As a child, quite likely the first sound you heard was the voice of your mother and/or father speaking your name (though I’m pretty sure none of us remember it). Coos and giggles eventually gave way to earnest entreaties for you to take a few steps, to eat your veggies or warnings not to touch the stove or play in the street. From a very early age, we all have voices of some kind speaking into our lives.
At some point more voices enter the mix: perhaps siblings or friends. Maybe they were encouraging, maybe less-than. Along came teachers and coaches, bosses and co-workers, not to mention the ubiquitous voice of the culture around you, telling you who to be and pointing out all that you are not.
The question is not if people speak into your life but rather “what have they spoken?” Some, I hope, have spoken life and love, goodness and blessing. Some words might have been hard to take, but they were no less needed. All of us experience this, in one way or another. I have been incredibly fortunate to have a lot of voices speak encouragement and life in and to me over the years.
And then there are the voices I wish I could forget; ones that haunt me to this day. They weren’t spoken in anger or with intent to hurt, but their words cut and lodged themselves deep within my psyche. Some are literal voices of people who have, knowingly or unknowingly, spoken….what? Harm? Death? Lies? Shame? Whatever you want to call it, they speak. Some tell me I’m no good. Some tell me I’m ruined for anything else. Others are of my own doing, with their constant whisper that I’m a fake, a fraud, that no one would love me if they really knew me. They love to remind me of my mistakes.
Some speak louder than others, and some were given more credence than others. The words those voices uttered lodged deep within my heart and soul, resisting removal no matter how hard I dig. They spoke things like:
“You don’t leave ministry, you die in ministry.” Translation: if you find yourself NOT doing pastoral ministry, you are either in rebellion or you were a fake all along. Real pastors don’t quit. They just keep going, like a suited-up version of the Energizer bunny. Nah, that didn’t screw me up at all.
“Where else are you gonna go?” Words that denied anything worthwhile in me apart from the job I was in at the time, insinuating I couldn’t possibly do anything else. These words enslaved, causing me to doubt even the voice of the Holy Spirit as He began calling my family in a new direction.
Words matter. We will all be held accountable for our words, every idle word. Do you feel the weight of it? I do. One of the cumulative effects of some of these voices is a nagging idea that I must be more, do more, accomplish more…the idea that it’s not ok to just be a good husband and father, friend and neighbor. No! It must be MORE. The fact that this was all wrapped up in god-speak made it doubly dangerous.
As if the Kingdom doesn’t come shining in through the front door of my home, into our living room, and illumine our dinner table every night. As if the King himself doesn’t care about the joy in my son’s eyes as he scores his first goal in soccer, or in my daughter’s face as she receives kudos for her homemade cupcakes, or in the notes springing from the keys as my oldest learns a new piece of music. As if the Father doesn’t delight in the time shared with my wife over a cup of coffee on a quiet fall morning.
The old voices seek to pull me backwards, like a weight dragging down a drowning man. Somedays, they’re not there at all, but on others they shout, denying the reality of what God is doing now, lessening the joy and purpose in today, questioning my discipleship, my heart.
And I know it’s a lie.
But still they speak.
Last Sunday, one of our pastors spoke briefly on how the exodus affected the people of Israel. Though her deliverance from Egypt through the Red Sea was physically miraculous and immediate, it took the ensuing generations years to silence the voices of their slave masters. I feel that.
And I know one day the voice of Jesus, the true Shepherd, will ring louder than any other. One day, I hope to hear His voice say “be still” to the raging of the other voices.
I long for that day.
Until then, I listen for the echoes of His voice in those closest to me, those who know me and yet still, somehow, love me.
“I’m proud of you, son.” What son doesn’t long for his father’s approval? My dad has uttered these words over every career of mine: sales, teacher, pastoral ministry, and now in my current job.
“You’re the best dad in the world!” Granted, this is probably loaded because I’d just done or promised something my kids were really excited about, but still…hearing this from these kids I feel I fail more often than not, well…that’s pure gold.
“We love you and are here for you…not for what you can do for us, either. Just for you.” My pastor spoke these words to me recently, and there is a massive weight lifted off in the hearing. It doesn’t matter what we do or don’t do, how involved we are or how often we say no, they love us and support us. There is tremendous joy in being a part of a community like that.
“Matt, I’m really glad to know you,” said my counselor, with his hand on my shoulder, looking me in the eye. A guy that has heard all my junk and can say that? Yeah…that one is healing.
And the simplest yet most powerful of them all, “I love you” from the lips of my wife. Oh my, when I dust off the familiarity in that phrase, those words we’ve spoken to each other for more than two decades, when I dive beneath the surface and realize how she’s not only said it all those years, but lived it, shown it, given it…I am overwhelmed. She has not only heard my junk and the depths of my heart, she’s been most directly affected by it, and yet she still loves and stands with me. She’s a constant reminder of the goodness and grace of God.
So I’m choosing to listen to those voices instead. Sometimes it’s harder than others, because the voices of the past shout quite loud at times…but I’m leaning in close and trying my best to hear the truth over the noise of the past. I also hope I’m learning from the voices, good and bad, to guard my own tongue, and to consider what is coming out of it: light or shadow.
This morning I was reminded by a good friend that the voices that shaped my past (positive or negative) have molded me into who I am in this current moment. The Lord even used broken voices for His glory. I needed that reminder.
Those were good words.