Over the last few years I’ve been learning to develop healthy boundaries around the voices I listen to.
I stopped listening to the news and read carefully instead.
I implemented care in my use of media and social media.
I made the difficult choice to walk away from relationships that had become crusty, toxic, bullying.
I also tuned out the voices that lingered in my head, refusing to have conversations with people who weren’t physically present.
And I’ve done some serious relationship work with my inner critic. I call her Grumpamonk, sometimes Grumpamonkey, because either name makes me laugh and helps me take her less seriously.
So those are the voices I’ve tuned out. I’ve also tuned in to other voices, voices that speak encouragement, motivation, justice, and love. I’ve allowed myself to feel uncomfortable when necessary for the sake of learning and growth. Even my Grumpamonk’s voice has changed her tune, surrounded as she has been by a choir of voices singing in harmony.
The most important voice I’ve been listening to? The voice of the One who sings love over me.
Since Holy Week, I’ve been using the free version of the Ritual phone app to practice lectio divina several times a week. Lectio is a way of listening to the Spirit through the reading of a short Bible passage. You listen for a word or phrase that stands out, and then invite the Spirit to tell you what that particular word might mean to you. You listen to the passage three times (it’s short, so it doesn’t take long) while having a quiet conversation with God. I’ve done lectio with groups, but I’m thrilled to have this simple tool guiding me regularly at home.
During Holy Week, as I listened to the passages from Isaiah commonly called the Suffering Servant passages, I anticipated challenging words related to my sin for which Jesus died. Instead, I heard that God is pleased with me.
Other times I have heard words such as: have life, come to me, see the Son, become, and complete joy. All encouraging, all relational invitations.
This has led to a significant realization: as much as I believe that God is love and God is good and God has good plans for me, I have also expected to hear judgment. I have expected to hear that I’m not measuring up, doing my best, or living as fully as God intends. Each time I’ve been surprised to hear God’s gentle voice loving me and calling me forward because somehow I’ve been anticipating rebuke. I know God doesn’t weigh our sins on a balancing scale, but if sins could be weighed, I’m sure my bad attitudes and inactions could get heavy.
Where did my presupposition come from? How had I internalized the voice of an angry, at least annoyed, God? I don’t know, though I can guess. All the voices of spiritual leaders who have emphasized personal sin without challenging the fallen systems within which we commit those sins, wagging fingers generally and sometimes pointing directly, combined to make my humanness seem a bigger deal than God’s love. It shouldn’t need a spoiler alert: God’s love is way bigger than any word or action on my part. Or yours.
Talk about spiritual seismic activity! I’ve been following Jesus since childhood. I have degrees from a Christian liberal arts college and a theological seminary. I can teach and preach and write about God’s love from here to Jesus’ return.
Yet I’m learning anew to hear God’s voice, the voice of love, a voice I want to hear again and again. Thanks be to God.