Hi everyone! I want to share with you all an essay that I wrote recently since it explains what’s been going on in my life and why I haven’t posted here. Some of the content is mature, but my hope is that you will be blessed by reading about God’s power.
God’s voice is described many ways throughout Scripture. Sometimes it uproots cedars and makes the mountains dance. Other times it calls your name in a still, small whisper. Jesus describes his voice as a shepherd’s: carrying across the wilderness, summoning wayward lambs. His call is unmistakable, he says: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:27).
I am afraid of voices. Last year I was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, a rare type of schizophrenia. Occasionally I’m paranoid or see things that aren’t there, but my worst problem is hearing a plethora of evil voices that command me to hurt or kill myself. Last year I was so frightened that I gave in to these commands, which landed me in the hospital four separate times. It took five months to find a medication that helped, and I dreaded repeating the awful cycle ever again.
Five weeks ago, my medication stopped working. No one knows why, not even my doctors. All we know is one day I heard sinister voices saying “We’re coming back for you! We’re coming back for you!” and then they were back. Unlike last year, when only two or three of them spoke to me at once, this time there was a whole chorus. And this time they were directly attacking my faith by telling me that prayer wouldn’t drive them out, God couldn’t rescue me from them, and I was a child of Satan.
My first thought was to go straight to the emergency room so I’d be transferred to a mental hospital for twenty-four-hour supervision and a potential medication change. That would have been the “easy” way out since it meant I wasn’t responsible for any part of the episode. But it also would have reinforced my irrational fear of these voices as well as the incorrect notion that my situation determines my actions. True, I couldn’t be held responsible in the same way a cognitively stable individual would, but I was still under obligation to read my Bible, seek God in prayer and meditation, and aspire to the fruits of the Spirit as much as I was able. After much prayer, my husband and I decided to address my new “symptoms” for what we believed they were – a spiritual attack. This would require aggressive biblical action before we reinvolved psychiatry.
While I did not stop taking my current psychiatric medication, I also did not immediately request a higher dose or different medication. I made my three closest friends aware of the battle I was facing, and set up specific times to meet and pray with them during the week. My husband removed all the knives and sharp objects from our house because the voices were constantly ordering me to hurt myself, in addition to attacking my faith in God.
Two weeks passed, and I was beginning to doubt I could continue standing firm against these daily attacks – some of which lasted up to eight hours – much longer. One of my friends challenged me to find a few key Bible verses to tape on my wall so I had something to look at when I felt like giving up and hurting myself. The first passage came to me almost immediately:
I could ask the darkness to hide me
and the light around me to become night –
but even in darkness I cannot hide from you.
To you the night shines as bright as day.
darkness and light are the same to you. (Psalm 139:11-12)
Giving in and cutting myself would literally be asking the darkness to hide me because I’d be doing exactly what the evil voices told me. But even in that worst case scenario, I wouldn’t be separated from God. That was the lie the voices wanted me to believe. No, God would shine his light into my darkness and rescue me no matter what happened.
I wish that marked the end of my trial. But Satan, who tempted Jesus himself by quoting Scripture, was not giving up on a frightened twenty-nine-year-old so easily. Three weeks into the battle, I found a pair of scissors that my husband had forgotten to remove from our house. Instead of turning them in like I normally would, I obeyed the voices and hid them in my nightstand “just in case” I decided to hurt myself later. I knew this was wrong and dangerous, but I told myself everything would be okay, that I didn’t really intend to go through with it.
I took a nap that afternoon, and was awakened by sinister, heretical voices. Unlike the horrible things I’d almost grown used to hearing spoken, this was worse. This time there was a chorus singing a hymn that I’d sung earlier that morning, with a much deeper voice chanting “You are a child of Satan, you are a child of Satan!” in the background. I lost my mind. I couldn’t grab the scissors fast enough: some part of me knew what I was doing was wrong, while the other part of me couldn’t work as hard or fast as I wanted. By God’s grace, my husband walked in a couple of minutes later and took me to the emergency room.
Surprisingly, the ER did not put me on a psychiatric hold, although I suspect that was because they were understaffed due to a strike. But even at home I knew I had a lot of heart work in front of me. Some might argue I was out of my mind when I woke up from my nap, but I was in full possession of my faculties when I found those scissors and chose to hide them from my husband. I’d capitulated even further to the voices’ deception when I agreed to put the scissors in my nightstand “just in case.” The truth was that I would have never ended up in the ER if I’d followed God’s command to be honest. Even if I had started by making the wrong choice, I had several opportunities to “course correct” and confess my deceit before I gave in and actually used the scissors. The truth was I was so prideful in my own strength that I couldn’t tell I’d been blinded by the evil voices. I’d set my own trap in preparation for the next level of intimidation.
I confessed my sin to God, my husband, and my accountability partners, and asked everyone to pray that the Holy Spirit would keep my eyes fixed on him. Around this time I began meditating on John 10:27: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” This reminded me of several truths about God. First, no matter how many other voices I was hearing, or how confused I was about which ones to obey, I would always recognize God’s voice. In fact, I didn’t have to do anything unless God’s voice was speaking. Second, he knows me. I’m not a child of Satan, no matter what anyone or anything tells me. I hear God’s voice and he knows me. Finally, he will give me strength to be brave and follow him. There’d been many times over the past four weeks where I’d been so frightened I’d wanted to give in and obey the voices. Now I even have purple scars climbing my left arm to prove I’m not a saint. But God knows me and I’ll follow him.
And that’s why my story also doesn’t end with the ER incident. The following week I stayed at my parents’ house while my husband worked because I was still hearing voices and we all agreed I wasn’t ready to be alone. At first changing location helped a little bit, but the voices quickly returned to their old strength, then grew even more intimidating. That Friday, my dad decided to come stay with me at our condo so I wouldn’t have to be out of the house quite so much. But I was worried. What if I couldn’t resist the voices at home as well as I could somewhere else?
Our morning passed smoothly. We went out for coffee and then returned to our work: Dad to his sermon and me to a nonfiction piece I’d been writing. Everything was fine until I found the toolbox. I’d gotten up to use the bathroom and spotted my husband’s toolbox on the in our second bedroom. Although he’d already removed sharp objects like kitchen knives, scissors, and office supplies from our house, my husband had fixed one of our dining room chairs last night and must have forgotten to put the box where I couldn’t find it. My first reaction was to walk by the toolbox and into the bathroom. If I had really repented Sunday, I wouldn’t commit the same sin Friday, I told myself. That would mean either I had lied to God when I claimed to repent, or God wasn’t big enough to actually rescue me from temptation. I knew neither were true, so I prayed for God’s help and returned to the living room.
But the voices began eating at the back of my mind all afternoon. My husband pulled in from work just as I could no longer stand the temptation, and I rushed to the second bedroom before he’d even had time to put his briefcase down or take off his shoes. I pried open the tool kit and grabbed the first sharp object I saw – a screwdriver – then ran to the master bedroom and deposited it in my nightstand. Now for the coup de gras. “How could you leave this laying out?” I demanded as I walked back to the living room, toolbox in hand. “You know what a stumbling block this is for me!” My husband immediately began re-lacing his shoes, apologizing profusely before rushing the tools the outside.
I kissed my dad goodbye and then returned to writing, happy I’d had the good sense to obey the voices and fool my husband. But as I stared at my laptop screen, I couldn’t stop contrasting false and true repentance. If I obeyed the voices and hurt myself again after claiming to repent, what would I have to say for myself? The verse in John flashed through my mind again: My sheep hear my voice. I clearly was not listening to God’s voice right now. At this point the evil voices were screaming at me to stay silent, but by God’s grace I took a deep breath and called my husband over when he came back inside. “Honey? There’s something I need to tell you. You’ll find a screwdriver in my nightstand.” A weight lifted off my shoulders immediately; I might have begun the afternoon making the wrong choice, but God enabled me to repent before I hurt myself.
A week has passed since I gave the screwdriver back. Nothing changed immediately, but the next day a friend challenged me to fast and pray for God to illumine toxic beliefs in my own heart that needed to change. My gut reaction was “No thanks, I’m fine!” but I decided to do it anyway since fasting is a good spiritual discipline. In the first few days, God showed me that even though I’d claimed to trust him alone, functionally I’d been fighting the voices in my own strength. It was as if I thought he couldn’t quite help me, or I was expected to do part of it on my own. Maybe a part of me was even curious to try what the voices were telling me to do. Believing these lies of pride and curiosity only strengthened the voices’ grasp on my life.
As I continued to pray and meditate, I asked God to unmask the evil voices and to increase my faith in his healing power. I woke up to silence the next morning. While I have heard voices a handful of times since then, they’ve sounded weak and pathetic compared to God’s marvelous voice as revealed in Scripture. What’s more, I did actually hear my Shepherd speak, just as he promised. One night when the cacophony was at its worst, a still, small voice rose above the noise: “Be not afraid, little one.”