I sometimes think I hear this “voice” in my heart that tells me what to do. When it first really started, I knew “for sure” that it was God speaking to me somehow. I called it a “knowing in my heart.” It was a voice clearly outside of my own, because I felt that my own voice was sinful and self-hating. As my faith has been shaping and changing, and as my own personal confidence has grown, I still think that the “knowing in my heart” is somehow Divine, but I’m not sure the details. Perhaps a higher self that God Themselves instilled in me. I’m not sure. I don’t really care. It’s a mystery. I am only sure that the voice feels wise, and I have gained wisdom and love by listening to it.
I tell you all this because the story I want to share with you will sound a little crazy if you aren’t sure what it means. Sometimes it felt like I was speaking to myself, but other times it had knowledge that there’s no way I could have known. Sometimes I “felt things on my heart” that simply instructed me to call someone, or send someone kind words. But sometimes the voice was for me, to comfort me.
I started reading an advanced copy of Unclobber: Rethinking Our Misuse of the Bible on Homosexuality, which is a book that one of my pastors, Colby, wrote. To say that I relate to pieces of Colby is an understatement. To say that my very first time visiting Sojourn Grace Collective and realizing that Colby often ends prayer with what was my FAVORITE verse in high school and college, a verse I picked in particular to be different from the normal “All things in Christ” or “Plans for you” kind of out-of-context bullshit that I saw my less-than-theologically-advanced friends pick. Colby ended his prayers before sermon with my biblical mantra: “May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, oh LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.” It has everything. A call to be better with both my words and my thoughts. A praise to who God is both to me and to the world. I literally picked the verse to be different. And to hear the words come out of this man’s mouth as his own mantra… It was Sign #2 that Sojourn would be my next home. Actually, it was eerie and I would have gotten up and walked out if it weren’t for Sign #1, which was a couple from my old church who also randomly decided to show up at Sojourn that day for their second time ever.
Anyway, I’m already finding myself in Colby’s story as the overzealous friend in high school with good intentions and terrible follow-through, and as I do, I remember my senior year of high school and in particular, the day I ditched all my classes. Here’s where I don’t relate, but it’s time to remember this story out loud.
I had always had anger problems for as long as I can remember. My mom says I started beating up my little brother when I was 5 and he was 3, but who knows. Beating up your little brother doesn’t necessarily negate anger issues. I wasn’t evil, usually, and I had lines that I would have never crossed. But I was manipulative and a pretty intelligent kid, and I clearly remember using those things against him to get my own way. I was also violent. Particularly around the time I began puberty, I would scream and I would curse once I knew the words, and I would call names and throw fits. I would throw things and hit my brother or scratch my brother and his friend with my fingernails. I vividly remember holding a paddle hairbrush over my head to wack my best friend at age 13, and slowly bringing the hairbrush down and being PROUD of myself, VERY PROUD, that I didn’t hit her. What growth. I still remember the fear in her eyes.
But most commonly, I would scream. Sometimes at the top of my lungs. Sometimes I would even scream without anger, and just to see if anyone would give me attention.
Going to a Protestant church in high school, via this cute boy that I knew, helped. I was able to learn to deal with my anger. Martial arts helped, but so did some maturing and learning, and understanding what my anger did to others. Lots of prayer and “conviction,” whatever that means. Learning to see outside myself. Memorizing bible verses (see above) to repeat to myself when I was furious. Having a friend text me new bible verses when the fury raged and I put my hand through my bedroom window. (Do I still have a giant scar on my palm from that? Yep. Always will.) I learned how to manage my anger. Mostly. To the point that people I meet now don’t believe me when I explain my middle/high school self.
However, I had moments. I had one in particular. I was so proud of myself, of my progress with my anger. When I got into fights with my mom, I would quiet and allow her to say whatever she wanted to say. I tended to ignore her, but that was major growth… so… I was super proud. I learned how to forgive people who had hurt me. I learned how to say sorry to people that I never thought I’d say sorry to.
Then my old reputation came back to haunt me, as we all know it does when we make a mistake. I was so sure that I was doing well. Pride before the fall, I guess? I have no idea what the argument was about. Maybe someone there could have told you. But I started screaming at our nutrition break between second and third period at either one friend or multiple friends. I think it was me defending myself about God-stuff. I yelled some awful stuff and then I stormed off. As I walked off, I realized what I had done and I burst out crying, ashamed.
I was 17. But instead of turning back around and apologizing to my friends, I decided to go home and ditch classes for the rest of the day. I remember that I hit all green lights that day, which never ever happened. All of the times I used to pray for green lights, but it was now that I was “blessed,” as my theology at 17 told me. And the very common words came back to me: “I just wish I didn’t exist.” With that and by the grace of the Divine, my brain traveled to Jonah 4, which must have been recently discussed at high school group. Jonah is angry at God and storms out into the desert. He is TICKED OFF at God. And what does God do? Does God let him wallow alone in the heat and fend for himself? After all, it’s hardly God’s fault.
Nah. God provides a shade. God chooses to take care of Jonah even when Jonah was not perfect. God ends up taking away the shade the next day, which turns into a new lesson, but that particular piece of the story struck me.
In hindsight, if God “intentionally lined up all green lights” for me, (which I don’t necessarily think I believe anymore, but I’m conflicted) I feel that it was more to create that lesson in my brain. To help me fully connect with the piece of the Jonah story and reveal the character of God: They who provides for Their Beloved, regardless. I knew then that God would care for my soul when I was angry and making stupid mistakes at the same force that They cared for my soul when I was being a “good Christian.”
Like I said – I’m not sure how I feel now about what happened that day. But it taught me a truth about the Divine that I still believe to this day. The Divine “spoke” to me that day too, to remind me that I was loved regardless. It is an undercurrent for my life, although I don’t always feel it, although I sometimes wonder where I went wrong to cause distress in my own life. I am often brought back to the understanding that God is with me and that the Divine is all around me all the time. Life is more complex that blessings and failings. But the Divine is with me of all of it, sometimes providing the shade for my back, and sometimes showing me the lesson in the heat that is already there. But never are They apart from me, even when I feel that I have made mistakes.
(Afterthought: I have this great desire to delete the whole first part about hearing a voice, especially when I follow it up with my serious anger issues I had as a kid… That just screams a lot of other things besides the work of a Divine Being. But something in me…. that “voice” perhaps… is encouraging me to leave it all in there. So Yikes.)