When I was in second grade, preparing for my first Holy Communion, the pastor gave a beautiful talk on how to get to know Jesus. His words, excitement and his smile are forever etched in my mind. He told us the best way to get to know Jesus was to walk and talk with him every day in the same way that we chose to walk and talk with a friend. I decided that I wanted a relationship with God and being the literal and diligent child that I was, I went home from church to begin my new walk with Jesus.
It was a sunny Saturday afternoon in my Connecticut, suburban neighborhood when I started my first walk with Jesus. I extended my hand out to the side and I asked Jesus to take a walk with me. Certain that my hand was in his, I walked confidently and chatted the whole way around the block. I told him what was right with my life and the things that I needed him to fix. That was my earliest memory of having a conversation with God.
As I matured I kept walking and talking with Jesus, sometimes literally, sometimes just as whispers in the night. At some point, I realized that God had His ways of conversing with me as well. I realized that God spoke through my parents, despite their imperfections, as they guided me to discern right from wrong. It took me a while to realize that it wasn’t really God speaking to me when my mother would use Catholic guilt and told me that I needed to behave better because I just went to Confession. That wasn’t so much a God thing; it was a Mom thing. (I tried it on my kids, but it didn’t work.) Despite this, I began to understand that God spoke to me through the church; in the scriptures, faith community, and in the teachings I was just beginning to understand.
However, the game changer for me happened when I was around 15 or 16 years old. For a short time, I experimented with underage drinking. I was in a time of testing my faith and growing in my identity. I maintained my commitment to Mass and even some time for personal prayer. It was during one of those quiet moments that I first recall really “hearing” God speak. After Mass, I knelt in prayer and I said these words, “Lord, I love you, so I want to say I am sorry for the things I might do tonight at that party I am going to attend. Please bless me. Amen.”
At that moment these words very clearly popped into my head; “I love you and I want you to give me your whole heart because I have a special plan for your life. I want to use your life as an example to others to draw many people back to God.” Yikes! Did I really have to hear God, just hours before a party that I wanted to attend? I honestly don’t remember the decision I made that night, whether I went to the party or stayed home. But I clearly remember hearing God’s voice, even as words in my mind. This began a new facet in my walk with Jesus. I knew beyond any doubt, that the Lord wanted a personal relationship with me even more than I wanted to know Him.
I began a deeper prayer life. I started keeping a journal. I included scriptures, insights and quotes that spoke to my heart. I also started writing down what I thought God was saying to me through these inspirations. I have kept a prayer journal for 30 years. It has guided me through some very difficult times and inspired me to remember the prayers that were answered and the ways in which the Spirit led me in various situations. I grew to know and discern the voice of God speaking in my life.
The most profound experience of hearing God’s voice happened a few years ago, during one of the most devastating times in my life. My daughter was rushed into surgery because the pressure in her brain was so high, she was slipping into unconsciousness. I prayed as I waited, acutely aware of the risks, but confident that this surgery would end successfully as many others had before. However, about an hour into the surgery, I knew that something catastrophic had occurred in the operating room. This knowing was like a nudge, a strong hand on my shoulder and voice whispering in my ear telling me to pray for the surgeon and my daughter, because something had gone wrong.
In my mind’s eye, I could “see” the operating room and sense the intensity of a stressful event. Shortly after this experience, the surgeon emerged from the operating room with the news that my daughter had suffered a catastrophic hemorrhage in the major artery of her brain. Still, he was optimistic, because despite the hemorrhage, my daughter’s vitals miraculously remained stable and the bleeding stopped on its own. She was placed into a drug-induced coma so as to give her brain time to rest.
As we muddled through a long period of coma and rehabilitation, I learned to hear God’s voice in the silence. Above my daughter’s hospital bed, I hung a picture of her with these words from Psalm 19:4 “There is no word or sound: no voice is heard; yet God’s message goes forth through all the earth.” With the respirator beeping in the background, I listened intently, but grief overshadowed my heart. Yet, in that silence and even in grief, there was an awesome sense of God’s presence. There were no words, but the message was loud and clear that Johanna was held in the palm of God’s hand.
When Johanna first came out of the coma, she could not speak. So my husband brought his guitar to the hospital and we sang. As the familiar melodies of Christmas songs filled the hospital room, Johanna eventually chimed in. After a few weeks of singing, she started to speak and our grief was transformed to joy.
God spoke in the trauma, in the silence and in the joy. Even when no words were spoken, his message was clear.
Eileen Benthal has a B.A. in theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville. She is a writer, speaker and wellness coach at 40DaysToFocus.com and NOFO Wellness Center. She works with clients locally and around the U.S. who are excited about balancing their health in body, mind and spirit.
Eileen and her husband Steve live in Jamesport and have four young adult children. Their youngest, 16-year-old Johanna, is a teenager with special needs. Eileen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org andfacebook.com/40DaysToFocus.