Conversations With God

October 14, 2013 | 10 comments

I am always rather in awe of the spiritual lives of others, as they have been related to me. To hear some people tell it, they speak with God on a regular basis and are constantly being given direction on what they should do. God is quite busy in their lives, and they are extraordinarily open to receiving his consoling word. Here is a representative example of some of the reports I've heard (details merged, changed, and embellished to ensure anonymity):

God laid it on my heart that this job just wasn't right for me. He gently led me to understand that I was not using the talents he had entrusted me with so as to bring him greater glory and store up treasure in his kingdom. The transition has been difficult—my husband wishes I was home more, the children are having to take on greater responsibilities—but God has sent his angels to minister to me so that I may be strengthened in the path he has set for me.

Please understand that I do not intend to pass judgment on God's conversations with other people. If someone reports such a conversation with God, I do not doubt that person's word. God reveals his will to the human heart in the ways that the individual human person has the best chance to receive his message and act upon it. Even if there is some misunderstanding on the human end of the conversation, God honors the desire to do his will. 

I can only say that, in my case, God just doesn't talk to me like that. I would count myself fortunate for a divine slap upside the head and a snarling, "Hey! Pay attention!" but he doesn't talk to me like that, either. Much of the time, my prayers may as well be directed to the great stone faces on Mount Rushmore for all the personal interaction that goes on.

But we have to trust in faith that God does reveal himself to us, even those of us not favored with divine heart burdens and ministering angels. So, I got to thinking. How does God talk to me? I came up with a couple of possibilities, and I share them only in hopes that it may help others, struggling with what seems to be The Great Silence in their prayer lives, to discern the ways in which God talks to them.

God Speaks Through Dates

In the months before my father's death from an illness we had known for some time would be terminal, I found myself thinking it would be lovely that—when the time came—he might pass into eternity on a Carmelite feast day. I have an interest in Carmelite spirituality, a love for St. Therese of Lisieux, and my mother had passed away the previous December on the feast of St. John of the Cross. It did not look likely, though, since I could think of no upcoming Carmelite feasts, and it appeared that my father would die soon.

Dad died on April 2, 2005, within twenty minutes of Bl. John Paul II. Not only is John Paul II believed to have been a secular Carmelite, he wrote a doctoral thesis on the spirituality of St. John of the Cross. No, Dad did not die on an official Carmelite feast day, but he entered eternity with a spiritual father who will soon be canonized a saint—a saint with close ties to the Discalced Carmelite order. In this case, I didn't get exactly what I asked for, but it seems obvious in retrospect that God heard and answered the prayer.

Has something happened in your life that you just cannot make sense of? Perhaps an untimely death, or a sudden loss. I remember how awed I was the week of 9/11 when I realized it fell the same week in 2001 as the Triumph of the Cross and the beginning of the Jewish High Holy Days (a time of seeking forgiveness, extending mercy, and averting judgment). But we don't just need perspective on tragedies. The timing of a birth or stroke of good fortune also might be explained by a look at the liturgical calendar.

God Speaks Through Impulses

Have you noticed that lately there seems to be a lot more homeless people on street corners, begging for assistance? When I was growing up, I never noticed panhandlers in suburbia. They tended to stay downtown, near the municipal services and charitable organizations that serve the indigent in my hometown. Now they are everywhere, usually planted at street lights, hoping that the people in cars will have time to offer something.

I usually don't carry cash with me, so I haven't often had money to give. Sometimes I would remember to keep a few dollars handy in my car, and I would pass those out. I also know that many people keep granola bars, water bottles, and fast-food coupons on hand. Mostly though, I just offered a Hail Mary every time I spotted one and could not give anything. If nothing else, I thought, God might send someone else who had something to spare.

The other day it started raining in the afternoon, and I was caught at work without my jacket. But I had a spare jacket at the office, a nice, heavy, quilted one that had been offered free to a good home by a staff member. It was a man-sized jacket, but it would work for keeping dry. I pulled it on and raced to my car. Once in the car, the jacket was hot and bulky, so I pulled it off and tossed it in the backseat.

As I drove home, I stopped at a light and noticed a homeless person. He caught my eye, smiled, and pointed to the rainbow that was arcing overhead. (Yes, I realize how clichéd that must sound now, but I swear that is just what happened.) I smiled back, said a silent prayer. Then I noticed he was wearing a short-sleeved shirt and shorts. He wasn't shivering, but the rain had to be uncomfortable. Without really thinking about it, I rolled down my window and offered the jacket. Would he want it? He seemed startled, but replied that, yes, he could use it because he was not ready for winter. I handed him the jacket just as the light turned green.

In retrospect, I know that the impulse I had was unusual for me. I'm the kind of person who is extremely uncomfortable with strangers, and initiating a conversation (as distinguished from just handing out assistance) is not something I am often able to do. I can only conclude that the impulse and the grace to follow through was an answer to all those Hail Marys. I could have drawn back from the impulse, driven on, and I would not have sinned in doing so. But God answered my prayer by making it possible for me to do something bigger than I usually could have done.

Listening to God in Silence

These are ways I've found in my own life that are divine responses to prayer. I hope they will inspire you to consider the circumstances in your own life and discern the patterns in what could be passed off as random events. But there's one thing I'd ask of you. Unless you have serious reason to do so—such as my purpose here in encouraging others who are struggling with divine "silence"—please be discreet, for the most part, about your conversations with God. 

Talking about your conversations with God, especially in ways that imply that you and God have cozy chats over tea on a regular basis, can be discouraging for others who don't experience God's presence in their lives in the same way you do. Believe it or not, it is not encouraging to many people to hear how God leads you, ministers to your heart, and sends down his blessings on everything you choose to do. The cynics will roll their eyes at what they consider to be pious platitudes. And those suffering from divine "silence" will hear their own hearts crack with the disappointment at not being similarly favored.

Beware of practicing your piety before men in order to be seen by them; for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. . . . And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you (Matt. 6:1, 5–6).


Michelle Arnold is a staff apologist at Catholic Answers. You can contact her online through Facebook.
Finding God's Will For You
If your life seems to make no sense, or if you don't know which path to take, St. Francis de Sales will console and inform you. In Finding God's Will For You, he explains to you what God's will is and how He reveals it — yes, even to you, and even in the seemingly random events of your life.

Comments by Catholic.com Members

#1  Robert Martinez - Santa Fe, New Mexico

I find many times when I have done the things I know the Holy Spirit called me to (coming back to the Catholic Faith for one) but many times I've looked back and wondered if I ignored what I was given out out fear. Sometimes that fear is selfish (I don't want to do that, so...it can't be God) and sometimes that fear is clear (do not say anything...because I found that having knowledge isn't the same as knowing when and how to share) Usually this happens when a person I'm sharing with keeps talking and I end up not saying the Verse in the Bible or the the terse reply I thought of.

My prayer is to Know more clearly. I've heard others speak as though they know, but have found that knowledge to be mostly what they want to accept and I want my acceptance to be all God asks, not just what I think I can do, be, or see in me.

October 14, 2013 at 9:33 am PST
#2  Brian Kerzetski - Las Vegas, Nevada

Thank you so much for this. While I know God answers me in His own way, it is good to hear His divine "silence" is not unusual.

October 14, 2013 at 11:04 am PST
#3  Bonnie Custer - Portland, Oregon

Thank you, Michelle! I have never (that I know of) heard the Lord speak to me with my own two ears. There are just 2 or 3 instances when I had a profound and unexplainable experience of God's love for me. Mostly, I "hear" God speak through what I read and the homilies I hear. Reading the daily scripture readings and books like, Jesus of Nazareth (by His Holiness Benedict XVI) I notice that certain messages repeat themselves throughout the weeks and months. It happens so often now that I know it is not simple coincidence. My challenge then is to take the time to sit quietly and ponder these messages. Most recently, the powerful love of the Trinity manifested by the Incarnation of the Word repeats itself over and over again. It is often inexpressible in words, but it is there, presenting in everything from the sunny fall day to the smile of a friend. There have been "two-by-four" incidents in my life such as the October 15 years ago that my nephew died of leukemia on the 23rd and my brother-in-law was killed in a car accident on the 27th. Difficult though it was, God's loving presence was always near. No words. No visions. Just the inward knowing. Trust. Thank you again for confirming the quiet ways God communicates with us.

October 16, 2013 at 4:42 pm PST
#4  Marcos Garcia-Nunez - Temple City, California

Ever wonder why it is that at someone's passing that something "special" seems to occur? I met a nice person who once shared how her mother enjoyed viewing the flowers in her garden from her kitchen bay window. Her husband a week after her passing went and planted more flowers in their garden and then one day shortly thereafter a dove flew into the bay window leaving an imprint of its fluttered wings on the window itself...appearing as the Holy Spirit as we are accustomed to seeing in depictions of the white dove. This person believes it was tied to her mother in affirming or God allowing an affirmation of her well being.

On my father's passing, my brother was out to dinner with friends when the news reached him, but when he came home, his neighbor came over and told him he saw the strangest sight he had ever seen since living there...a whitish mist or cloud (it was dusk, near dark) hovered over my brother's home for a good amount of time...and seemed to vanish very subtly.

A week after my father's passing, I was sharing with my Mom how consoling it would be if God would allow a sign to let us know our loved ones have made it into His Presence...and I specifically mentioned that it would have to be something unique like a butterfly landing on your head or such. Three days later, my sister, Mom and I were strolling through a beach front shopping district and walking through an outside gift and plant store...and lo and behold as I walked behind my Mom....a butterfly lands of her head...she waved her hand over her head not knowing what it was...but what an exhilarating moment that turned out to be...when I shared with her just what happened. Certainly, in His loving kindness, God will speak to us in the most subtle ways. It does not always have to be in spoken words or voices!

October 16, 2013 at 11:21 pm PST
#5  Patricia Cooper - APO AE, Armed Forces Europe

Nice article, it made me smile. Perhaps we shouldn't mind if others are having all these wonderful discussions, and intimate conversations with God. I imagine he gives what is needed at that time, for some it is to enjoy His presence, for others to feel emptiness . I don't want an embarrassed silence from those who are graced with that closeness. I find it inspiring.
Your musings on the different ways God speaks is so true, even getting an amazing parking spot does it for me.

October 17, 2013 at 5:51 am PST
#6  Chris Patterson - Platte City, Missouri

Michelle,

Fun post! Well said, especially about the folks who seem to have an in depth conversation with Jesus every day, and don't hesitate to justify or elevate themselves, sharing "God told me so."

One question, though. Do you mean, "God doesn't talk to me like that," or "God HASN'T talked to me like that," or "I don't think He has, but..."? :)

God likes to reveal Himself to us, and does so in a ton of ways, as you attest. Sometimes we stand in the way of hearing Him because we don't think He will speak to our hearts, or because we think we would be too presumptuous to believe He would. Or, we may feel safer if God only speaks to us through dates or circumstances.

Of course, the goal is to KNOW Jesus, not to rack up supernatural conversations OR experiences - be they through His voice or through circumstances. God tends to communicate with each of us in ways that fit each of us. He is so gracious in that! Still, it's nice to hear His still small voice, and part of being open to hearing it is being open to the possibility that He may actually speak to each of us.

I'm sharing this because God revealed to me in a dream, by an angel, that I should do so. No, wait, I think it was more on an impulse (from the Lord? What I had for lunch?). Well, truth be known, I just wanted to get in on the fun!

October 18, 2013 at 2:09 pm PST
#7  Kay Comeaux - Rayne, Louisiana

I was really disappointed in reading this article. Have you even read the books that Catholic Answers sells? As an apologist about not to say? I don't know if you were having a bad day or what, but does anyone monitor this blog??? Talk about an UN-ENCOURAGING word! I want to say for anyone reading this article, do speak your testimony, I am not saying to brag, but if you are given the grace from God to hear him, encourage others. There are so many areas that Catholics are being put down, I was disturbed in seeing this. I will pray for you, although my current human nature is screaming to say more and say unpleasant things, I will refrain because I know it not to be Christian. I was about to subscribe to the magazine but I fear more articles from people who are not speaking for our Church!

October 19, 2013 at 10:59 pm PST
#8  Anyone Everyone - Yanbu, Al Madinah

In my opinion your blog is inclines more to wrong.

I believe (as long as you are acting in faith and truth) the effects of someone sharing closeness to God as to having a conversation is God's responsibility.

Some people do not what to hear anything about Jesus, some are actually offended by sharings regarding Him. However, that does not mean we are to stop proclaiming.

Paul wrote 1 Cor 15:1-11 stating that Jesus showed Himself to him. Did he considered "those [who] will hear their own hearts crack with the disappointment at not being similarly favored."

October 20, 2013 at 10:11 pm PST
#9  Chris Patterson - Platte City, Missouri

Michelle's main point was, "be discreet" about sharing your God-experiences with others. That's good advice. That doesn't mean that you never share those experiences (which Michelle sort of implied). Nor does it mean that you always share them. It means you take care that the PURPOSE of sharing is to deliver love, and to be wise enough to know if your purpose of love will be carried out in the hearer. It's fair to do a "heart-check" with God, to see if your motives are pure (or, at least, as pure as they can be), and that your story achieves the intended results.

Sharing a supernatural experience can be very uplifting and faith-building for some hearers. And other times, sharing those experiences can challenge hearers to open themselves up to this arena (even though hearing them may make them feel a bit uncomfortable). But for others, perhaps in a different place, hearing that same experience can actually be discouraging. If someone is going through a time of God-given aridity, for instance, it may not be so loving to share your amazing consolation from the Lord. Or, for those who haven't had those types of experiences, sharing may make them feel like "have nots."

So, perhaps the moral of the story is that we should think before sharing, asking ourselves and God, "Am I loving someone by sharing this, or am I straying into sharing for my own excitement, gratification, or pride?" Sharing based on excitement is understandable, and I think God gives us a "pass" for that one. Sharing for our own gratification is worse, and for our pride's sake is worse yet. Still, sharing for the sake of love is the only really pure motivation.

In 1 Cor 12 and 14, St. Paul describes spiritual gifts, and tells us that we should eagerly desire them. in 1 Cor 13, he tells us that love is way more important than gifts. It is not coincidence that chapters 12 and 14 sandwich chapter 13. I like to think of the three chapters as a "love sandwich." Chapters 12 and 14 (covering the gifts) are the bread of the sandwich. Chapter 13 (covering love) is the meat. Anyone knows that in the world of sandwiches, the bun is simply there to deliver the meat. We need gifts, but only to the extent that they can help us love.

Anyway, Michelle, thanks for helping us to think before we speak, and for reminding us to ask, "Am I sharing out of excitement, gratifition, pride -- or love!"

One last thing. I enjoy hearing testimonies, because I enjoy seeing the excitement on the faces of those who have experienced God in that way, and I enjoy Him being glorified! Upon reflection, I think that is why some were bothered by the article. "An exciting God-thing has happened in my life. How can I keep silent!" My response to that would be, "Share away! Praise God! But be aware of your hearer's situation, and be careful to love."

October 22, 2013 at 1:43 pm PST
#10  Stuart Miller - Independence, Missouri

When I read the opening statement, I think of the many people and groups (particularly among non-Catholic Christians, but also among some Catholics I know) who speak like this as a matter more of culture or training than of literally describing how things happened.

Call me one of the cynics she mentioned, but I don't think most of the people who talk that way actually even mean what they say literally. What they are really describing is their perception--or even more, their hope that they perceived--of some events that they are interpreting as being a certain message from God.

In my experience, there are whole congregations "trained" to talk this way--and, more dangerously, I think, trained to think that their own personal and often knee-jerk reactions or interpretations are "Divine Dictations."

In other words, I think most of those speaking in that matter are either using euphemism, or are really committing the sin of pride. They are validating their own thoughts and choices by claiming that they are coming from God. They think they are absolutely right because they are justifying their thoughts--and trying to add authority to them--by appealing to God.

I know people for whom this is almost definitely true. They claim their own desires for something to be a certain way were revealed to them by God--even though everyone else involved, upon whom they are imposing, have been carefully discerning and coming up with a much different answer.

Thus, just one of many examples of how it is very dangerous, I think, to talk like Miss Arnold describes. I think the greater danger in it is really that people delude themselves into justifying or validating their own actions, thoughts, and desires, usually with very little real attempt at discernment.

December 11, 2013 at 5:04 pm PST

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