Discerning through Fruit Loops: Listening to our Inner Voice in the Midst of Real Life

When Maria asked me to write a blog entry on discernment for the Loaves and Fishes series, I protested immediately, confessing my lack of attendance at our 10AM Sunday meetings. “I wouldn’t know how to speak for the group,” I said.

I thought about how, for the most part, I’d been relying on the (more) faithful to make this financial decision for the church and to speak on my behalf. I recently stepped away from ministry and got married, so I’ve been pre-occupied, changing careers and adjusting to family life. I put all things labeled “ministry” on the back-burner, and I guess, “ministry” included discerning what to do with over $1.6 million, because I haven’t thought about it much. So let me start this post by asking for forgiveness for not fully stepping into this process of discernment and leaving the hard work up to others.

I am a member of LaSalle Street Church, and as such, I have a responsibility to worship on Sundays, participate in community life, vote on important church decisions, and tithe. (Tithe, there’s another area I am desperately failing at.)  Although I follow through on these responsibilities every now and again, I have not given them my all. I keep thinking, “When I have money, I will give; when I have time, I will participate; when I am balanced, I will bless others.”  I just don’t feel like I have money or time or balance.

As I recite these excuses, an object lesson from high school youth group pops into my head, the one with the fruit loops and the tennis ball. Maybe you experienced it: the youth pastor fills a jar full of fruit loops and then tries to stuff the tennis ball into the jar and it doesn’t fit. Then she does it the other way, tennis ball first, then all the fruit loops. Miraculously, it all fits. Matthew 6:33 says “Seek first the kingdom of God and God’s righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you.”

Which is all fine and good, but what seeking God’s Kingdom looks like, both process and product, differs greatly from my first years in the Christian faith compared to now. When I was young, I felt God’s call on my life like a punch in the gut. I just knew instinctively what I should choose, say, or do to seek the Kingdom of God. My faith was radical, black and white, and uncompromising, and it was full—tennis ball and all the fruit loops.

A lot has changed since I was a teenager. These days, everything seems more complex, grayer, and more subtle. (And there are already fruit loops in the jar—like family, debt, responsibilities, etc.)  God no longer smacks me with the truth, but insistently tugs at my conscience. The Holy Spirit is like a consistent nag that starts out subtly and quietly, voicing its opinion. I brush it off, claiming I have more pressing matters to deal with, but that inner voice keeps calling out, sometimes for years, until I finally pay attention.

For example, since 2012, there has been a small voice inside of me saying “Write, write, write.”  I have heard that voice, recognizing that I SHOULD write; it would be BENEFICIAL for my career, and even my soul. I made plans to write, multiple times. My 2015 New Year’s Resolution was to “Write more.”  Four months went by, and I still hadn’t written a word in a private journal or public blog. Unfortunately, writing seemed non-urgent and indulgent. I put it on the back burner. It wasn’t until recently that the inner voice became loud once again, but instead of hearing SHOULDs I started to hear COULDs.

I went to a networking event a few weeks ago,  filled with hopeful, powerful, energetic women, ready to make a difference in Chicago, and instead of hearing that inner voice say, “I should write, I should do something more important” I heard “I can write; I am someone of significance. I have something to say!”  And then Maria wrote me again and asked me to write this blog post. Maybe God isn’t a tennis ball, maybe God is milk, seeping through our busy lives even when we believe there is no room for something new, important or even indulgent.

So here’s my first blog post, written for the church I love like a sibling, knowing that even if I am not big and important, I am definitely significant to my church family, and need to help in making this big decision.

So here is my conclusion. When I was young, making decisions to seek the Kingdom of God seemed easy, black and white, and were usually radical. But as I have gotten older, decisions have become more complicated. Perhaps the same is true for LaSalle Street Church. When the church was young (or its congregants were young), action seemed simple and urgent, and we started radical ministries like CGLA, Cornerstone, and Breaking Bread. But now the church is older, the neighborhood has changed, decisions seem more complicated, and God’s direction is not so clear. Maybe that’s okay.

My bet is that as long as we love Jesus and seek His Kingdom, we will make a decision that God can work with. And just maybe, the Holy Spirit has been nagging us to do something for a long time, and we have felt like it was non-urgent or too indulgent. Maybe God is calling us to do the things that are life-giving, fun, even restful, that are led by words like “We can” rather than “We should.”

As the elder board and leaders pray over our final decision, may we pray with them that God will open our ears to that still, small, but insistent voice that calls us to live according to God’s Kingdom and righteousness.

Julia Styles

Member of the Parrotfish Prayer School

parrotfish

4 thoughts on “Discerning through Fruit Loops: Listening to our Inner Voice in the Midst of Real Life

  1. I relate to so much of what you said, Julia. Thank you for sharing the image of God as milk seeping through our lives. Please keep up with your writing. It’s powerful.

  2. Thank you Julia. Totally agree on that milk image. And I’m pretty much where you are too – we can land in a lot of places I expect, and it would all be pleasing.

  3. JULIA! I am going to harass you until you start a blog. This is so totally on-point and very well written! You are incredible. XO (Apologies for the delayed response.)

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