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Painting by Julie AlleyI have listened to inner voices for as long as my brain has had the ability to remember, recall, and, unfortunately, deliver psychological sucker punches. That is to say, for most of my life. The voices are debilitating. Most often laced with venom, despicable and cruel in all manner of punishing remarks, the voices that speak to me are old demons to whom I willingly lend an ear over and over again. The monologue is destructive and poisonous. This admission should not strike you as odd or maniacal, for I am convinced they are present in each of us. We lean in and listen, believing the voices to be true.

They are with me from the moment I awake: as I brew a pot of coffee, each time I lose patience with my kids, when I see my stubbled face in the mirror, when I peek at my bank account balance, when I scrape my knuckle working on a project, when I am unable to make eye contact with another human in my perceived inferiority, until the moment I finally lay my head on the pillow at day’s end. Sadly, they are loudest when I write, when I seek to string together words and bring something beautiful into the world. Perhaps you will identify with these refrains:

You’re a terrible parent.

You’re a fraud. Who do you think you are pretending to be a writer?

Idiot, you’ve completely forgotten how to write a song. You’ll never write another song the rest of your life.<

Look at your friends succeeding in their careers. What have you accomplished in life? Nothing memorable. Quit wasting yours and other people’s time. Your dreams are over. Get a real job.

You are utterly forgettable.

The humiliating dialogue is relentless.

Sadly, for the vast majority of my life thus far, I have mistaken the voices as those emanating from heaven. Yes, it struck me as odd, two-faced even, that the same Great Hope who promised peace would emotionally pummel me in my failures, in my wrestling, lording it over me in my weakest, most shameful and fragile moments.

But I was fully convinced that, painfully humiliating and utterly devoid of gentle dignity though they were, those very same voices were of “loving” spiritual discipline and correction. I wanted rest, but there was no rest in guilt. I wanted peace, but there was no surpassing peace with salt continually searing old wounds. I wanted grace, but grace was only for those worthy of it. Henceforth, I am retraining the garden of my mind, pulling weeds, tilling new rows, clearing undergrowth, inviting light into the innermost recesses. Everything I thought I knew of God I am seeking to unlearn. Not because he is different or is less — far be it — but because everything I ever perceived of his character was in truth shy of actual truth, bullet-riddled by my own staunch arrogance, soldered in fear, misdirection, and misperception.

Unlearn that a voice reverberating anything but grace, quiet dignity, and edification can be that of I Am. Unlearn the arrogant presupposition that we have no need for a savior. Unlearn that there is shame associated with having to make ends meet through supplemental labor for the sake of keeping a roof over our family’s heads and food on the table. Unlearn that fame and respect are one in the same. Unlearn that God cannot handle our anger. A curse can become a blessing. The voices, of course, would have us believe otherwise. The same creator who appointed a fish to swallow and save a seaweed-entangled, drowning man from the tempest’s undertow  — Jonah’s own rage — and where, ultimately, from inside the acidic stew of the fish’s belly, a changed and new human emerged, mercifully vomited upon dry land. Still, through all that, stinking and smelly Jonah found reason to be angry with God. Outside Nineveh’s gates, surly, pouting and muttering expletives while listening to and talking with his inner voices, Jonah found shade beneath the Lord’s leaf, surviving on crumbs dropped in his lap by ebony crows roosting nearby. Jonah, after all, was never alone, never abandoned, never left to his own devices. Nor are we.

It is easy, with our lips, to speak of God in terms of grace, mercy, forgiveness, gentleness, humility, worthy of adoration. All are true. But when the lights go down and it’s you against you, the voices we lean into more than likely possess none of these traits. Instead, they bear down on us with such guilt, shame, and gravity that no human can withstand as uncompromising a burden as the loud and foul echoes spoken into the space between our ears. The voices that approach as tempests, wreaking havoc, are merely the facsimile, bastard gods unworthy of our attention. They are the son-of-a-bitch agents — as my counselor refers to them — who seek nothing shy of our demise, creating a rift so vast between perception and glorious reality that we can no longer tell the difference between land and sky, between lily and weed, between hope and disaster, between a voice still and small and voices vile and ruinous.

Eric Peters lives in a hole in the ground with his myriad house pets, pair of cackling ganders, and a servant serpent named Musket. Eric spends his days fireside sipping cafe au lait while whittling, doodling, or dawdling (in no particular order). He jogs, barefoot, nine miles per day, and he prefers a wild lawn.


Eric lives in a quiet historic neighborhood in east Nashville with his wife, Danielle, and their two boys, Ellis and Monroe. When he's not tending to his burgeoning lawn care business, he writes and records songs, and sings them to unsuspecting folks. When he's not doing that, he ponders weird things. Eric enjoys manicuring lawns, and he absolutely hates snakes.

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Reader Comments (8)

In one paragraph, you've helped me feel deeper kinship with Jonah than I ever imagined possible. It's easy to look at his story (with the advantage of behind-the-scenes footage) and say, "Of course he was never alone." It's not so easy to say that about my own life. I'm deafened by the voices that shout in my own head. But if it was true for Jonah, it's also true for me. He was never abandoned, and neither am I. He was loved through it all, and so am I. Thanks for this reminder, Eric.

June 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBreann

Great post. I was tracking through most of it, but you lost me on one line:
"Unlearn that a voice reverberating anything but grace, quiet dignity, and edification can be that of I Am."

Perhaps I'm misunderstanding your intention with this sentence or over-analyzing it. But when I look to Scripture at "I Am", quiet and edifying are not always the adjectives of choice. Graceful will always apply to God because it is his essence. Edifying would always be true in a sense of God working for our benefit. But His words are not always edifying. I think the interaction between Job and God would be a good example of this. Also, God's words through the prophets to Israel are not directly edifying. Jesus' words to Pharisees were rarely the stuff of Chicken Soup for the Soul. In fact, I would venture to say that the word "Woe" can not be used in edification - that would be admonishment. Likewise, God's voice is Scripture is not always quiet. I don't think examples of that are necessary. Because God is immutable, then I would expect for God to speak today in the same way that He spoke in biblical times.

My point of this is first to affirm what you are saying: these things we tell ourselves are not from God. God does not tear down without purpose. However, God will tear down. If someone is not a believer, then God may use a humiliation (in Luther's terms) to turn the foolishness of the cross into an object of beauty and passion. For a follower of Christ, God may admonish us, even loudly at times, in order to bring us back into the fullness of the obedient, blessed life to which we are called. Both of these are gracious acts of God.

Again, I'd like to affirm that you are a great writer and I completely agree with the post as a whole. Just looking for some expansion or clarification on that particular statement.

June 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAubry

Disarmingly beautiful, meaningful, and true words. Thank you, Eric. I have struggled with these voices my entire life as well. But I want you to know you can give the bird to those voices saying you're forgettable. I still remember the precise moment I first heard Ridgely sing "It's Good To Be Alive" and had never heard music like that before. I must have played it on loop in my car with the windows down for an entire week. I've always loved your music and writings through the years. Thank you for combating the lies to continue sharing with us.

~ Christine (Piccione) Bailey (who knew you from Grassroots)

June 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterChristine

Finally stole a few minutes to read your essay and resonated with so much of it. Thank you for speaking some important bits of truth into my overly-tangled mind, and for your bold confessions, many of which I echo.

For what it's worth, I have always thought of you as such a gifted manipulator of words (and song), a very fine gardener (who is generous with his leftover hyacinth pods) and more recently, a parent who is refreshingly honest about the unsettling mix of tension and joy to be found in the experience. I find so much to be valued in all three.

June 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKierstin

Thanks for sharing your subterranean soul, Eric. I just got a chance to sit and enjoy this essay and I just had to say how much I've always appreciated your honesty -- whether through lyric or prose. Those voices ARE in each one of us. I struggle with them everyday, too, no matter how much I try not to complain on my Facebook status. :) I loved the metaphor of clearing out the garden of our minds. Lately, I keep coming back to Romans 12 and reading Proverbs over and over. The only way, it seems, to banish the voices, is to fill my mind with what is true and beautiful and right and good. Knowing we are not alone and that God rejoices over us with singing, that we are His and nothing, no vermin or foul thing can snatch us out of his hands. (Unlike our meager crop of two tomatoes in a pot on our porch that BOTH were eaten by some varmint just as they became ripe this week!) At least that can't happen to the fruit He bears in us...

July 2, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAllison

You know, when I first started reading this essay, my first thought was, "No, I don't think I have those voices."

It was the voices talking. They never want me to know their true identity.

Like you said, I've also "mistaken the voices as those emanating from heaven," and thought them to be beacons to truth-- the truth that I'm insignificant, incapable, and totally irrelevant, along with all the work I do. While in that lie there is a sliver of truth-- that I am nothing without Christ--because of His grace and the unfathomable price He paid for me, I find my new identity as a priceless instrument of grace.

Still, the voices echo and seek to chain me in hopelessness again. Thank you for staying true to your calling and writing a beautiful reminder that condemnation no longer shackles me. All the best in your pursuits, indoor and outdoor!

July 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJaclyn

Eric, those that God exalts, He breaks - only to heal (Psalm 51:8, Hosea 6:1-3, Col 1:24-29). Your depth of understanding of the intricacies of the inner turmoil of spiritual warfare and clarity in identifying the battle is uncommon. As all those that suffer deeply, you know the joy that accompanies such sorrow. Thanks for laying your soul bare, so that the Body may be drawn into a deeper fellowship of His sufferings with Him and with each other. You are making Christ fully known through your sufferings...Love you bud!

[24] Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, [25] of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, [26] the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. [27] To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. [28] Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. [29] For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.

July 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTom Murphy

i stumbled across this due to Kierstin Casella posting it on facebook...haha. It is a great writing. thank you...i feel less lonely in my inner dialogue today because of it.

August 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMandy Mann

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