Sometimes you can't hear the words. God's voice seems silent and far away. It often happens when we're most stressed and we feel most desperate for some kind of answer or encouragement. We long to know we're not alone in our stress.
Well-meaning friends remind us how important it is for us to pray. But how do you even pray when you're stressed out with no words? Praying can feel like another check box that leaves you feeling guilty.
Life is complicated. In an age of information a Google search away, Facebook photos and updates, we can be overwhelmed by answers, choices, and dilemmas. It's hard to hear God when we're frozen, analyzing what to do about our stress.
What we really long for is God's voice, to hear him and his heart. That's a tough thing to do, when we live separated from our hearts in our self-reliant, information-flooded culture.
Ironically, when we are most stressed, we deprive ourselves of what we need most to hear God's voice in everyday stress: God's goodness. We need to give ourselves permission receive God's TLC (tender loving care) so our hearts can open up to hear him.
This is hard for me. Growing up without a dad since I was seven, I have always looked to God as my provider. I didn't realize that God wanted to be more than just my provider. God longed to be my soul's confidante. Deep where I am stressed, where I hide, feel lonely, and struggle to receive, God longs to speak to me.
I find it easier to take care of others and do things for God. But God is showing me I hear him best when prayer becomes an intimate soul conversation to be loved and known, rather than a spiritual transaction to be made better.
This journey of hearing God speak to me in my stress came in the most unexpected way: my first panic attack.
At the cusp of a life-long dream—writing a book—painful childhood memories reignited as live events.
Even though I was married to my husband, mom to two beautiful boys, having once travelled halfway across the world as a missionary to tell others about Jesus, I couldn't stop my heart from pounding like a jackhammer, unable to breathe. I couldn't stop endless nights of insomnia or anxiety so thick I lay in bed by day.
I felt ashamed.
I knew how to pray to be competent and strong. But I didn't know how to listen to God with my heart.
Instead of abandoning me, Jesus whispered,
Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28)
I began learning how to listen for God in my stress.
I began finding spiritual whitespace: making room for rest instead of ignoring my wounding and exhaustion.
As I took the journey to find rest, I uncovered five soulful ways to listen to God when I'm most stressed:
1. When you're overwhelmed with stress, whisper God's name.
Remember receiving a first love note? It didn't have to be long. Yet your heart felt known seeing your handwritten name. It kept you company in the daily grind, the mention of your name.
Whisper his name and listen for his echo in the quiet moments in your day.
God names the stars and he whispers your name. Take walk outside. Or simply sit in your backyard with a warm cup of tea, without the burden to do a thing. Sometimes hearing from God is inaudible, in your heart. As the sun warms your cheek, you remember you are God's beautiful creation. You belong to him.
He heals the brokenhearted and bandages their wounds.
He counts the stars and calls them all by name. (Psalm 147:3–4)
2. When you can't seem to hear God's voice, rest knowing Jesus is praying for you.
Your silence will not drive Jesus away. Nothing can separate you from his love. Not even your unrest. He'll never get tired of you. Sometimes, the greatest prayer we can experience is God's complete understanding and compassion. His presence.
Who then is the one who condemns? No one.
Christ Jesus who died . . . is also interceding for us. (Romans 8:34, NIV)
3. When you are too stressed to pray, take care of yourself.
Extend yourself the kindness and comfort you so generously give others. Ironically, the times we most need God's comfort are the times we deprive ourselves of soul-nurturing time. When we can receive God's comfort, we can hear him identifying with our worries and troubles.
We don't have to hide our worries. We can bring them to him.
God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. (2 Corinthians 1:3–4)
Instead of layering on guilt, head in the opposite direction. Hear God speaking to you, through your choices to prioritize taking care of yourself.
4. When you are numb and don't want to pray, invite Jesus into your world.
Instead of struggling to reach Jesus, invite Jesus to enter your world.
So let us do our best to enter that rest . . . For the word of God is alive and powerful. (Hebrews 4:11–12)
The Greek word logos—translated as living voice—is used for "the word of God." This means God is not limited to the written word.
God uses everything living to speak into our lives. He knows what's on your heart and the everyday life you are living. God leaves us love notes in that everyday life to let us know: you are God's living prayer.
Take a walk outside. Listen to music. Read a good book. Confide in a friend with a cup of coffee.
Take a nap. Draw a warm bath. As you spend time nurturing your body and your soul, your heart will soften and you will hear God speaking into your heart as you rest.
5. When you're too exhausted to hear God's voice, stop and rest.
TLC is what God gave to Elijah to resuscitate his soul after Elijah's spirit had been broken.
Elijah had done everything he knew to do—even defeating the prophets of Baal—and yet, his problems did not go away.
Stress broke Elijah's spirit. In that place of despair, Elijah could not hear anything from God. Instead, what did God do for Elijah?
Get up and eat some more, or the journey ahead will be too much for you. (1 Kings 19:7)
In despair, Elijah woke up to find fresh bread baking on hot stones and water—left just for him.
Not only that. God sent an angel—to touch him—twice.
God knew Elijah needed physical rejuvenation first—in order to hear his gentle voice, whispering in a gentle breeze.
God's TLC opens up the path to our souls, so we can feel his nearness again.
It's time to give ourselves permission to receive the TLC we need.
No more hiding your stress.
You're worth it.