Recently I did something I wasn’t very pleased with. If I’m really honest, I was ashamed and disturbed that I did this thing. Though I didn’t end up acting on the thing I was thinking about, there was an internal boundary I crossed. Whenever this happens to me, which is pretty regularly; I say something I regret to someone I care about, I mentally playback a conversation I’m anxious and upset about, I do the very thing I tell myself I’m trying to resist. I know this is fairly cryptic- but hey, there are some things even I can’t share in bloggy-dom!
A little while back I spent some time talking with a woman named Amy* about how she deals with “the voice in my head” as she called it. We were sitting on the long grass of an arboretum while she wove a needle and thread through a wispy net designed to catch birds and allow them to be tagged for research purposes. I was so curious what Amy was doing with this net, my friend Alicia and I stopped to talk with her and ended up enjoying a great conversation for the next hour and 1/2. Turns out she was studying birds, frogs & snakes as a grad student in a biology program at Grand Valley State University. Though Amy had grown up Catholic there were a number of things that had turned her off to organized religion- things like the belief that if you weren’t baptized you were going to hell.
Despite Amy’s wariness of the Catholic church and its rules, she considered herself a spiritual person. Throughout our conversation, it was so evident that God had given her a thankful spirit, a sense of being part of something bigger and a desire to care for the world around her. When we initially sat down she told us, glancing through her oversize red sunglasses that she was mending the net purely out of her gratefulness for how well she’d been treated as a grad student, as a way to give back to the program and care for the birds they were trying to track. We began to talk about our purpose in life and what she believed people were meant to do on earth. “Just to be aware, I guess.” she replied and I interjected somewhat apologizing for the expansive question I had just asked her. “I think this world is messed up because people just aren’t aware of how the choices they make impact others, you know?” Amy shared as she pulled a swiss army knife out of her linen shorts and clipped the piece of thread she had finished weaving through the net. We talked about how the lack of awareness and ego of others caused things like condominiums to replace wetlands and birds to both die and be displaced, how our consumerist tendencies drive us to care more about buying a cheap pair of cute shoes than the kids who made them through slave labor.
“So how do you deal with the voice in your head when it comes to the ego and trying to be more aware?” I asked Amy as I slid off my sandals and nestled my toes into the long, green grass. She looked up at the sky, shrugging her petite tanned shoulders, “Just breath, stop and think about if you really need to make the choice you’re making. Think through whether it will harm someone or benefit another person.” I really liked how self-aware Amy was and how she really did seem to have a greater sense of connection to something other than herself.
For some reason in the conversation I felt prompted to share a scripture with her about “taking every thought captive” regarding how we’re able to order our internal world. I am notoriously bad at remembering where scripture is located and as I thumbed through the index at the back of my bible looking up the words “captive” & “thought” it was clear that neither me nor Alicia could remember where 2 Corinthians 10:5 was. You would have thought I could have done better being a campus minister for the past 8 years, yeesh! 🙂
Anyways, I ended up landing at Romans 8:1-26 which I read aloud to Amy. If you don’t want to take the time to read it in the link it basically says “Those who think they can do it on their own end up obsessed with measuring their own moral muscle but never get around to exercising it in real life. Those who trust God’s action in them find that God’s Spirit is in them—living and breathing God! Obsession with self in these matters is a dead end; attention to God leads us out into the open, into a spacious, free life. Focusing on the self is the opposite of focusing on God. Anyone completely absorbed in self ignores God, ends up thinking more about self than God. That person ignores who God is and what he is doing. And God isn’t pleased at being ignored.”
As we talked about what it means to live being aware, we began to talk about Jesus. Amy shared that she thought Jesus did a good job while he was on earth being aware and teaching people to be aware. This is the thing I love about talking with non-religious people- the words they use are so true! Christians often have so much jargon to speak about God the real essence of who he is gets buried under theological phrases. I liked Amy’s description of Jesus & I agreed that “Jesus was probably the most aware man that ever lived.” He was aware of what life was like for people like me and Amy who struggle against “the voice in my head” that drives me to focus on myself rather than others or to make choices that harm others or ourselves. He was aware that unless something drastic was done about it- it would forever be present, sucking us into a black hole of death and despair. He was aware enough that rather than rejecting what God was leading him to do, unlike many of us, he obeyed. And he obeyed until he was infected to death on the cross by the death that the voices in our heads and the voices in the world cause everyday.
I asked Amy if this made sense to her and she thoughtfully nodded and shared “I think it really has something to do with ego- I’d use that word instead of sin.” “It’s something with human nature”, Alicia chimed in, “this thing we can’t get rid of that keeps us coming back to making those choices.” By that time Amy was sitting down with us holding the needle and thread in her hand as she sat cross-legged on the grass. I shared with her about what the Romans passage I read says about Jesus’ being resurrected to life after his death on the cross to actually cure and change our self-focused human nature. “This life that God gave to Jesus- he made available to us everyday so that we can begin to be changed by him from the inside out and learn to see ourselves, others and the world the way God sees them.”
“I don’t know if I completly agree with you about Jesus- when I hear the word Jesus all I can think of is religion and I think Jesus says something different than religion or the church says.” Amy shared in response to my thoughts on Jesus. “So what do you think Jesus would say?” I asked, curious how she’d respond. Amy tilted her head to look over the tops of her red sunglasses and smiled- “I think he’d tell people, “get off your ass and do something.” Alicia and I laughed but agreed that Jesus would and did say things like that in scripture.
We continued to talk with the wispy black bird net blowing in the breeze, sitting with the sun warming our bodies and ended our conversation by exchanging emails to stay in touch and for me to recommend some books or scripture for Amy to continue to explore who Jesus is and what he taught in scripture. It was so sweet as we got up to go, she thanked us for talking with her saying “this is really good of you guys to go out and talk to people like this” as she opened her arms to hug me.
When I did the thing I wish I didn’t, I thought of Amy and how she tried to be more aware of how her thoughts and choices impacted others. I thought of the scripture I had shared with her and prayed that the spirit of God that lives within me would lead my thoughts towards what God desires rather than my own interests and needs. I prayed that rather than growing weeds of resentment, anger, lust and self-focus Jesus would grow fruits of thankfulness, peace, contentment and humility in my life. Thank God he is able to do this in my life because I sure as heck can’t make it happen!
What are ways you cope with “the voice in your head”? Whether you are a spiritual person, an avowed atheist, a praying person, someone who considers themselves a Christian or none of the above- what helps you to make a choice to turn outwards from your thoughts towards what will benefit others? What helps you to silence the voice in your head?
*name changed out of privacy.