By Father Casey Shobe
In Pastor Nancy’s excellent sermon from last Sunday, she talked about the conflict of voices in our minds battling for attention. All around us, we are bombarded with voices telling us that we aren’t smart enough, attractive enough, successful enough, whatever enough, and therefore we are not good enough. For many of us, these voices are all we can hear most of the time. It’s like Fr. Mike Michie once said, in another very fine sermon last year, about the “cassette tapes” we play over and over in our heads of our worst and saddest experiences. For whatever reason, the human brain attaches to these negative moments and messages, and they can get stuck on repeat inside us like some sort of broken cassette player.
Meanwhile, God is speaking to us, too, all the time, and the message of God to us every day is the same as the day of our baptism: you are mine, you are good, you are loved. “Your picture is on my refrigerator,” Nancy whimsically but truthfully imagined God saying to us. You are my beloved child, and with you I am well pleased.
These two voices have the potential to shape our lives. If we listen too much to the first set of voices harping at us about our screw-ups, our faults, and our inadequacies, we will almost certainly struggle all our lives to really and truly believe we are worthy of love. We will likely spend our lives in a frenetic pursuit of accomplishments and success so we can “prove” we are good (to God, to people we meet, and most of all, to ourselves), or else we will slowly give up and allow the poison of these messages to asphyxiate our souls.
However, if we choose to listen for the second voice, and let the slow drip of God’s love and mercy patiently fill up the well of our souls with living water, we can begin to flourish. Believing this second voice is how we know the abundant life Jesus desires for everyone, and how we experience more often the peace that passes understanding.
Friends, these two different voices are whispering at us all the time, and sadly, in most people the first voice is cranked up on full blast most of the time. Even I, who try to listen for God’s voice every day in prayer and Scripture, can let the “old tapes” build in my mind – of times when I screwed up, when I did something stupid, when I failed someone I love or did the wrong thing – and let their insidious message diminish my faith, joy, and hope. Which means that everyone around us needs a little extra grace and love from us. They don’t need extra voices adding to their tapes and telling them that they’re bad or broken. They don’t need more voices piling on to the ones inside them that whisper all the time that they should give up. What they need is the same thing we need, the same thing Jesus spent so much time offering in his life and ministry: words of kindness and compassion.
Here’s how John Pavlovitz, who we welcomed to Transfiguration last year, puts it:
“Everyone around you; the people you share the grocery store line with, pass in traffic, sit next to at work, encounter on social media, and see across the kitchen table—they’re all experiencing the collateral damage of living. They are all grieving someone, missing someone, worried about someone. Their marriages are crumbling or their mortgage payment is late or they’re waiting on their child’s test results, or they’re getting bananas five years after a death and still pushing back tears because the loss feels as real as it did that first day. Every single human being you pass by today is fighting to find peace and to push back fear…It’s up to you and me to look more closely and more deeply at everyone around us: at work or at the gas station or in the produce section, and to never assume they aren’t all just hanging by a thread. Because most people are hanging by a thread—and our simple kindness can be that thread.”
So, I invite you to make the quiet voice of God more audible today. Speak with extra kindness to everyone you meet, whether they “deserve it” or not. No matter who they are, they are battling the same voices in their heads that you are. Their old tapes are playing loud and clear inside them, which means they need someone to speak aloud the words of kindness and love that are too often swallowed up by all the words of venom.
Go gently today, and tomorrow, and the day after that. Hold your tongue when you feel the spite or contempt ready to spew out. Find that extra bit of patience, and offer more goodness. Make a few tapes of love for someone else, so they may actually begin to believe they are God’s beloved child, just like you.
Fr. Casey became the fourth rector of Transfiguration in October 2014 after having served churches in Rhode Island and Houston. He is married to Mtr. Melody Shobe, also an Episcopal priest, and they have two daughters, Isabelle and Adelaide. Fr. Casey grew up in Temple, Texas, and holds a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Texas at Austin. His Master of Divinity was earned at Virginia Theological Seminary and his Doctor of Ministry at the School of Theology at the University of the South (Sewanee). He loves playing golf, road cycling, hiking, brewing beer, and working in his yard. You can contact Father Casey by email.