I could think of was how I wanted to hear His voice in all the noise, how I wanted find a way in the midst of life to learn to hear my Shepherd's voice and go towards it. I won't always have time to steal away and be quiet. We need to learn to hear His voice so clearly I can hear it in the midst of the chaos and craziness.
I wanted to share what I have learned and what God is teaching me daily in this journey to hear and follow His voice.
And I thought of this world that He loves so dearly in all its beauty and brokenness, its mess and color. He's allowed me to see such wonderful things and some beautiful people who don't have a voice to raise. They have stories to tell with their lives and no one to listen to them.
I want to be their voice.
I want to tell their stories so they don't get lost in the noise.