At the age of eleven, I found myself trapped inside a self-made prison of fear and rage.
It was partly due to events I went through as a child, and partly due to my own tendency to over-analyze and get tied up in emotional knots.
I developed compulsive rituals to try to make sense of the chaos. My eating and sleeping were disordered. Most evenings, I locked myself into my bedroom and sat for hours alone. As much as my family loved me and tried to reach me, they couldn’t coax me out of my self-built dungeon.
That was when I began to hear a quiet voice deep inside my spirit, speaking words of comfort and guidance. It taught me how to release my rage, forgive others, and make right decisions. At the time, I called the voice, “Mother.” Later, when I started to read the little red Bible that the Gideons gave all the children in my school, I connected the “counsellor” in my head with God’s Holy Spirit.
Whatever it was, this still small voice saved my life. If not physically, then certainly emotionally.
It encouraged me to forgive my family, adopt healthier eating and sleeping patterns, and be kinder to myself. Slowly, calmly, this nurturing voice led me back into a sense of connectedness and wholeness.
I believe that, deep down, we all have a still small voice within, although we may not all have such a dramatic, life-changing encounter with it.
Some people call it the voice of conscience, but I think it is more than just an impersonal sense of right and wrong. I used to think it was the voice of the Holy Spirit, but now I don’t believe it’s that simple either. In fact, I think it can be dangerous to imagine that every thought that comes from deep within is the voice of God.
The way I make sense of it now is to imagine our inner world as a huge underground reservoir. The Bible says that deep calls to deep. I believe that God’s Holy Spirit calls out to the deepest parts of our soul. When we quieten the background noise and listen to the sound of our inner selves, we sometimes hear the voice of the Holy Spirit whispering words of comfort and wisdom. His Spirit is hovering over the waters within us.
But sometimes, when we are distressed or emotionally unwell, all that we hear when we try to listen to our inner voice is loud, crashing waves. Our emotions are so intense that we cannot hear the quiet voice of wisdom over our pain, yearnings, and desires.
Sometimes we can’t correctly discern the quiet voice within because we’ve spent too long ignoring it and pushing it down. We have tried so hard to think or feel a certain way that we have lost touch with what our hearts are really saying.
In my late twenties, when I heard God calling me to marry my husband and move with him to a different country, I felt like a tsunami hit the waters of my inner world. At the time, I didn’t recognize that I was experiencing trauma, nor allow myself to grieve the country and the life that I was leaving behind. I never thought that trauma could result from a decision I made gladly of my own free will, least of all one that I believed God was calling me to.
But I couldn’t escape the fact that my inner world had become a place of chaos. Whenever I tried to tune in to the still small voice, I was overcome with longing for the life I lived before, and the future I had expected to step into. I couldn’t hear anything above the noise of the waves pounding on the rocks of my stormy sea.
I couldn’t bear the raw pain that met me whenever I tried to connect with my inner self. So, the easiest thing to do was to close and bolt the door to my emotional world. I worked hard to rationalize everything and not feel too much. Maybe this strategy helped me not to fall apart for a time, but I also lost my sense of wholeness and integration. I avoided deep people and lived in fear that someone might notice that behind the smile I wore on the surface, I had nothing inside.
Churches are often divided on how to approach the subject of inner worlds. Some hold the position that it’s dangerous to look too deeply within, for “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked” (Jeremiah 17:9). Instead, we should fix our eyes on God and draw wisdom from His Word alone. Others put too much emphasis on inner experience and lose sight of practical realities and objective truth. It’s not easy. Somehow, we need to find the delicate balance between listening to our hearts and keeping our feet firmly on the ground.
What I do know is that my own journey towards emotional wholeness and integration has always been linked to my ability to hear the still, small voice within. If fact, in a world where we are bombarded every minute with messages that deliberately target our feelings and induce a powerful emotional response even before we have a chance to catch our breath, I believe that learning to discern our own inner truth is critical for keeping our emotional balance.