In the movie The Gods Must Be Crazy, a woman at one desk turns to a person at another and asks, “Are the voices in my head bothering you?”
We all have voices in our heads, loud enough for us to think they can be heard out loud. They can motivate or paralyze, discourage or encourage, build up or break down. Today we’ll trace where these voices come from, which voices to listen to and how to mute the voices that keep us from the lives God wants us to lead.
We begin in the crib, when we hear voices around us, although we can’t understand what they are saying.
I love you.
Did you poop?
Go to sleep.
And while we can’t yet articulate our thoughts, we do have them. Our early thoughts ~ the voices in our heads ~ may include:
I no feel good.
Then we get to be toddlers, and by now we do have an inner voice, although for the most part it is indistinguishable from our outer voice.
How can I get that?
Does it taste good?
Why am I short?
Want ice cream NOW.
And then there is a word that pretty much defines our existence, whether we say it or someone says it to us: No.
We are starting to develop a moral sense, connected to words and our interpretation of tone.
You’re a good boy/girl.
Don’t touch that.
Spit that out.
We’re trying to sort out these mixed messages, but soon we’re plunged into a new situation, beyond the control of our parents. We go to school, where much damage can be done. Words come without a buffer. Our inner voice says, “I hope I make friends.” Then we run into a combination of these phrases:
You’re a loser.
Would you like to be my friend?
Depending on the foundation set at home, we may or may not take one of these outer voices and make them an inner voice. We may think, for example, that we are stupid, and hold onto that phrase throughout our lives, saying it to ourselves long after others have stopped saying it.
If our parents bring us to church, we may receive another set of phrases from Sunday School: words that can fight the bad words in our heads, or prevent them from repeating:
God loves you.
Jesus loves you.
Love other people.
Life is hard, but it’s okay.
Helping feels good.
God is good.
These words are like seeds, planted in hopes they will sprout. If we keep coming to church, repetition can help them to become helpful voices in our heads. Or ~ sadly ~ we may only hear them once in a while, and back into the big, scary world we go.
We leave home, perhaps to start college, and bigger questions churn in our heads:
Who am I?
What is my purpose?
Do I have worth?
Is it my fault?
I haven’t done anything with my life.
I’m a failure.
He/she doesn’t like me.
Many young adults try to drown out these voices with another, simpler voice: Yay, beer! It’s not a helpful technique.
Now add the voices of advertisements:
We didn’t start the chicken wars ~ we finished them.
You don’t consume me ~ I consume you!
Buy a Pelaton.
Buy a Mirror.
Are you tired of the dating scene?
Are you 65 or older?
Have you been hurt by anyone, or anything, ever?
Advertisements compete for space in our heads; as do headlines: an unfiltered mix of information, without rhyme, reason or guidance:
Wear a mask.
Congress will never agree.
Black Lives Matter.
Blue Lives Matter.
Vaccines are dangerous.
COVID can cause psychosis.
The election was rigged!
A blizzard is coming!
By the time we’re adults, the voices have reached a cacophony. We put our heads on our pillows, but the voices keep speaking to us:
I can’t believe Brady is going to the Super Bowl again.
What will tomorrow bring?
Will the numbers go down?
Why did I say that stupid thing?
If I could go back in time …
Could it be cancer?
I forgot to make that phone call.
I shouldn’t have had that burrito.
Why can’t I sleep?
And now a pause before this sermon’s Big Finale, as we visit three relevant passages of Scripture.
The first is found in the book of Kings. Elijah is upset that all the other prophets are dead. He’s afraid for his life, and he’s come to the wilderness to see what God will say about it. God says, “Go stand on that mountain over there.” Elijah stands on the mountain, and God sends a wind ~ but God is not in the wind. God sends an earthquake ~ but God is not in the earthquake. God sends a fire ~ but God is not in the fire. And after the fire, a still, small voice.
Sometimes we can make so much noise that we can’t hear the voice of God. Sometimes we allow other voices to become so loud that the voice of God is drowned out. Sometimes we think that God must always be loud, and we neglect to listen to the quiet.
Then there is the story of the call of Samuel, which we know from the hymn, “Here I Am, Lord.” The child Samuel hears someone calling him in the night, and three times he runs to the priest Eli and says, “You called me?” Each time, Eli insists that he hasn’t called Samuel, until he finally gets what is going on. He tells the boy, “Go back to your room, and say these words: Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.“
When we hear voices in our heads, it’s always good to ask where they come from. Do they come from God? From the Devil? From others? From ourselves? How did they get there, and do they belong there? Identifying the source is crucial, and helps us to decide which voices to listen to and which to ignore.
The third story comes from the gospel of John, as Jesus tells his disciples that he is the Good Shepherd, and that his sheep hear his voice and follow him; and as a result, he gives them eternal life. Sheep know the voice of their shepherd; they know that the shepherd means them well. He wants to keep them from wandering off, save them from falling into crevices, and protect them from wolves. He wants to lead them beside streams of still water to fields of green grass.
There may be many voices in our heads, and it may take some practice to focus in on the one, true voice of our Shepherd ~ the only voice that matters. If we do so, we may remember some of those early lessons from Sunday School, while gaining the strength that we need to silence some of those other voices that we have been holding onto for far too long: voices that have been telling us we’re ineffective or worthless or unloved. Here are some of the things our Shepherd says:
You are loved.
This too shall pass.
There is a heaven.
Your loved ones are safe.
You have worth.
You can make a difference.
You can be forgiven.
You can start again.
This is the day that the Lord has made.
You’re gonna get through this.
There are good people in the world.
Change is possible.
God can make a way.
You can do all things through Christ, who gives you strength.
I will never leave you or forsake you.
You are a child of God.
Don’t be worried or anxious.
Peace be with you.
Love your neighbor.
Think on these things.
It is still a beautiful world.
Look at how far you’ve come.
Don’t give up.
May we have the power to focus on the still, small voice ~ the gentle whisper in the night ~ the voice of the One who loves us, defines us, and calls us forth to His Kingdom. Amen.