We sat on a stone patio outside of an orphanage in Ensenada, Mexico as the sun came up. The kids were all still asleep, including the high school youth group we had with us from Pennsylvania. The culture shock was real, but so was the absolute love those teenagers showed to every kid they met. Through art and soccer, painting walls and worshiping together, they bonded over things that didn’t need translation.
Surrounded by rising sunlight and almost absolute quiet, exhausted from our travels, serving, mentoring, poor attempts at communicating, and feeling completely homesick, I was overcome. A friend sat reading a devotional beside me and, when she saw my emotions, didn’t stop reading but started to read out loud.
God and I connect most deeply when I’m the most vulnerable, when I’m too worn out to keep up the facade of control, and when I finally put myself in a situation where the quiet is louder than the to-do list or the “shoulds” running through my head. It’s in those rare times when I know that what I hear and feel is from the Holy Spirit instead of doubting and wondering if I’m giving myself the answer, I want instead of truly hearing from God. As my friend read her devotional and prayed for me, I wept. It’s what happens when I feel God near, all my emotions bubbling over as I let down my guard, and I can count on both hands the number of times I’ve created the space to allow it to happen. It happened when I was 16 and became a Christian. It happened when we lost our first pregnancy. It happened during worship, when my heart was so moved by the music and connection to the Holy Spirit that everything else seemed to fall away.
I’m not uncomfortable in silence, not the way most people are. I don’t feel the need to fill the empty space in our conversation with words, and if you need a moment to think about what you want to share, that’s fine with me. I can ask questions to a group when I’m speaking and stand quietly at the front of the room until someone answers without feeling awkward or nervous. But the rare moments when I’m alone with my thoughts, when the world is quiet, and the distractions are taken away - that’s what makes me uncomfortable. It’s also when I can be most authentically myself, vulnerable without anyone watching to see if I will make a mistake, and I’m afraid of what that might mean.
Who am I when the world is quiet, and I can truly hear God? What might He ask me to do if I create the space to truly hear His answer? What might He ask me to give up, an idol that has become more important in my life? What doubts might rise to the surface? Will I feel like an imposter, coming before the throne of Jesus?
Living our best life has nothing to do with wearing a cute outfit from the Nordstrom sale at the newest restaurant in town and capturing it for Instagram. It has everything to do with coming before God with our mess, doubts, dreams, sins, and struggles. God, who sent His one and only Son to come and die for us, doesn’t want us to live in the dark, buried under the weight of the world’s “shoulds,” but to step into the light - into freedom and forgiveness. He doesn’t want our perfect Valentine’s Day shaped hearts - He wants us to invite Him into the beat up, broken, scared, and scarred hearts that desperately need His perfect love.
Quieting the shout of should will be uncomfortable. We’ll feel vulnerable as we lay down the armor the world has given us and embrace who God has made us to be—women made in His image. We’ll unbuckle the belt of opinions that help us fit in easily and take on the belt of Truth that sets us apart and, occasionally, unpopular. We’ll remove the breastplate of self-righteousness that gives us a false sense of security and trade it for the breastplate of righteousness that values justice. Instead of running shoes that prepare us to fight or flee we’ll stand firm in shoes built on the peace of gospel. It is not with our sharp words or quick wit that we’ll protect ourselves, but with a shield of faith and the Word of God.
We are works in progress who need a village to help us navigate every season God brings us into. Women who seek to swap expectations for joy, insecurities for peace, clutter for creativity, obligation for freedom, quantity for quality, empty words for empathy, worry for wonder, paralysis for progress, and comparison for contentment.
Create the space to encounter God in the quiet. I’m not going to tell you what it should look like, how long it should take, where you should do it, or even what time of day you should choose. Find the quiet. Shut the door on what the world is shouting at you and come before God with your whole heart. Be open to the opportunity to be vulnerable before Him and listen. Be still.
Excerpt from “Quieting the Shout of Should” by Crystal Stine. Harvest House Publishers, 2020. Learn more at shoutofshouldbook.com