Earlier, I wrote about how I was afraid that becoming a teenager would turn me into a rebel and make me fight with my parents. That didn’t happen. But my thinking did change. Looking back, I think that was when I first started dealing with “the voice.”
It was a voice that would remind me of all the times I had messed up, when I had looked silly, when I had hurt someone’s feelings. Being reminded of a mistake felt like reliving it– even years later, I would look back and shudder about the smallest misunderstandings.
It was a voice that told me to pause before speaking up, reaching out, or taking action. What if I made a mistake? Better to stay silent and hidden.
It was a voice that told me whenever something bad happened, to assume it was my fault. “I’m sorry.” I felt like I needed to apologize for everything– it probably was my fault somehow.
It was a voice that told me to compare myself to others and that I wasn’t ready for the challenges ahead– I didn’t know how to drive (or want to learn how), I didn’t have a job, I didn’t like to go out with friends, I’d never had a girlfriend, I didn’t know what I wanted to do after I graduated. And before I knew it, it would be too late to learn.
I want to be clear about this– when I talk about hearing a “voice,” I don’t mean the sort of voice that a person with schizophrenia might deal with, where you can’t tell for sure if what you’re hearing is a real sound or coming from your mind. (Also, I know almost nothing about schizophrenia aside from the fictionalized portrayal of it in the movie A Beautiful Mind, so my concept of it may not be very accurate.)
See, I knew that the critical voice that plagued me came from my own mind. It was my own voice, the voice of my fears. As I said in an earlier post, part of growing up was that I became more aware of other people, and of their awareness of me. And that caused me to be more careful about what I did and said. But my rule-oriented mind took it to the extreme. And it tended to create a vicious cycle, because the more I hid from potential failure and embarrassment, the more I feared that I was leaving myself unprepared for the world by not trying.
To greater and lesser degrees, every day since then became a fight against that voice in my head– usually subtle, but sometimes exhausting. I could fight it by distraction, or by applying myself to a task that I really enjoyed. Better still, I could fight it with other voices– the voice of God’s Word telling me that I was forgiven, my sins had been paid for, and God was in control of my future. The voice of the Holy Spirit assuring me that I was a beloved child of God, and the voices of my family echoing that same unconditional love.
One of the greatest things about God is that he is so near. I don’t have to make a journey to talk with him. I don’t have to go through a series of mental exercises to make my thoughts acceptable to him. He is as close as my own thoughts at all times. Just by remembering that he is there, I can turn any time of distress and doubting into a prayer. This didn’t make the struggle go away, but it meant I never had to struggle alone.
Hopefully this post makes some sense; I don’t intend for it to be a “woe is me” post. I’m trying to be honest about how I see my life and development. My next post will be on something more fun and less serious.
I’ll finish with a couple of quotes from The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis that hint at how this struggle will end. If you’re not familiar with The Screwtape Letters, they are written as a collection of letters from a demon named Screwtape, whose nephew Wormwood is assigned as the tempter for a young man. These sections come from the last letter, in which we learn that the young man was killed in a bombing raid, and Wormwood has failed in his task:
“How well I know what happened at the instant when they snatched him from you! There was a sudden clearing of his eyes (was there not?) as he saw you for the first time, and recognised the part you had had in him and knew that you had it no longer.
Just think (and let it be the beginning of your agony) what he felt at that moment; as if a scab had fallen from an old sore, as if he were emerging from a hideous, shell-like tetter, as if he shuffled off for good and all a defiled, wet, clinging garment.”
“Defeated, out-manœuvred fool! Did you mark how naturally—as if he’d been born for it—the earthborn vermin entered the new life? How all his doubts became, in the twinkling of an eye, ridiculous?
“I know what the creature was saying to itself! ‘Yes. Of course. It always was like this. All horrors have followed the same course, getting worse and worse and forcing you into a kind of bottle-neck till, at the very moment when you thought you must be crushed, behold! you were out of the narrows and all was suddenly well. The extraction hurt more and more and then the tooth was out. The dream became a nightmare and then you woke. You die and die and then you are beyond death. How could I ever have doubted it?’
“As he saw you, he also saw Them. I know how it was. You reeled back dizzy and blinded, more hurt by them than he had ever been by bombs. The degradation of it!—that this thing of earth and slime could stand upright and converse with spirits before whom you, a spirit, could only cower. Perhaps you had hoped that the awe and strangeness of it would dash his joy. But that is the cursed thing; the gods are strange to mortal eyes, and yet they are not strange.
“He had no faintest conception till that very hour of how they would look, and even doubted their existence. But when he saw them he knew that he had always known them and realised what part each one of them had played at many an hour in his life when he had supposed himself alone, so that now he could say to them, one by one, not ‘Who are you?’ but ‘So it was you all the time.’