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JUNE 26, 2021

/ Articles / Self-Conversation

by Robert Wolgemuth

The perils of this potentially dangerous self-conversation go back—way, way back—much further than we may have thought.

Perhaps the best collection of this self-conversation exchange is found in the book of Psalms. The next time you look at this amazing chunk of literature, consider the answer to this question: “So who was the psalmist listening to? And to whom was he talking?”

Of course, we can’t know for sure on every single one, but I believe many of these treasures (often the writings of King David) are of a man eavesdropping. On himself.

My heart shudders within me; terrors of death sweep over me. Fear and trembling grip me; horror has overwhelmed me. (Ps. 55:4–5)

Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? (Ps 42:11 ESV)

In these cases, the voices he hears result in terror. And turmoil. And they seem to be coming from himself.

Yes, you heard me right. King David, the man after God’s own heart . . . hears inside voices. 

But, as happens so often in the Psalms, if you stick with it, the answer pops up after a problem is described. All you have to do is wait for it, like watching your toaster deliver a happy morning slice of hot toast ready for your favorite jam.

Be gracious to me, O Lord, for to you do I cry all the day. Gladden the soul of your servant, for to you, O Lord, do I lift up my soul. (Ps. 86:3–4 esv)

Often you and I hear a voice. Maybe in the night. This silent agent tells us we’re old and worthless. So, we tell our Father about it, and here’s what He says in reply, by way of His Son: “As the Father has loved me, I have also loved you. Remain in my love” (John 15:9).

As I contemplate these words, I’m struck by their power. Is this the first time I’ve heard about God’s love for me? No. I was fortunate enough to have parents—especially a mother—who told me this a lot throughout my youth. Hearing it now is not a big deal.

But it should be.

You’re a good boy. I love you.

For many years, when I would crawl in bed at night, I’d review my day’s activities. And like a parent or a teacher or a coach, based on what I had accomplished, I’d give myself a grade: good effort, strong results, worthy man. Sleep well, champ.

But at my age, sometimes at bedtime my mind is swirling with a sense of sadness, even some regret over the day’s failures or tasks unfinished. Scratched relationships, unresolved conflicts, unfortunate words I’ve spoken. Or maybe I’m dealing with new aches and pains that are too severe to ignore. 

It takes longer at my age to shake all this. I lie there awake. Isn’t it interesting how these things seem larger than life in the languid shadows of the night? In fact, a good friend told me he often lies awake trying to fix—manipulate—hard stuff he’s dealing with at work. Boy, I get that. Maybe you do, too?

Not long ago, I was having one of these toss-and-turn nights. I glanced over in the darkness and it didn’t look like my sleeping wife was having the same trouble. Just then the lyrics of a hymn written by our dear friends came washing over . . .

My worth is not in what I own

Not in the strength of flesh and bone

But in the costly wounds of love

At the cross

Sometimes in the night I’m reminded of the story of Jesus and His disciples in a storm-tossed ship on the Sea of Galilee. Unlike my condition on this night, Jesus was sleeping. Imagine. In the middle of a storm. I’ll take some of that.

The boat started taking water—never a good thing in the vortex of a squall. And even though the disciples were professionals at this and must have rowed with all their might to safely reach shore, they were frightened for their lives. Wakening the Lord, they confessed their fear, “Master, Master, we’re going to die” (Luke 8:24). Shades of my late-night disquiet and woe.

My favorite part of this story is that, before challenging these guys about their misplaced fear, Jesus rebuked the storm. It was almost as though He was chiding the tempest. “How could you do this to these men I love? Now stop it.” The storm ceased, and there was calm. Jesus changed the circumstances first, then he asked them why they were so afraid.

“Where is your faith?” he asked. There’s no record of their answer to this simple question. Maybe because everyone in the boat, including Jesus, knew the answer.

“Our faith?” The self-talk begins.

“Our faith?” Here comes the inner voice’s dig, the cheap shot, the accusation.

“It’s in the dumper, but . . .” Wait, let’s turn this around. “But it shouldn’t be. We’re with the One who created this sea, who created this storm. He will care for us.”

There, isn’t that better? Talking to yourself? Not just listening to yourself?

Back in the mid-seventies I suddenly took to adding roses to my garden. My brother was quite the expert at buying the right ones and caring for them, so he helped me get started.

One afternoon, I was in the backyard, pruning, dusting, weeding. Trying to care for these temperamental critters. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Missy, our four-year-old, running around from the front of the house to the back door. She opened it halfway and called out, “Mom, are you there?”

I could hear Bobbie’s voice from inside, “Yes, Missy, I’m here.”

Missy promptly let the door spring shut and returned to the front of the house.

This happened several times. Enough that my curiosity was piqued. I walked around past the side of the house and snooped in on what was happening. I saw that Missy was playing hopscotch on the sidewalk with the neighbor girls. They were older than she, and Missy was having trouble keeping up, tossing the stone on the wrong square or hopping on the wrong foot. The girls were mocking her.

Perceiving that she was the brunt of their sarcasm, and believing she might be as dumb as they were charging her of being, Missy would run around to the back door, call in to be sure her mother was there, and then return to the mocking girls, ready to play some more. Knowing her mother was close by was enough. 

Would that I had the same confidence. The assurance that Jesus’ disciples should have known. The presence of the Master, even in the danger of a life-threatening gale, was enough.

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