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Awakening to Our Inner Voice

In the movie Sunshine Cleaning, Rose Lorkowski (played by Amy Adams) is a single mom working as a house cleaner while she struggles through a difficult time. Like so many of us, she doubts her self-worth. She posts positive self-affirmations around her mirror and verbalizes them to herself every morning. She is trying to overcome her self-doubt and motivate herself to do what she has to do. Her self-affirmations are an attempt to change the voice in her head – the negative self-talk that influences her motivation, decisions, and actions.

Like Rose, we all engage in self-talk – whether we are aware of it or not. Each of us has a persistent inner voice that has a powerful impact on our lives. Sometimes the voice is positive and encouraging; other times it’s anxious and fearful. My self-talk includes all kinds of inner chatter – plans, fears, advice, and regrets. It’s the ongoing narrative of my life that guides, criticizes, coaches, and rebukes me throughout the day.

Awakening to our self-talk can be a powerful diagnostic that reveals much about us and our spiritual journey. It helps us see what’s going on within us – often at an unconscious level. Being able to tune in to our self-talk provides us with helpful insights about our positive traits, the ways our anxiety and fear hold us back, and what our true motivation is. I’ve discovered that my self-talk is often a more accurate gauge of these inner dynamics than the self-protective way I respond when someone asks me about them.

There are any number of ways to awaken to our self-talk and opening ourselves to what it reveals. Here are three that I’ve found particularly helpful: meditation, journaling, and the check-in pause.

Those of us who have attempted to meditate – regardless of the meditation practice we’ve tried – have quickly discovered how persistent our inner voice is. It bombards us with thoughts and feelings no matter how much we want to cultivate an inner silence. Awakening to our self-talk reveals our attachments, the things that preoccupy us, and the concerns that vie for our energy and attention. I’ve discovered that the content of my self-talk reveals much about me: the preoccupations that distract me, the emotions that pull me down and hold me back, and the unconscious motivations that influence my behavior. As awakening to my self-talk creates greater self-awareness, it is both humbling and helpful.

Because I enjoy writing, journaling is the second way that I’ve awakened to my self-talk. When I have a blank page in front of me, my self-talk quickly reveals itself – rising up to fill the page. I’ve discovered the importance of not inhibiting my inner voice; I need to simply let it take me where it wants to go. When the writing is done, I’m often surprised and amazed by what my inner voice has revealed and the guidance it has provided on how to more fully embrace the spiritual journey.

The third way of awakening to my self-talk is what I call the check-in pause. It is simply taking a quiet moment several times during the day to monitor my inner voice – the narrative in my head. With practice, it rarely takes me more than 30 to 60 seconds to tune in to my self-talk. I find the check-in pause particularly helpful when I am experiencing some gnawing anxiety or when I am resisting doing something I need to do.

Becoming aware of my self-talk doesn’t resolve the situation, but it helps me understand what’s going on and what’s at stake. I may, for example, find that I’m procrastinating because I’m unsure of what to expect or because I’m fearful about the outcome. Then, I might choose to respond to my own inner voice: “Yes, I’m concerned about the outcome, but I still need to do this. So, I’m going to go ahead and get it done.” Experience has taught me that putting something off doesn’t make it easier to do later – or tomorrow.  

There is, of course, a significant barrier to awakening to our self-talk: being afraid of what we’ll discover by listening to it. Quite frankly, as I’ve become more aware of my own self-talk, I’ve been surprised to discover how egocentric it is. All too often, it reveals the self-interest in my motivation, the concern I have about how people view me, and the ways fear triggers my attempts to control situations and people. I’ve had to face the reality that all too often my self-talk is ego-driven and all about me.

Awakening to our self-talk is more than a revealing diagnostic about ourselves and our spiritual journey. More importantly, it’s an invitation to embrace ongoing conversion, to surrender ever more fully to God. Our self-talk helps us find the way forward.

Tuning in to my self-talk helps me discover ways I need to open myself to transformation. Recognizing my desire for control urges me to abandon it and surrender to God’s will and God’s way. Acknowledging my fearful vigilance opens me to trusting the peace that only Christ can give. Becoming more aware that I am caught up in frantic activity – with all of my plans, lists of things to do, and personal goals – invites me to live more fully in the moment, deepen my relationships, and rest in God.

Rose Lorkowski, the struggling housecleaner in Sunshine Cleaning, isn’t the only one who needs self-affirmation. We all do. She is trying to change the narrative in her head, to flip the script of her negative self-talk. For disciples on the spiritual journey, flipping the script is a call to open ourselves to ongoing conversion.

When the voice in our head is anxious and fearful, we need to remember Jesus’ words to his disciples: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, trust also in me. (John 14: 1)

When our inner narrative is weighed down by responsibility and overwhelmed with struggle, we need to remind ourselves that “there is need of only one thing.” (Luke 10: 42)

When our inner voice is judgmental and condemning, we need to recall the loving father who greeted his prodigal son with a forgiving embrace and a joyous celebration. (Luke 15: 11-32)

Whenever the voice in our head drowns out the voice of Jesus or contradicts the Gospel, we need to open our minds and our hearts to accept God’s unfailing mercy, forgiveness, and love.

Questions to Ponder

Here are some questions to help you awaken to your self-talk and discover the ways it invites you to ongoing conversion.

  • What does your self-talk reveal – both positively and negatively – about yourself and your spiritual journey?
  • How does your self-talk influence your decisions, actions, and motivation?
  • Have you ever experienced your self-talk contradicting the words of Jesus or the wisdom of the Good News? If so, what was it like? What can you learn from that experience?
  • How does the voice in your head reveal your need for ongoing conversion?
  • In what ways do you need to flip the script of your self-talk and surrender to ongoing conversion?