I am currently receiving training to offer spiritual direction; a wonderful ministry of attentive listening, helping a person identify where God is at work in his or her life and how God is inviting him or her to respond. In many ways, it is helping a person listen to the voices within—the voice of the Abiding Christ and the voice of one’s own abiding heart.
For whatever reason, we all experience resistance when it comes to listening to both voices. This morning, as I spent time praying, I found myself distracted, drawn away from “being” with God and switching gears toward “doing” for God. It seems that being held in silence by God is an uncomfortable and unnatural venture. Yet, of all spiritual practices, it may be the one that is most restoring and re-pairing.
Consider the words of Henri Nouwen about listening to the voice within:
“Have you ever tried to spend a whole hour doing nothing but listening to the voice that dwells deep in your heart? ... It is not easy to enter into the silence and reach beyond the many boisterous and demanding voices of our world and to discover there the small intimate voice saying: "You are my Beloved Child, on you my favor rests." Still, if we dare to embrace our solitude and befriend our silence, we will come to know that voice.”
Henri Nouwen, Life of the Beloved
Rather than an hour, why not spend five or ten minutes of listening to the voice that dwells deep in your heart? Here are some suggestions:
- Begin by breathing deeply, calming yourself and “locating” yourself within your own body. (That may sound strange, but often we are so over-identified with our thinking that we forget we are not our thinking and that we live in our body.)
- Feel the presence of God within you. Sometimes it helps to imagine an image, like John 15, where Jesus describes himself as a vine, you, and me as a branch. Picture abiding in Jesus like a branch in a vine.
- Stay still in that place. “Cease striving and know that I am God (Ps. 46:10).” Rest. Relax. Dwell with Christ.
- When your mind moves you away with a distracting thought, brush it aside with a mental broom. Don’t get down on yourself. Just say, “No, not now.” And then return to your place of abiding with Jesus.
- Listen. Listen for the voices within. What is your heart telling you? Lean into Christ with great attention, eager to hear his whisper. What is he saying? If nothing comes, just enjoy being with Jesus. Like a little child, enjoy resting with him.