Honor Your Inner Wisdom - Especially When Someone Tells You to Ignore It
I maintain a pretty active social media presence. As a spiritual director who works primarily with younger people, this is an important part of how I am being in the world. I share things which reflect the values I find to be important: beauty, empathy, love, contemplative presence. I also engage in conversations with people across the political, social and religious spectrum, working to bring these same values to those who might not experience them in their daily life or churches.
Approaching conversations, on social media and in person, from a contemplative stance means that sometimes phrases or thoughts push themselves to the forefront, just as they do in spiritual direction sessions. The past few months, one of those phrases has asserted itself frequently, surfacing over and over in a wide variety of conversations.
"It doesn't matter how you feel about it."
This assertion usually comes right before some variation of "the Bible says", or "the law/consititution says", and is used to defend a position that might otherwise be indefensible for someone who claims to be a caring, moral person.
"It doesn't matter how you feel about it; we have immigration laws for a reason."
"It doesn't matter how you feel about it; the Bible says homosexuality is an abomination."
"It doesn't matter how you feel about it; that black man was selling drugs before the cop chased him down, shot and killed him."
I spent decades of my life carefully practicing my Christianity in the hope that at some point my feelings would come into line with the beliefs I understood to be true. I wonder how different my life might have been if anyone had ever put this idea in other words; words which were more direct, more honest.
If, instead of "It doesn't matter how you feel about it..." they had said something like: your intrinsic moral sense has no value. Or maybe, your conscience is wrong. The Holy Spirit won't speak to you. You are incapable of knowing right from wrong; you need us to tell you. None of my teachers or youth leaders would have told me that directly. Maybe they didn't even think they believed it. And yet, when they quoted Jeremiah 17:9 to me ("The heart is deceitful above all things...") and told me I had to "live the truth" no matter how bad it might feel in the moment, that's what they meant.
If you've never spent years of your life rigorously complying to a moral code that requires that you do and believe things that make every fiber of your being ache or which requires you to fall back on an intricately practiced theological framework in order to not hate yourself for what you're doing and saying, then I don't know if I can make you understand how trapped it makes you feel. How hopeless. The devastation is all-consuming.
I'm not certain of the exact moment when I learned to believe that if Spirit lives in me, if I have been given a rational mind and a feeling heart, then how I feel does matter. Call it intuition, or wisdom, or just knowing, but when a doctrinal or political position sets off all your internal alarm bells, you need to listen. You have the right to listen.
You have permission to listen to your internal knowledge. This belief is one of the foundational reasons I practice spiritual direction. My own directors have to remind me of this truth less often than they used to, but sometimes all I need out of a session is to speak my wisdom out loud, and have someone look at me steadily and say "You don't need me to tell you that's true. You know it. You can feel it. Trust your own knowledge." That affirmation is a gift I am privileged to give the directees I sit with, many of whom come from church histories similar to my own, and it is a permission I wish I could give to everyone in my life and on the distant shores of internet-land.
You know what you need to know. The answers are already within you. You are allowed to listen to yourself. NO one gets to tell you that your own inner knowledge doesn't count. It's what counts the most.
Tessi Muskrat Rickabaugh is a graduate of Shalem Institute’s spiritual guidance program and an interpreter for the deaf. A child of the Ozarks, she makes her home in Fulton, Missouri, USA, where she offers spiritual direction in person and online in English and ASL (for deaf seekers). A Native woman of Cherokee and Irish descent, Tessi engages her heritage as a member of the Long Hair Clan by curating The Barefoot Journey, an online community of people who foster peace and openness toward self and others through engaging the raw beauty of story. She leads monthly women's circles (Sister Circles) and facilitates spiritual direction groups.Find her writing at TheBarefootAuthor.com.