When I was younger, I thought I knew the voice of God.
As I’ve gotten older, I realize that the voice of God is easy to misconstrue. There were many things I attributed to God that were merely my own desires. We have a tendency, as human beings, to hear what we want to hear, and too often, I heard God saying what I wanted him to say–whatever it was that would make me believe that what I wanted was going to happen–almost like He was a fortune teller, or a wish-granting fairy.
For instance, there was a boy I liked. And, of course, I was looking for hope that he would like me too, and even more than that, that we were “destined” to be. I wanted to believe that he was the one, and so I convinced myself that God wanted it to be.
When it never happened (Thank God!! He’s a great guy and all, but we definitely were not a good match!), let’s just say I was a bit disillusioned. It was my first realization that maybe some of what I attributed to God was just my own inner dialogue. How could I tell the difference?
Other times, I heard him, but I misunderstood him. I drew the wrong conclusions.
When I was in the eighth grade, I had a life changing moment. It was in the middle of my World Geography class of all places. We were talking about current events, and a cyclone had just devastated Bangladesh. In that moment I felt something stir inside of me. I needed to go there. I needed to help. I felt it as strongly as I have felt anything.
I interpreted this to mean that I was going to be a missionary to Bangladesh. I believed that for a long time. I now know that I misinterpreted what God was saying.
I did go to Bangladesh, for three months as my internship in college, and it changed me forever. It was one of the most life altering experiences of my life. Not only that, it was the door through which I met my husband (a much better fit for me than the guy I was so convinced I was supposed to be with btw!). I was meant to go there, just not when and how I thought I was.
These experiences changed me, and they changed my understanding of God. I had been naive, and it was good to know the truth, but now, I find it hard to know when to trust God’s direction. How do I know it is him? Is it really Him guiding me, or am I looking for divine intervention in random circumstances? Is it His voice guiding me, or simply my subconscious hearing what it wants to hear?
These questions are crippling and they leave me wracked with indecision.
I always believed I was meant to live overseas. So did my husband. As he finished up his undergraduate degree, we prayed and contemplated. We waited for a sign, and when none was forthcoming, we made plans to move to Saipan to teach in a school there.
When Serena was about six months old, we resurrected the dream of teaching overseas, and this time we were in conversation about positions in China. We were hammering out the details when we found out Serena was sick and our lives were sucked into a whirl pool.
In the aftermath, this dream laid dormant.
I thought about it often, wondering if that dream had “shriveled like a raisin in the sun.” Had it run its course? Was it just another example of my penchant to misunderstand the voice of God? I thought about it, but felt no inclination to pursue it.
For years, we were wracked with grief. Like a leaf caught in an autumn wind, we were dried out, brittle, damaged. We were blown wherever circumstance chose to take us. We could barely keep our heads above water much less think about going overseas.
Eventually, we felt less brittle, but the dream of moving overseas was replaced with a need for safety and security. Losing Serena had taught us of the transience of life, the unfairness of it. The hand of fate could reach down at any moment and tear our world apart. So we attempted to fill this lack of control with things we could control.
We surrounded ourselves with stuff–stuff that gave us the illusion of permanence. We got a big house in the suburbs complete with pool and hot tub in the backyard. We got a shiny new SUV. I decorated my house with care and creativity to resemble the houses in “Good Housekeeping” and “Better Homes and Gardens.”. I signed my kids up for football and baseball, ballet and gymnastics. I dressed them in trendy little outfits from the Gap and adorable outfits by Matilda Jane. In essence, we became the typical suburban family, living the stereotypical suburban life.
I feel like we have been in stasis the last three years, a holding pattern. We have lost the brittleness. The desperate need for security has lessened. Don’t get me wrong, we have not healed–I don’t think we ever will really heal. My heart is a web of cracks, any one of them can start throbbing or even begin bleeding again with the slightest of pressure. My daughter is not with me. I buried my first born–time cannot completely heal those wounds. But I am not a whirlpool inside any longer. I don’t feel the emptiness, the black hole, within me. I don’t need to try to fill it with “stuff.”
Instead of feeling sheltered by the “stuff,” I feel as if I am a mouse on a wheel, running, running, always running, but nothing ever changes. I am on a treadmill, the suburban treadmill, and just as I always knew, I do not find it satisfying. It leaves me feeling vaguely empty and unsatisfied.
And so I feel the dream stir.
Where in this broad world can I go? What places can I see? What adventures can I have?
I want to make a difference. I want to, at the end of my life, know that I have truly lived, that I’ve given back, that I have made this world better for having existed. That I have not simply gone through the motions.
But I question.
Is this stirring I feel the hand of God or is it merely my own thirst for adventure and meaning?
Am I going to step out, and reach for this dream knowing that the last time I did so, fate crushed me? Am I tempting fate by daring to dream this dream once more?
Or is it the voice of God I hear whispering in the corners of my mind? Is this not a dream that “fester[s] like a sore” but instead one that has spent the intervening years as a chrysalis–waiting to emerge as something I never could have imagined?
Did I hear the voice of God, but misconstrue the form it would take?
Is it the same dream, evolved, reformed, reborn?
How do I know the difference?
Do I wait until I know that it is God’s will?
I fear that, if I wait, I will never move, because I will never know for sure if it is His voice or my own. And it is safer, more comfortable, to do nothing.
But I can’t. Though my heart quakes, I think I would rather risk it, than grow roots and never move at all.
I think I’d rather hope for the butterfly, than settle for the treadmill.
I don’t know where,
I don’t know when,
and I don’t know how,
but for the first time since my world fell apart, I am ready, and willing, to leave comfort and security behind, and to see what else there is in this world of ours, and to see if, perhaps, this dream, rather than being a “heavy load,” might instead provide me with wings that will take me far from the treadmills of life.