It’s not always audible, but when it happens, you know.
My first memory of hearing God was in Maitland, Florida when I was about nine years old. He/she/it/they (let’s stick with “he” from here on out, simply because it’s shorter) told me, in a roundabout way, that I had to work to be heard but that I wouldn’t be silenced along the way. I have held on to that and I remember it often. Every time he has spoken since, it has in some way solidified that nudge brought to my attention 13 years ago.
But what does that even mean? Do I get notions that seem to originate from a divine source or am I schizophrenic, paranoid or ultra sensitive to my thoughts? I will let you be the judge of that, but I think we have all heard something or someone at some time and are unable to rest until we have fed the flame and obeyed.
I know I am writing to Atheists, Muslims, Jews and Christians (perhaps my stiffest audience) but I think this “still small voice” transcends all religions (or lack thereof).
When I am given a nudge, a push, I simply cannot be effective, coherent or useful until I acknowledge it and act. I have known for my entire life that the United States is not home and that I will forever live between two worlds. I have known that my childhood was spun into motion with reasons that still amaze me. I have known that the words I say can be used against me in the future (this post not excluded) and I have known that I am in training to be a vocal chord of truth, justice and respect for human life in the journalistic community.
I also know that the small things prepare me for the big things. When the small voice tells me to throw away that random piece of trash that I am not responsible for, I have to do it. I have to tell that lady her dress is pretty without snapping back when she doesn’t acknowledge my apparel. I have to run that extra kilometer because that endurance transcends beyond my physical body. I know I have to rest and abstain from social media to even begin to listen. I know the small voice can render big effects.
I am not saying I live in a world that was built to astonish Leah, but I do know that my God is big enough to care about the details in my life. I know he smiles when I smile, mutually appreciating his fine-tuned networking and collaboration skills.
But like any good thing, side effects are just as real.
When God speaks, my first reaction is to hide. The fig leaf approach is all too natural and I often want to shoot down the thoughts, curl up and go back to bed. Ignoring the nudges would be easier, but will only produce anxiety and a shield from experiencing raw joy.
People often ask me if I am afraid of what is next for me. Mostly no, but when I am, it’s intense.
I was numbingly afraid when I hugged my family at Orlando International Airport and set out for Doha for a job description that seemed vague with people I had never met. What was I doing and how did I get there? I had asked for it for years, but when the time came, my knees were screaming at me to turn around.
Turning my back on my family with suitcases in hand was difficult but that’s what I had to do. My body took over and I walked to the desk to check in for my flight. Had my mind or my fear been in control, I would have never left. But we are meant to leave home. The moments when you are on the edge looking over the water before you free fall into it are the scariest moments of obedience. The free fall, however, is worth waiting for.
Whatever it is you are supposed to do, do not expect it to happen after the first warm up. It’s not like a Facebook status that you creatively come up with and can passively watch while the like buttons glow up. You have to rely on the silence where you first heard that voice to get you through the times when you hear nothing at all.
So what is your God speaking to you about? I know you have heard it. You are bound to have heard something.
A dear friend reached out to me this week telling me he has decided to study journalism. He has been studying finance for years in college but couldn’t stand the itch and the burn of brushing off the voice he has undeniably heard. The voice was telling him to dabble, to take a risk and try something even if the safety net protecting him from failure seemed shaky and eroded. He had been hiding it for years, a closet writer if you will, but is slowly making moves towards embracing the voice that, with time, will become his story.
You have to act. You have to do it and jump. The vomit sensation is real, but so is the joy and peace from knowing you are doing something that the voice in your head has been screaming at you to do for days, weeks, months and years. Learn how to write HTML code, pitch that story to your new boss about a TV shoot in Dubai, throw away the food in your pantry that is making you fat and join the rowing team in Austin that has caught your eye. Just do it. Nike got more than the treading on its shoes right.
I often read the profiles of the people on Humans of New York and found one woman particularly stunning.
I believe that sharing your story and hearing the stories of others can inspire you to change, to break away from the usual and the expected and to experience the raw delights of the free fall.
The book I am reading now, Jesus Wants to Save Christians by Rob Bell, is a telling story of how complacency and self entitlement has riddled mankind into paralysis since its creation:
“Take away the comforts of the kingdom, deprive people of the structures and institutions of empire, and they just might find the spine to envision a new tomorrow. Push them to the limits of suffering, and they just might become revolutionaries.”
Living in the west is tempting for me because it is comfortable, expected and fits within a particular comfort zone that isn’t tampered with the absence of luxuries like freedom of speech, expression, religion and the press. But are we meant to be comfortable? Are we meant to reject suffering at every turn? Are we meant to live in a social and proverbial “west” (if you will) and ignore the unknown?
I know too many people decades my senior who wear horse blinders, feed on social norms and fear change. It’s the 92 year old woman who writes a book for the first time and the man who doesn’t press charges on a case he would have won that drives me to be better, to do better and to challenge the expected.
I do not want to accumulate years of regret that leave me wondering who I would be had I done the very thing I was too afraid to do. With common sense and youth dueling in my mind, I hope even shortcomings can stretch my soul.
I want to always get on that flight. I want to always feel sick before that move but still say I did it anyway. I want to always push, grow, fail, question and learn.
But it’s a two way street: When God speaks, you have to listen and act.