The more I talk to people about faith and spirituality, the more I notice a consistent theme in their experiences with God. Many folks seem to struggle with finding the time or space to slow down, hush up, and listen to God.
I could just be projecting my own experience onto others, that wouldn’t be the first time. But I think most would agree that there’s a serious lack of listening skills in our culture today. We don’t listen to each other well, so why do we think we would be any more adept at listening to God.
I’ve spent the better part of the last year or more trying to listen to what God is trying to say to me. Sometimes I hear God’s voice speaking through another person. Sometimes it’s through a book. Sometimes God even uses the Bible or a sermon. I often connect with God in a significant way through prayer and meditation. But no matter how I notice God speaking, I only notice when I am willing to listen.
I’ve heard God say a lot. Some things have been surprising, but most times what I hear is not anything revelatory or new. I usually hear something that I needed to hear again (and again, and again). God has a knack for saying the simplest of things to me in a way that rocks me to the core. That’s how I know it’s God; the simple truth sets me free.
There are three things in particular that I’ve been hearing recently from God that I think is not just for me but are things that God is saying to everyone if we’re willing to listen.
I Love You
If I am willing to slow down and pay attention, the first and most important thing that God is saying to me (and you) is I love you.
As someone who grew up denying the fact that I was gay, I’m realizing now that I didn’t really understand love. I had this deep-seated notion that I somehow loved incorrectly. Or, maybe more accurately, I was allowed to be attracted but not to fully love.
Love had gradations. Love had caveats. Love had disclaimers.
My understanding for so long was that love was anything but unconditional. Love required hoops to be jumped through in order for it to work. Heck, much of my early understanding of God involved the convoluted belief that in order for God to love me properly he had to kill his only Son on a cross…because nothing says “unconditional love of the Father” like a bit of child sacrifice.
What I’m hearing God say to me now – over and over and over – is I love you.
That’s it. That simple. No conditions. Not even a reason. Just love.
I’m So Proud Of You
The second thing that I’ve heard God saying that I think is not just for me but for everyone is I’m so proud of you.
I never believed I was any good growing up.
I wasn’t overly athletic. I was smart, but not the most studious of kids. I wasn’t very cool or popular. And to top it all off I was gay, which I believed to be a reason for shame.
My entire life essentially became one big talent show in which no matter how much I wanted it, I could never make the cut.
I often heard that having self-pride was a good thing, or my family would say they were proud of me. But this never sat right. The only pride I ever had experience with was the arrogant feeling of superiority that is rooted in fear.
But when I stop listening to my terrified ego and start listening to the Creator of the universe I hear notes of embarrassingly gushing pride.
God doesn’t need a reason to be proud of me any more than I need a reason to be proud of my dog. When he poops in the pine straw and doesn’t try to eat it afterward I think he is the greatest creature on the planet. It doesn’t take anything special. I’m proud of my dog for the simple fact that he is MY dog.
The category of good enough doesn’t exist for God. I don’t have to earn God’s approval. I don’t have to perform my way into his good graces.
God says I’m good. You’re good. That’s just how it is.
You’re here. You’re breathing. You’re doing your best in this thing called life. God is so proud of you.
May We Be Friends?
When I’m willing to be quiet and listen to God, I hear a never-ending invitation of friendship.
Anyone who has spent much time in a church is familiar with the phrase “personal relationship with Jesus.” The instilling of teenagers with the PRJ, as I like to call it, was basically the goal of every youth minister for the last 30 years (fact check: I’ve never once used the acronym PRJ…but I might now). If you were a REAL Christian you had to have a personal relationship with Jesus (yeah…definitely need a PRJ t-shirt idea now).
But the dirty secret of pastors and ministers is that the vast majority of us didn’t really have much of a personal relationship with Jesus. God, Jesus, faith…all of it was something that we believed in. We trusted in God, on our good days, but in terms of a personal relationship with Jesus, an intimate connection with the God of the Cosmos…not so much.
Being friends with God sounds great on paper. In theory, I know that being a follower of Jesus means…well, having a personal relationship. But for so long it was just that, a theory.
But the more I listen – the more I open myself up to the presence of God – the more I realize that God really does want to be friends. And the crazy part is that it’s possible. Don’t ask me how it works, I don’t really know. The only way I can explain how to foster an intimate connection with God is by being willing to believe that it’s truly available (maybe that’s what salvation by faith means).
All I know is that God is love. God is friendship. God wants nothing more than to journey through life with me.
That’s what I’m hearing from God. I think if you listen, you’ll hear the same.