Hearing Voices

We all hear voices, though I’m not sure how many of us would want to admit it. 😉

No, I don’t think we’re all schizophrenic or have multiple personalities. Don’t you hear your thoughts as they “talk” to you? Do you “hear” the words in your head as you’re reading this?

The hardest part is learning which voices to listen to. Sometimes, it’s a case of training our inner voice to say the right thing. Other times, we have to tell our own voices to shut up long enough to hear the quiet voice of God.

Outside influences on our life, especially in our formative years, whether it be negative ones from those who were neglectful or abusive, or positive ones from supportive, encouraging parents and teachers, are what shape our self-talk. I know I’ve mentioned in other posts about self-talk but I think it’s an extremely important topic because our thoughts, about ourselves and the world around us, determine our behavior.

If our own voice tells us, “I can do this!” we’re encouraged and we do it. Other times, we end up not doing it, though, because we’re telling ourselves “That’s too hard!” or “I can’t,” or “I’m not even going to try. I’ll just fail again.” Sometimes, the voice in our head is the last thing someone said to us, whether it’s “I love you!” or “You’re fired,” (which often translates into “You’ve failed”).

It’s common for a voice from the past to stick with us because of who said it or how many times it was said. Those are the voices that tend to play over and over on a loop, and they’re the ones we start to believe are true, whether they really are or not. They end up becoming our self-talk and, and a lot of times, we don’t even realize it. The words and phrases that become ingrained in our thinking get incorporated into our belief system and express themselves in our behavior. Negative self-talk, especially, ends up being self-fulfilling. I think that’s why so many of us don’t live up to our full potential and instead lead mediocre lives.

If we’ve repeatedly been told “You’re so dumb!” we probably won’t enjoy or do well in school. Conversely, if we’ve been told, “You’re a natural athlete,” we’ll probably enjoy sports more, work harder at them, and do well.

Ideally, one person saying something positive and believing in us may be enough to break us out of the rut we’ve been kept in by previously negative words. Many times, though, it takes a lot more than just one person to convince us that what we’ve been told for years, and what we’ve started telling ourselves after hearing it for so long, really isn’t true.

The devil, the father of lies, loves it when we have self-defeating thoughts. It just means he doesn’t have to work as hard to keep us down and stop us from fulfilling our life purpose. We can’t experience all the joy and abundance God has in store for us, or be all God planned for us to be, if we think we don’t deserve it or don’t think it’s possible.

Growing up I remember the voices in my head telling me that I was worthless, used, and dirty. I locked shameful secrets so deep inside me that I lost big chunks of my childhood along with the memories. The only positive thing I remember being told was that I was pretty. Apart from that I had nothing. I felt empty. When you get to the point of believing lies like that, you might come to the same conclusion I did. I figured I just had to use what I had to get what I needed.

Being pretty had its advantages. When my shyness kept people at a distance, being pretty helped attract them to me (sometimes in the wrong way). Being so quiet as a kid was difficult and lonely, especially as a teen, when being popular and part of the “in” crowd was so important. Others would make fun of me and call me stuck up, but I wasn’t. I just didn’t have the words or the confidence to be outgoing and so I didn’t feel like I was good enough to be part of their group. Now, I don’t care about being popular and I don’t get lonely being by myself, in fact I prefer it, but as a kid, things are so different.

When I was fifteen, I found camaraderie in a rough crowd. The leader of a local gang of high school dropouts took a liking to me and, for two and a half years, I was his girlfriend. It was great because I no longer had anything to fear. He was the oldest by a year or two and always won all the arm-wrestling competitions. Although his younger brother was a little taller and heavier, he regretted the times he stood up to his big brother. No one dared pick on me and I was treated surprisingly well. I was no longer lonely because there was always the gang to hang around with and we did “fun” stuff — crashed parties, bashed mailboxes, smashed our empty beer bottles. Started fights, street raced, smoked dope.

It’s amazing the things you’ll do or put up with, the voices you’ll ignore or drown out, just to satisfy a need and feel like you belong. In my case, though, I was too empathetic to hush all the voices in my head. I hated it for the hosts of the parties we crashed and all the clean up I knew they would have to do after we left — soiled carpets, wrecked furniture, bruised and bloodied bodies. I hurt for the guys who lost the fights. I felt for the people who had to replace their destroyed mailboxes and for those walking or driving who had to avoid the broken glass on the streets. I empathized with the person who had to repeatedly clean up the graffiti and repair the damage done to the public buildings we vandalized.

Most of all, my heart broke for the girl who willingly lay in the back of the SUV and let all the guys take turns using her! I knew deep down that she just wanted some attention, to feel like she belonged, to be loved and accepted — just like the rest of us.

The voice in my head kept asking me if this was really what I wanted to be a part of. I knew it wasn’t right, wasn’t good, wasn’t how I wanted to be. I began to wonder if that’s all there was to life. It all seemed so shallow to me.

Did I say being pretty had its advantages? Well, it had its disadvantages, too. At seventeen, I obtained my UE (University Entrance) certificate from college (high school) and parted ways with the gang as I tried to figure out what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. That’s when I tried my hand at modeling. For some reason, I agreed to do some nude shots at the studio (yes, there was a voice asking me “Are you sure you want to do this?” — I ignored it 😔). A week or so later, while doing a clothed photo shoot at an empty house, my 50-something photographer tried to rape me. We were too far away from anyone else for screaming to do any good. Fortunately, me crying and fighting him off was enough to bring him to his senses. Although he never showed up at the agency again, he took all my pictures (thankfully, there was no internet back then).

A few years later, I don’t remember if there was a voice warning me (or bells and flashing lights going off in my head) to make me question the motives of my date when he said he just needed to stop by his apartment for a minute on the way to taking me home or when I naively followed him up the stairs. The crying, screaming, and fighting wasn’t enough to stop him raping me after a day spent at the lake. Embarrassment, and the voices from my past reminding me of my shame, stopped me from reporting the incident.

Over the years, I went through several rounds of counseling sessions with a variety of psychologists and counselors. They didn’t help. I tried a couple of different anti-depressants. They helped my mood but they were just masking the symptoms without treating the cause. At twenty-six, during the disintegration of my first marriage because of an affair, I contemplated suicide. The voices were telling me I was a failure and it would be so much better to end my life than to keep trying.

Fortunately, I didn’t listen then either. I finished my Bachelors in Psychology and Counseling, hoping I could figure myself out. I really wanted to help other people, too, but I knew I couldn’t when I was so messed up.

I had to reach an even lower point, though, before I became a Christian (see My Story). It was shortly after that I started feeling like I was going crazy but didn’t know why. I wanted to know why I kept screwing up and sabotaging my life with self-destructive behaviors.

I figured my problems had something to do with the fact that whole chunks of my childhood were missing. I read an article about a woman who had asked the Lord to help her regain some repressed memories, so I thought I’d try it too. With my fiancé nearby, I sat on the couch, closed my eyes and took some deep breaths, clearing my head by visualizing a dark empty room. I asked the Lord to tell me what was wrong with me. I was a little nervous and wondered how this was all going to pan out, but I was desperate to hear His voice.

He answered me.

Not verbally, but with memories. They flashed in my mind like images from a movie where I was the main character. I was the young girl being led down to a field of long grass by my teenage half-brother and a couple of his friends. It felt like I was reliving the horror all over again. They were laughing, but I was protesting and flailing, trying to push them all off me.

Thankfully, my boyfriend shook me out of it (and bless his heart, he still wanted to marry me). Those few minutes of remembering was enough for me, though. I didn’t need to know any more. I didn’t want to know all the details, all the times. I didn’t want to relive any more memories. I wanted them to stay buried deep, lost and forgotten. It may sound weird, but I was relieved, because at least that helped me know I wasn’t just going crazy. There really was an explanation as to why I was so messed up.

I’m not saying everything was great after that, but things did improve. I understood myself a little better and I made my relationship with the Lord my primary focus. It’s that relationship that’s made so much difference in my life. There’s no doubt in my mind I would still be repeating the same mistakes if it weren’t for Him.

My fiancé and I married a couple of years later. Although the first dozen years were tough (step-family situations are not ideal but are especially difficult with teenagers), we did the best we could with where we were at in life. We’re rapidly approaching our twentieth anniversary and have a great marriage ❤️.

One year, I surprised my husband with some tickets to the car races for his birthday. To get the most out of it, we needed to get there early and we lived about an hour and a half from the track. We really wanted to spend the night before at a hotel to make the early start a little less painful and because we knew the traffic would be not be fun, but because we were undecided, we prayed about it. While brushing our teeth that night, we purposefully cleared our minds of distracting thoughts, and asked the Lord to give us direction. By the time we finished, we both knew He didn’t want us to book a hotel room. God is so good! He even cares about the little details in our lives, like that.

And that’s just it. If we’re serious about hearing from Him, we have to make time to seek Him and then listen for, and obey, His leading. I don’t know why He didn’t want us to get a hotel room, but the important part was that we obeyed Him. To hear from God, to know His plan for our lives, we really have to work at listening because, more often than not, He speaks in a whisper. I’m sure He does that to make us be more purposeful about wanting to hear from Him.

God speaks to us through His Word, through other people, through our circumstances (see my Memories post), and yes, even by planting a thought in our heads.

Although there are instances in the Bible where the audible voice of the Lord is heard — God talking to Moses in Exodus, after Jesus’ baptism, and when Jesus spoke to Saul on the road to Damascus — these days, with all the background noises and things going on, it’s way too easy to block God’s voice out completely.

So many things influence the voices in our heads — our upbringing, those we hang around (family, friends, coworkers), the latest news or TV shows, the songs we listen to (my favorite lately is “Thinking Out Loud” by Ed Sheeran), the movies we watch, blogs and books we read, the feed on social media… the list is endless. There’s a myriad of things competing for our attention, and usually more than one thing at a time. A few are good, but most are not so good. Many are just time wasters and distractions from more important things. Have you noticed how easy it is to lose track of time while scrolling through the feed on Facebook or the pictures on Pinterest? They can suck the life right out of life, if we’ll let them.

Of course, the devil loves it when we’re too distracted or busy to take the time to hear from God. That way, we’re less likely to honor God with our lives, fulfill our purpose, and be effective in doing our part to build up the body of Christ, His church.

When we allow any old thoughts access to the garden of our minds we increase the chances of “weed” thoughts taking root. Those kind of thoughts just crowd out our chances of hearing from the Lord. We have to make sure the ground is cleared of “weeds” and ready for the planting. We can cultivate the soil by following Paul’s advice in Philippians 4:8 where it says: “Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” The Bible is the best source of such things and meditating on specific verses or passages helps prepare our mind to hear God speaking to us.

We’re not here on this earth by mistake, or by chance, or for no reason. God knows each of us better than we know ourselves and He loves us unconditionally. We’re here to be in relationship with the Lord, worship Him, and bring glory to Him but we can’t do that if our head is full of distractions and voices from the past prevent us from hearing Him speak.

We’ve got to focus on the truths of God’s Word and allow them to replace the lying voices in our head. When a negative thought pops into our mind, we have to choose to replace it with a promise from the Bible. “Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong.” (Ephesians 3:17 – NLT)

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One thought on “Hearing Voices

  1. Pingback: Putting Things in Perspective — A Look at Forgiveness | Called to be a Writer

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