I recently picked up a book on prayer and in the introduction, the author (whom I will leave unnamed) claimed a sudden, out-of-the-blue experience of hearing God’s voice directing him to do certain things. The author’s claims upset me at first. I found his story pretentious and dramatic, mostly because I have never once heard the “voice of God” telling me what to do. My initial negative reaction to the author’s experience really had nothing to do with him or whether or not his claims were true. Deep down, I simply felt left out.
The author’s story about hearing God’s voice made me wonder what was wrong with me. If God was out there talking to people, why not me? Was I not worthy of God’s words of wisdom? I certainly asked God for guidance and listened well on plenty of occasions, but the only voice giving me direction was my own internal voice, familiar and unimpressive. I have talked with enough people to know that my experience is not unique. A lot of people feel confused by God’s communication style. Is it possible that a large percentage of the World’s population is simply cut off from God’s love, care, and divine guidance. Why does it seem like God talks to some, but not to others? Could it be that the voice in my head is really God’s voice, or is there a larger, more exclusive secret to accessing the divine?
Coming from a Catholic background, I still have mental movie images of Moses kneeling before the Burning Bush and God’s powerful voice booming, as if over a loudspeaker, directing him in action for the people. In the movie, God’s presence, as well as his baritone voice, came from a place far-removed from humanity, and only people like Moses, divinely chosen for God’s work, would be able to hear it.
Despite my early religious training, I can’t really accept the notion that God would only use a select few for his Good work. Frankly, using less than all of your resources is simply a bad business model. Let’s imagine a large company with 100 employees. The CEO might have his favorites, of course, and will probably assign them some of the more difficult jobs, but he will not ignore giving orders to and having expectations of his other 98 employees. The best managers know that you have to value and utilize all of your employees; drawing on each one’s personal strength to create a strong and productive company.
I’m not saying God is a manager, per se, but if he were the CEO of such a large corporation, he would want to use the talents of each and every person to build a better World. That would make sense. So I think it is safe to assume that God wants the participation of each of us for his Master Plan. And if we do each play a part, then each and every one of us would need guidance, at the very least on those occasions when we feel stumped about what to do. For example, when you are working a job you enjoy and feel called to, but are not really making enough money to pay the bills, do you stay or do you go? And where should you go instead? Or, when you think your current girlfriend is “the one”—do you ask her to marry you now or wait until you are sure? And will you know the feeling of certainty when it does come? These are the kinds of big questions we all face. They might not be as important as leading the Israelites out of Egypt, but they do have an impact on our lives and those of the people we interact with–all of whom are important to God as well. It would make sense that if we pray, and listen for answers, that they will come. But what I’m still uncertain about is how they come.
Some would say that God or Universal Intelligence guides us through our intuition. In one way, this theory makes sense. Each and every one of us is born with a complex system of instinct. We learn early on how to “read” the people and situations around us, to sense the difference between danger and safety, to interpret both verbal and facial cues that exhibit pleasure and displeasure so that we can adjust our own behavior. Our intuition allows us to survive in the World. And whether we recognize it as a God-given faculty or not, we all have that advantage.
Beyond survival, many artists, athletes, musicians, singers, writers and speakers claim moments and even lives of divine inspiration in which they felt their creativity controlled by an unexplainable force, not something outside, but something within themselves. My daughter who presently attends art school spoke with me about the recent demands she felt for producing artistic content. In any given semester she must generate new forms and find new ways to represent her ideas. In her second year as an art student she recognizes that creativity does not respond well to force. She told me that even when she isn’t sure what to do next she doesn’t worry too much because without fail a brilliant idea always comes, “popping” into her mind and she just knows it will work. Of course she still has to take action on her insight. That action is the key component to the success. Without implementation, insight is snuffed out like a dampened flame. Intuition fails most often because it is ignored.
Consider this: let’s say we do believe that our instincts are one of God’s ways of guiding us; we still might not choose to log in to gain that valuable information or allow it to guide us in any way. It seems that many of us, once we become adults trust our intuition less and less and our logic or brainpower more. For some of us that transition is unintentional, born of ignorance and a cultural belief that intelligence will solve all problems. For others (people like me) ignoring that deep inner knowing is definitely intentional. For most of my young adult years I had no interest in anything God had in mind for me. Any words of wisdom popping into my brain sounded too much like my mother. Now don’t get me wrong, I loved my mother, but I felt like she never let me do anything, so when I left home, I wanted to have some fun, make my own decisions, my own mistakes. I wasn’t going to let my mother, religion, or even God get in my way, so I ignored anything that sounded like goody-two-shoe advice. I had never experienced any personal evidence of God. In fact, I actually felt a little let down by God and disappointed with how life had played out so far. I just assumed I was on my own anyway. Therefore I made choices that I felt would keep me free and independent and having fun.
But believe me, there were times when my inner voice gave me warnings: CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER! ALERT! ALERT! In hindsight, I saw red flags all over the place. But, like I said, I had learned to tune out any internal guidance if it got in the way of what I thought I wanted. But, there were consequences. Intentionally ignoring God and our inner truth severely reduces our ability to hear God when we want to. If we aren’t consciously dialed in, there’s too much static to get a clear signal, and instead we receive conflicting messages. Consequently, when we feel confused, we tend to rely on the loudest cultural conversations surrounding us. We listen to the radio, the TV, movies and advertisements to determine what we should and shouldn’t do with our lives. We look to society to tell us who we are—who we should be rather than to our own inner self awareness. We try to adjust to a one-size-fits-all model of being human, and wonder why we never feel completely comfortable in our lives.
Personally, I tried to rely on my smarts to get me through. My strategy worked on one level, but failed me on many others. I sought an education and managed to attain a Masters degree in creative writing, but couldn’t seem to put my diploma to good use in any field where money could be made to pay the bills. Beyond money, I constantly worried about my purpose in life. I moved from job to job without ever feeling like I was in the right place. My relationships suffered as well. I married and divorced twice. I felt embarrassed and frustrated by my failure to find and secure love in my life. In truth, life was not the all the fun I imagined it would be. Although I didn’t have a clue about what God’s “plan” might have been, I was beginning to think that it might be better than mine. By the time I cared enough to want to experience God in my life, I was at a complete loss about how to do that.
Even if God had been breaking my door down, I wouldn’t have heard it. I was spiritually deaf. Like a weakened immune system, my inner guidance seemed on its last leg. I wondered, could it be resuscitated? I had to believe it could be. If each of us is born with intuition designed to help guide us in making important decisions then our instinct must be a lot like one of our other senses in that it sticks around with us whether we use it or not. Of course the more we use a sensory perception, the better attuned it is. That’s why a blind man’s sense of hearing is so acute–without sight, he relies on his other senses more so they develop beyond normal ranges.
Senses like intuition never leave us; they only become dull with lack of use. Therefore we should be able to coax our inner guidance back to life after leaving it on the shelf for some time. Perhaps reuniting with our intuitions can be like riding a bike, or roller skating; although we might feel rusty and tentative after years of not motoring by wheels, if we persist and practice, we can gain confidence through repetition. There are experts who agree that our ability to access our intuition can be developed or improved over time. In his book, Blink, Malcolm Gladwell, staff writer for the New Yorker explains that “Our unconscious reactions come out of a locked room, and we can’t look inside that room. But with experience we become expert at using our behavior and our training to interpret—and decode—what lies behind our snap judgments and first impressions” Gladwell further explains that through careful study and repeated exposure, we can build a type of database in our unconscious that informs our gut feelings or reactions. “Whenever we have something that we are good at—something we care about –that experience and passion fundamentally change the nature of our first impressions.” In essence, we can improve and fine tune our intuition, much like a tool that has become dull can be sharpened, and consequently made more effective and useful. So if our instincts are indeed one way that God speaks to us, and if what Gladwell says is true, that our intuition can be developed and enhanced, then there must be ways we can clear the static on the line so we get God’s messages loud and clear.