The Voice God Uses

As we are within the season of Lent, we are expectantly listening for God to speak to areas of our hearts that need to be redeemed. I doubt that most practicing Catholics who approach this season with sincere intentions for repentance would be surprised to find that God has a specific message of conversion in store for them, but they might be surprised by the particular messenger He sends.

I don’t know about you, but when I imagine God speaking to me or I sit down for prayer desiring Him to do so, I have a good idea of what I expect Him to sound like and what I expect Him to say. Whether it be Lent, or any old time of the year, I often take for granted that I will recognize the sound of His voice and the tone of His message. He will meet my expectations exactly, right? I’m afraid that I have been proved wrong more often than not.

The problem with our expectations is that they are often rooted deeply in pride; they can be tied heavily to our emotions and formed from our deceitful heart condition. We expect the type of correction we feel we can tolerate, the one we have determined to be bearably fair. We are very good at looking just long enough to find a sin that isn’t too inconvenient or a means of conversion that won’t be too difficult. But Jeremiah 17:9 tells us: “The heart is devious above all else; it is perverse—who can understand it?” God, that’s who; and He’s the only one. His perfect comprehension of the state of our hearts and the root of our actions often results in His message sounding quite different from the pre-vetted ones we have conjured up for ourselves.

But it is not only His messages that often surprise us; His methods and messengers do as well. God is no respecter of persons, and He uses all kinds. He uses both the people from whom we have asked advice and those from whom we’d rather not hear. He uses both beautiful rhetoric and plain words. He uses brilliant minds and simple ones alike. He uses both saints and sinners.

I want God’s reproach to be palatable, and I want His messenger to handle my feelings with kid gloves. I want the corrections to be as sweetly worded as possible, so as to not trample my delicate emotions nor overlook my admirable achievements. Oh, pride. Oh, deceitful heart. In trying to place a protective hedge around it, I have blocked out the voice of the Father who wants to heal it and make it new.

And though the Father’s voice is one of love, he often uses sinners (just like you and me) in their sin to deliver his messages to us. He’s going to use the disrespectful child’s remark, the husband’s frank observation, the grumpy stranger in the grocery store, the gossiping woman in the carpool line, or the parent who never thinks you do anything right. I believe that it was Elisabeth Leseur who said that every time that someone offends you it is an opportunity for you to examine your own conscience. I think she’s right. If we are waiting for God to use perfect people to speak to us, then we will often miss the voice that He is using to show us where our hearts are deceiving us.

I’ve had to learn the hard way–usually kicking and screaming–that God’s going to get His message through to me one way or another. It’s truly a grace that that’s the case, that He doesn’t stop speaking when we are hard of hearing. Perhaps if I would listen sooner it wouldn’t be such a hard pill to swallow, but then again pride is always a hard pill to swallow. And isn’t it ultimately prideful for us to insist that had the message been more gentle we would have obeyed immediately? Our track records prove otherwise. What we require is humility to hear His voice, whatever the method or messenger. May we take to heart the Invitatory antiphon that we pray during Lent: “Today, if you hear the voice of the Lord, harden not your hearts.”

Copyright 2019 Jessica Ptomey

Young Hearts Experience Conversion Too

“I hate church!”

This had become a weekly outburst the moment our 5-year-old realized that it was Sunday…again. “I hate Sundays,” he would add. And when that didn’t get quite the response he was looking for, he would throw in, “I do not love God!”

Have you been there? Do you have one of these kids? I don’t think of myself as an overly sensitive or easily scandalized parent. I knew how to take these outbursts with a grain of salt. However, they did leave me a bit sad for him week after week. I started taking my convictions and beliefs about prayer for my children seriously, purposefully asking God to touch his young heart.

A few weeks ago after dinner my husband said he wanted the family to pray a couple of decades of the rosary together. We went for two decades, feeling that would be ambitious with our group of four kids under age eight.

It was so peaceful and beautiful.

All of the boys actually prayed each Hail Mary, fingering their wooden beads one by one. After the two decades, the boys didn’t want to stop. In fact, our anti-church 5-year-old kept right on with his Hail Marys (until he reached what he determined to be the end) while we ushered everyone up for bed.

As I tidied up downstairs, I could hear his excited voice talking to my husband upstairs. “I love praying!” I heard him say. Wow, I’m thinking to myself. He’s really getting into this.  I minute later he burst into the room with a radiant smile on his face. “Mommy, I love praying! I really do love praying…….and Mommy…..I do love God!”

Let me insert here that it had been a particularly rough day with behavior, and that family rosary had done a lot to restore my tired parent’s heart. But when I heard his words spoken with such sincerity, I could have easily relived that horrible day over again with joy.

He was experiencing a REAL conversion of heart. He was tuned-in to the voice of the Holy Spirit, and something profound had happened in his interior, spiritual life. He continued on excitedly as new realizations hit him. “Sundays…I will like Sundays now! I will like going to church, because I get to pray there.”

I hugged him and told him to remember this wonderful moment, because one day he would need to be reminded that he loved God, and therefore loved taking time to pray and worship in Mass. I knew this spiritual experience didn’t necessarily mean that he would always feel this way. Why? Because he’s a person just like me. Just as I forget the joy and privilege of prayer, he will too. Just like I need to be reminded that my feelings aren’t always leading me to truth, he will need to remember the truth when his emotions lead him astray.

This experience crystalized for me a truth that we parents must strive to keep forefront: just as the Holy Spirit continually converts our hearts, he is continually converting the hearts of our children as well. In fact, these young hearts are often closer to conversion on a daily basis than we older hearts are. Let us never act in a way that presumes to take over the Holy Spirit’s role in our kids’ interior lives. We are the parents. God is their Creator, and he is continually chasing after them with a love that never gives up.


**Full disclosure: yeah, he needed to remember a week later. 🙂

 

Copyright 2018 Jessica Ptomey