“I’m Feeling Led…” and Other Crappy Excuses

I’m feeling led to…: A phrase Christians use explain their decisions, indicating that God has shown them a clear way, and they are simply following. Synonymous phrases include: “God told me to…” and “I’m feeling convicted to…”

I didn’t see it coming, and it shot through me like an arrow.

He’d written it by hand on notebook paper: a crumpled, five-page break-up letter he gave me in the church foyer. “I’m feeling led to end this relationship,” the letter said. “God is telling me to break up with you.” There was a shocking finality about these words that sent to my twin bed, sobbing.

At fourteen, I was ill-equipped to handle a breakup. But this one stripped me of the normal rites of heartbreak. How could I eat ice cream and rant? It wasn’t really the boy’s fault at all, and he’d made sure I understood it. It was God who made him do it, for some lofty purpose that neither of us could understand. He felt led; what could he do but follow?

Here is the subtle undercurrent of a statement like this: You are not good enough for me, and you are not good enough for God either. You are dangerous; you are like a bomb buried under the ground, waiting to detonate, and he is “leading me” around you.

He was seventeen, unaware, sure that Jesus was the answer, no matter what the question. He was trying not to hurt me, so he used these words, thinking this phrase was a kindness. An explanation. What it actually did was compound the whole thing. It was not just the boy who was rejecting me. It was God.

*

I have noticed it lately, creeping through Christian circles again. When one of the couples in our small group left a few years ago, they prefaced it with this: “We’re just feeling led…” and we nodded, of course. Go in peace. More recently, I’ve heard it used when choosing one good, important thing over another: “I just feel like God is telling me to go here…”

It is the perfect excuse. It is passive. It absolves us of the responsibility of our decisions, because they are not, after all, our decisions. They are God’s decisions. As an added bonus, it highlights how in-tune we are with God. We are just listening, just following, just doing what he asks.

It’s kind of slick. I’ve used it myself.

And of course, there is truth behind all of it. He is the Good Shepherd, we are told in Scripture. We are the sheep, it says, and he leads us to the good places, to the right places. We don’t know where we’re going, but we follow because we know him. We hear his voice, and it speaks to our deepest soul. So we go, though we don’t always know where.

The problem is not the following itself. It’s the way we say it: “I’m feeling led…” we say, like an excuse, like a trump card, like “end of discussion.”

But, of course, “led” is not a feeling. It’s a verb. It’s one foot in front of another. It’s that slow, purposeful walk toward the unknown.

Life is all about movement. We are always going, walking, leaving someone, meeting someone else.  Sometimes the direction we are “led” feels strange, and the leaving feels unkind. There is this drive to explain it away, to absolve ourselves, to point to the heavens and say, “This is His idea, not mine!”

As a community of believers, I’d like to see us stop all this nonsense.

To move in faith, yes, but to do it with grace. With kindness. With courage. Not God told me to break up with you, but rather, This is not working. I’m so sorry.

Not, I’m feeling led away from this church or this relationship or this event or this situation, but simply, I can’t stay. I’m sorry.

I am thinking of Jesus and his own nomadic ministry. In the Gospels, he is always on his way somewhere, leaving somewhere else. He is heading always, inevitably, toward Jerusalem and the cross. He is meeting, healing, touching. Leaving.

As far as I know, he never says it out loud as he walks away: “I’m feeling led, you guys. Sorry.” I’m guessing that people got it anyway. I’m guessing that purpose and people were never at odds in Him who perfectly embodied Love. That even as he moved forward, people understood that they were precious, wanted, beloved.

We move forward, move on, move into the unknown every day. Let’s learn to do it quietly, our hearts courageous and full of love.

  • http://shawnsmucker.com Shawn Smucker

    Great post, Addie. You’ve got me thinking about the nature of following God and how to communicate that in a way that opens up the conversation and expands communication.

    • http://www.spiritualglasses.me Jennifer Upton

      Addie, I agree completely with what Shawn commented hence the reason for my response being here. It is so true how when someone uses the terms you’ve written about that the conversation ends out of fear of questioning God. This causes a ponder in me, your writing always causes me to ponder. Love it!

      • Addie Zierman

        Thanks you guys. Yes, I love how Shawn said it too… “opening and expanding conversation” instead of ending it.

  • http://mostlyquestions.wordpress.com Bernard Shuford

    “The Spirit spoke to me….”

    Yeah, I hate stuff like this with a monstrous passion. Well, maybe that’s a lie. But I don’t like it.

    • Addie Zierman

      Monstrous, huh? :)

  • http://katieleigh.wordpress.com Katie @ cakes, tea and dreams

    Great post – so honest and real. (I’ve heard the “God told me” excuse waaay too many times.)

  • http://staceydaze.blogspot.com Stacey

    YES!! How can you argue “God is telling me”?? I fall into the habit still, but am working not to do so.

    • Addie Zierman

      I do too Stacey. It’s such an easy one to say without really thinking. If I’m going to use that one (and I believe there are times and places when it’s okay), I want it to be thought out and intentional and, above all, kind.

  • http://connectionsandconundrums.blogspot.com Laura

    “I feel led” is the trump card at every church committee meeting. Loved this post.

  • http://www.carisadel.com Caris Adel

    What a great way to think about it. More honesty, less christianese.

  • https://sites.google.com/site/holyhugs/covenant-friends Jim Fisher

    Wow this is good. And a great topic for discussion.

    How do we communicate to someone we love that we might have heard the Spirit whisper? We certainly don’t start with “God told me” or “The Spirit spoke to me” for to start there is to start from a position of arrogance. No matter how strongly we feel the Spirit move in our hearts, we must never start with certainty. We must start with empathy and humility dripping with awe.

    The one time I was deeply moved to speak to a friend, I went something like this:

    “Dear friend, I think I am being moved by the Spirit to tell you something. However, these words might just be from my own goofy brain or might be the result of too many jalapenos in my omelet this morning. I really don’t know. But you will. For if these words are from the Spirit, you will feel the fruit and the words themselves will take on life of their own. If not, I encourage you to let my words fall to the ground and turn to meaningless dust.”

    I then said three or four sentences that I don’t remember much about but it had something to do with God wanting her full attention for the next 40 days without the distractions of boyfriends and dating (clarification: I am married … she is a covenant friend to me so none of the message was about me or our relationship).

    In other words, I delivered the message in the gentlest, most humble way I could muster — in a way I would have wanted to hear it if it was a message for me.

    And now, eight years later, she recently shared with me that the message and her ensuing 40 days with her Lord completely changed her life. And the funny thing is that neither of can remember exactly what was said. But we both believe they were redemptive, creative words spoken directly into her heart. They truly did take on a life of their own.

    So I guess where I land is here: I want to affirm the work of the prophetic voice in our relationships while remaining perpetually aware that pride is the poison of a prophet. As soon as some famous preacher claims to know why a bridge fell or a tornado toppled a steeple or a tsunami hit Japan, I need to see the poisonous pride in those claims and allow the claims to die, fall meaningless into the past, and slowly turn to dust.

    But, hey! What do I know? I am just making this stuff up.

    • Addie Zierman

      Thanks for this excellent comment Jim. This line completely stopped me: “No matter how strongly we feel the Spirit move in our hearts, we must never start with certainty. We must start with empathy and humility dripping with awe.”

      I love how you lived this truth out in your relationship with your friend. The love was obvious, and the humility made the words that might otherwise seem audacious feel completely sincere. Thanks for giving such a beautiful alternative to the quick, thoughtless, excuse and a way to live into the truest potential of the phrase.

      • https://sites.google.com/site/holyhugs/covenant-friends Jim Fisher

        Thanks, Addie. I keep thinking that when the Spirit DOES speak through us, all parties involved should feel at least one of the fruit of the Spirit – peace, patience, love, and all that. In my experience, the Spirit has never spoken through me to hurt someone or make them feel uneasy. This “should” may not be exactly right, but it seems like a safe way for both the speaker and the hearer to discern the source and purity of the message being spoken. But like I said, I am still just making this stuff up.

    • Diane

      Jim, I am new to this blog and just read your response. Thank you for the gentle, caring manner that you present your response. It is really a good thing to hear and think about. I really appreciate the way you approach this and gives me some things to think about.

      • https://sites.google.com/site/holyhugs/refilling Jim Fisher

        Thank you, Diane. I pray the Spirit continue to speak through the white spaces between these words into both of our souls.

  • http://www.leighkramer.com HopefulLeigh

    This is such a tricky one. When someone throws the God card down, we can’t really argue. In fact, it plants a seed of doubt in my own mind. “Well, if God really did tell you this then who am I to argue? My intuition must be off.” But then again, maybe God really is leading them. It’s hard to separate out the very real ways God leads us from the Christianese. I catch myself slipping into this lingo but not as much in recent years. I’m learning to own my actions, even when I feel a clear impression from God to move in one direction. This is a timely reminder as I prepare to attend something I don’t want to go to but God clearly nudged me to go to. I didn’t have to pay attention to those nudges and in the end, I still chose to purchase the ticket and will physically go. God may be leading me but I’m the one who is actually doing it, no matter how I might feel about it.

    • Addie Zierman

      It’s SO hard to separate it out, Leigh. I want to honor the times when other people are “feeling led,” but there’s such subjectivity about it. I think of church committees and pastoral search teams…so many people “led” in different directions. It all feels so complicated.

      I love what you said though and that’s mostly what I was trying to get across here. Learning to “own it.” (What a perfect way to say it.) To walk confidently in it. There may be a time, in a quiet conversation with a person or two, to tell the story of the nudge, but it should never be the flippant answer, the simple excuse.

      Thanks for sharing here friend. :)

  • http://sharmeetsworld.blogspot.com Shar

    Yes! Baugh! I think about 85% of the time, the “God told me to” phrase is pulled out in regard to relationships. It’s never just the break-up, the it’s-not-working, the we’re-not-compatible; it’s the one thing that no one can bring themselves to say, so they make God say it for them. Woof.

    • Addie Zierman

      And so hurtful in a breakup. I have the bad feeling that in my high school days I have done it too…used God to break up with a boy. So. wrong.

      • Linds

        Perhaps we also confuse a guilty conscience with God’s voice. I think I battle with a guilty conscience about dating in particular due to my upbringing (a shame-based approach used to keep me out of sexual sin). When people are as young as the two of you were, it may be difficult to discern shame-based voices that sound, to an immature believer, as absolute as God. (Was he a pastor’s son?) Or perhaps through his later behavior you discerned that he just wanted to break up himself. I agree that either way, using God’s name is very harmful and seems to be a dangerous form of taking the Lord’s name in vain. Paul seems, even in Scripture, to point out places he felt it honored the Spirit to make a command, and pointing out where he was giving wise advice that wasn’t necessarily prescribed from the Lord across the board (1 Corinthians 7, I think). Even Paul! I like your exhortation to stop using these words. With a sensitive conscience like mine, I also need to add the truth in Scripture that God gives freedom and responsibility to believers to make good choices. Can anyone think of some good verses along these lines?

        • http://howtotalkevangelical.addiezierman.com/ Addie Zierman

          “When people are as young as the two of you were, it may be difficult to discern shame-based voices that sound, to an immature believer, as absolute as God.” — so wise. Yes. He wasn’t a pastor’s son, but he was a passionate, on-fire, aspiring missionary. So there was that. ;-)

          Even Paul! Hadn’t put that together until now. Thanks for pointing it out!

  • Mark Allman

    I have always distrusted the use of this language. It leaves no room for discussion; no room to back up and say maybe this is not where I should be or what I should be doing. Red flags fly up all around that person for me when they say anything along these lines. I feel it is an easy way to reject the responsibility we all have of making informed decisions that we are responsible for. If it does not work out then we are the ones to blame or we are the ones who must deal with it and try to go another way.

    I really think it is an immature way of dealing with life.

    I think I am responsible to obey God’s word and to love. I think God gives me tremendous freedom in deciding what I am going to do with my life. I am committed to making decisions timely and I trust that God is awesome enough if I am going in a direction he does not want he can handle that.

    • Addie Zierman

      Yes, Mark. Certainly there are times when the voice of God feels clear and simple, but other times it’s hard to hear. I think that this is where we need each other to help us figure out whether it’s really God’s voice we’re hearing or our own fears/doubts/hopes/expectations. It’s so easy for all of these voices to get muddled.

      Loved your last line: “I trust that God is awesome enough that if I’m going in a direction he does not want, he can handle that.”

  • Sally D

    Breaking up that way: bad. Immature. Needlessly messy. There’s worse though, and it goes something like: “I believe God has called us to be together. He has promised me a wife/husband, and you are It. Congratulations!”

    :-/

    • http://ear-sword-miracle.blogspot.com/ Miles O’Neal

      This is one of the reasons it is *crucial* we know who God is, who we are, and have a re;ationship where we can hear for ourselves. Otherwise we are at the mercy of charlatans, the foolish, the over-spiritual, and so on.

      Even if God tells me we are supposed to get married, and I don’t expect you to hear it for yourself, there is something very wrong with my relationship with God, with myself, and with you.

      Too often the “I feel led” phrase is a cop-out or manipulation. And ultimately, God want us to grow up and make a lot of te decisions on our own. That’s what growing up is about. I was so trapped in the “finding God’s perfect will” culture that the first time he made it clear a major decision was completely mine to make, that he trusted me with it, I had no clue what to do.

      We lead our little children everywhere. As they grow up, we hopefully teach them how to make decisions. When they blow it, we don’t punish them for a decision that isn’t perfect (I’m notr talking about evil decisions, etc.); we either help them out, or let them deal with the consequences, based on what we think is best for them. And we love them, and give them advice, and let them make another decision.

      Yes, God still guides us, but if every move you make requires you to be led (I don’t say “feel”, because that’s just nebulous) after you’ve been a Christian a few years, you’re ignoring the real leading– to grow up.

      • Addie Zierman

        My word, I’d forgotten a little about the (as you said it) “finding God’s perfect will” culture.” The halls of our Christian school rang with it. “Lord show me your will for my life!” Adding that one to the list…

        I too have had that experience where I am asking God to TELL ME FOR CRYING OUT LOUD, and he is silent, and it’s clear that it’s my choice: one way or the other. It can be paralyzing, waiting to “feel led.”

        What I want most of all is to live my life in a posture of listening, my heart turned toward him. As you said, I want to know who God is, so “feeling led” or not, I am following him.

        • https://sites.google.com/site/holyhugs/the-voice-of-the-lord Jim Fisher

          Oooo!! I can’t wait for that one, Addie. There is a great quote from Barbara Brown Taylor in When God is Silent that is perfect (and funny, of course). Click through my name for more.

        • http://ear-sword-miracle.blogspot.com/ Miles O’Neal

          Exactly!

          Another thing in this vein I hate is the “You must find THE person to marry!” Like God is going to give us one shot, and if we blow it (or if they blow it), we’re hosed. I have seen so many people waiting desperately for Mr. or Miss Right… ignoring people who loved them, because some little thing about them wasn’t right, or God hadn’t told them they were the one, or God had tole them who they’d marry and this person didn’t fit the bill.

    • Addie Zierman

      Oh no, Sally. I’m sensing a story here…and dying to hear it!

    • http://lovingfromtheinsideout.blogspot.com Connie

      Oh gross. :(

  • http://heatheragoodman.com Heather

    I’m in complete agreement.
    This type of language abrogates personal responsibility and disregards the idea of wisdom. And it’s an excuse to get our way. Yes, God does lead us through the Holy Spirit and through community (another area forgotten when we talk about God’s leading in the ways you mention), but he’s also given us a brain.

  • http://kimvanbrunt.com/honestly-adoption-the-blog Kim Van Brunt

    THANK YOU for this. I’ve written about how this language is all over the adoption world, and I’ve used it myself it’s so pervasive, but every time I do, it’s because I want the crazy idea to look like God’s, or I want my choices to have a more purposeful-looking reasoning. But this — this is the truth. I use it like an excuse, to get myself out of something, so that I don’t really have to own it. It’s really like shifting blame. You gave words (again) to my discomfort with this phrase and this whole idea. Really great stuff, friend.

    • Mark Allman

      You are right Kim, after someone has taken this approach and things do not work out who will they blame? Who else but God. Then that leads to disillusion.

    • Addie Zierman

      Yes, Kim. I’ve done this too. I love how you put it: ” I want the crazy idea to look like God’s, or I want my choices to have a more purposeful-looking reasoning.”

      I think that years of saying and hearing this phrase have taught to distrust my own decision-making skills. Certainly, I need to be in a posture of listening, of seeking, of openness to God, but there is also a point when I need to trust that whether or not I feel anything, he is there, directing my steps. I don’t need to stick that cliche on there to validate my movements. I just need to move.

  • http://www.judithhougen.blogspot.com Judy Hougen

    Spot on, Addie! This post brought back memories of my college days where this phrase was thrown around with regularity. I even had a friend who had a guy friend (they weren’t dating) actually say that God told him they were supposed to marry–guess God forgot to tell her! This is why we need community to help us listen to God and to rightly introspect as well as give us practices that help us to listen well. Otherwise, we will continue in this immaturity where we spiritualize our own will’s choices.

    • Addie Zierman

      This makes me think of Henri Nouwen. Which of his books is it that he talks about those retreats they go on to help people listen to the voice of God in community? Such a beautiful process, and it rings so true to me. I wish we were better at practicing this in the Church in general — more willing to take the time to help each other listen and follow.

  • http://www.judithhougen.blogspot.com Judy Hougen

    P.S. I like the image with the post. When I first saw it, I thought of the Donner party–which somehow seemed apt.

    • Addie Zierman

      Oh my gosh, I hadn’t even thought of that, but you’re right. Funny.

  • http://www.seeprestonblog.com Preston

    Someday, Addie, I’ll sit and tell you about the girl, the wrapped shoebox, and the “feeling led” Bible that was delivered back to me.

    Your talent, your amazing words; goodness, I am grateful for you.

    • Addie Zierman

      Can’t wait. And thank you, Preston. I’m grateful for you too. :)

  • http://www.drgtjustwondering.blogspot.com Diana Trautwein

    Oh yea and amen. This is crappy language – and sloppy thinking, too. It’s a way out that leaves the person using these words in a strange position of power, because as you noted, how can one argue with GOD? We had a couple come to our church and basically say something like this the whole time they were with us – and it wasn’t an easy time for either them or us: “We’re here because God told us to come here – certainly not because we want to be.” Can you imagine the air of superiority that comes with such a message? And it showed up in all kinds of insidious ways. They were gifted people – but they were completely oblivious to the impact that kind of thinking and talking truly has on people. Thanks for naming this. We need to be so humble when we think we have a call from the Lord – and cautious and careful, too.

    • https://sites.google.com/site/holyhugs/covenant-friends Jim Fisher

      Amen.

    • Addie Zierman

      That’s awful. Diana. And I can absolutely see how it could happen. There is an arrogance to this language when it is used flippantly, and not, as Jim said so beautifully in his comment above, “with empathy and humility dripping with awe.”

    • http://tchildschristianityblog.blogspot.co.uk/ Tim Childs

      Absolutely Diana. I believe I have a calling on my life from God, to live out my life as a Christian in every way I can. However, it never gives me a right to control or condemn or chivvy other people. Control is the word. If some people are Christians because they want to control others, they’ve missed the very real essence of Christianity, and Christ Himself, which is to serve; to serve others and not self. A whole world of ego can be wrapped up in ‘God told me’!

      • http://www.drgtjustwondering.blogspot.com Diana Trautwein

        Amen, Tim. Amen. Thanks for your response.

  • http://www.bethmorey.com Beth

    Great post. I’m sorry that God’s name was misused in this hurtful way to you. <3

    • Addie Zierman

      Thanks, Beth. The humbling thing is that in spite of how hurtful this was for me, I’m sure that I’ve turned around and done the same thing to others. How easy it is to be careless with God’s name. So in need of grace and mercy every day.

  • http://Simplelivinginc.net Judy Brower

    I just spent 3 days in prayer and fasting an actually did something I felt led to do. I’m glad I didn’t say so. Haha! I rarely do and I too hate it when others do. Oh man I so don’t want to ever be that person. I hope we get some comments from those who live by those words… What do they think? I love your heart and I hope to read more often an let God use your blog to keep my heart aware and growing. I never wanna stop!!!

    • http://www.simplelivinginc.net Neal Brower

      so God told me to tell you to tell me that God told you to tell me that God didn’t tell me. Ha! Love you wife of my youth!

    • Addie Zierman

      Thanks for the comment Judy. I think it’s okay to talk about it — it’s all about context and tone. Humility vs. arrogance. And I can’t imagine you being arrogant about your relationship with God. :) Love you.

  • Carlie

    Another good one is, “I’ve talked it over with my pastor [instead of you], and he’s shown me that I don’t need you for a girlfriend.” Followed a month later by the ex dating his pastor’s daughter. Which in hindsight did me a huge favor, but at the time many years ago, really? “I’m feeling led” to never set foot in that church. :P

    In general, I loathe the phrase, “I’m feeling led” for so many reasons that I just even can’t start.

    Thanks for posting.

    • Addie Zierman

      Oh no! What a story!

    • http://lovingfromtheinsideout.blogspot.com Connie

      Oh, what a horrible way for them to treat you. I’m so sorry that happened. That sucks. :-(

  • http://life-edited.blogspot.com Amanda [life. edited.]

    YES. A thousand times yes.
    Thank you for this – a reminder so full of truth and honesty. And so wonderfully written! I am glad to know you.

    • Addie Zierman

      Oh, thank you Amanda. I’m so glad to know you too. :)

  • http://www.somuchshoutingsomuchlaughter.com/ suzannah | the smitten word

    this language can be abused (like when a summer staffer shared during training that she felt God was calling her to back out of her contract), but i’m not sure every criticism is fair. sometimes we do feel that tug, and if the Holy Spirit is actually involved in our lives, can’t we testify–with humility–to that?

    it’s not always a cop-out or relational bomb. it can be the most sincere confession, and even, i’d dare to say, true. the feeling, at least. we can’t verify the God-claim (or expect to weigh it as such), but i feel like there must be a way to honor one another’s spiritual experiences without throwing anyone under the bus.

    • Addie Zierman

      I guess I think that there’s a time and a place. Spoken humbling within a small, close group of friends who know your heart? Yes. Spoken flippantly or arrogantly? No. Like all things, I think it most of all comes down to the posture of your heart toward God and others.

      This is the second time I’ve quoted Jim’s comment above, but it’s so spot on: “We certainly don’t start with “God told me” or “The Spirit spoke to me” for to start there is to start from a position of arrogance. No matter how strongly we feel the Spirit move in our hearts, we must never start with certainty. We must start with empathy and humility dripping with awe.”

      He gave a great example of a time he used this with a friend when he sincerely felt like God wanted him to say something to her. And because he began from this place of empathy and humility and wonder, she could receive it.

      Yes, I want us to celebrate the ways God is leading us; I want us to help one another discern when we may be mishearing, when it’s our own desires and fears getting in the way and distorting the voice of God. But I think this is one of those phrases that we have gotten SO CARELESS with. I think we need to think before we say it. What are we really trying to testify to? God? Or ourselves.

    • http://mostlyquestions.wordpress.com Bernard Shuford

      It’s not that we shouldn’t be led. We should. Addie’s not denying the leadership. The problem is that we assume that our understanding of the “Spirit speaking” is always perfect, when often we’re just hearing our own preferences loud and clear, rather than paying God any attention at all. We confuse our own thoughts with God’s voice, and then, because we think it’s God’s voice, we apply that authority to what we say to someone else.

      • http://www.somuchshoutingsomuchlaughter.com/ suzannah | the smitten word

        i guess i’ve never assumed that–about myself or anyone else. the role of community is to help one another discern, to test everything.

        i’d venture that this language is most often abused in hierarchical contexts–said by a pastor, boss, or christian boyfriend 3 years senior. if we’re already taught to take their word as law, then YES, it is playing with fire to introduce “God told me!” declaratives.

        but when we’re all on the same page, as equals, you don’t mediate God for me and i don’t for you. we push back and wrestle through it together, not assuming the other legitimately speaks for God…but not assuming that they are manipulating or lying, either.

        • Addie Zierman

          I think it’s wonderful that you have that kind of community, Suzannah. And yes, you’re right: in that context, there’s certainly nothing wrong with the phrase. My interactions with Christians have been a little more complicated, which makes me very skeptical of this phrase.

          I hope that I’m able to get to a point in my communities where my first response is not to doubt people’s motives but to hear the wonder of their experience.

  • http://communicatingacrossboundariesblog.com Marilyn Gardner

    I feel led to tell you how much I love this post – :) Joking aside, you nailed it “After much prayer God has led us to believe you are not the right choice for the job…” is another one. It’s manipulation through “God” talk and so hard to argue with as you beautifully state. You are much younger than I and so much more gracious than I was at your age with your words and heart – I feel proud to read your blog and look forward to watching how your words are used.

    • Addie Zierman

      Thanks Marilyn. That’s very kind.

  • http://www.dialogueventure.com John Backman

    My college girlfriend received a long letter from a mutual friend of ours, explaining God’s “vision” that they should be married. After much anguish and prayer, she decided to disregard it. Next month, she and I will have been wed for 32 unforgettable years. I am SO grateful that she disobeyed God. ; )

    I tend to hold the idea of God’s will with a certain amount of mystery and awe. I’m so imperfect, and I hear so imperfectly, that proceeding with uncertainty just makes more sense to me. Whenever I talk about leading, I use the phrase “divine nudge” in an effort to convey this sense of ambiguity. Even better is Paul’s phrase in Philippians–”work out your salvation with fear and trembling”– which for me captures the idea perfectly.

    • Addie Zierman

      I love the “divine nudge.” Thanks John.

  • http://www.isaacjamesbaker.blogspot.com Isaac James Baker

    Hey Addie! Great to see all the comments on your blog! As a skeptic, whenever I hear someone say that God has called them, told them, instructued them [insert other verb], I get a bit worried. Using this excuse in a relationship is nothing more than a cop-out, and I think anyone who would use such excuses is probably not fit to be in a relationship anyway. If anyone, regardless of their religion, cannot stand up and hold themselves responsible for their own actions, they’ve got problems. Great post!

    • Addie Zierman

      Ha. Thanks, Isaac. Yes, it turns out that I’m not the only one with a little evangelical baggage. ;-) And, I agree, the comment bugs me across the board, but it feels most offensive when used as an excuse to end a relationship. Come on now.

  • Jeff Ostrom

    Quick tale of How Jeff Learned This Kind of Thing Was CRAP:

    We were sitting in the sound booth at my church (since I was running the sound). My friend Dawn, who I’d met on a youth retreat in the cities, had come up to visit her Mora friends — especially her boyfriend Paul. They had met on the same retreat and made a connection. I’d had a posse of retreat people over the night before, and most everyone just crashed on the floor, including myself, Dawn, and Paul’s best friend Ethan. Being staunch Catholics, however, Paul’s parents weren’t about to let him spend the night at someone else’s house — especially with a (gasp) GIRL there…!

    So we’re sitting there, and about halfway through the sermon, Dawn lets out a loud sigh and says “I think God is telling me to break it off with Paul…” I looked at her for a moment, turned away, looked back and said, “Are you sure that was God and not the fact that you spent half the night with Ethan’s tongue in your mouth?”

    • http://mostlyquestions.wordpress.com Bernard Shuford

      Classic!

      • http://www.judithhougen.blogspot.com Judy Hougen

        Jeff, you clearly need to jump in more often.

        • Carra

          Agreed!

          • Addie Zierman

            Double agreed. Great story.

  • Annie

    Wonderful post, Addie, as always. Reading your blog always makes me miss you more. Someday we’ll have coffee while our kids play together-I’m just sure of it. <3 you lots!

  • http://tchildschristianityblog.blogspot.co.uk/ Tim Childs

    Sometimes, even those who are in tune with God, can confuse their own ego or their own something-or-other, for the voice of God. And there’s no arguing against ‘God told me’ is there?! It’s all very nice and we have to be aware of spiritual pride, the ‘holier-than-thou’ attitude that can affect anyone of us, no matter how godly we may think we are.

    Sometimes, we have to stand back from it all, and just be honest; is it God or is it us, or is it wishful thinking of some kind. I’m certain as a Christian that God has spoke to me, in His own way, but it’s always about me and not other people. If God has something to say to you, it will come to you, one way or the other.

  • http://ecclesiaextraneus.wordpress.com Matt

    Just kind of a perspective from the other side of this post, I have tried all of the “I’m sorry, this just isn’t working” and “I can’t stay.” People argue with those left and right. And won’t let it go. They only seem to be satisfied when you pull out the “I feel led” trump card. I would stop using it if I could get anywhere in the Christian community without it. But I have also been accused of having “wrong motives” for giving to the poor just because I didn’t include the “I feel led” part. And this came from a co-leader who had complained about a girl breaking up with him because “she felt led.”

    I think people will stop using it once we stop forcing them to “prove” their spirituality or connection with God or whatever by including as a “proof statement” for anything they say that we don’t like.

    • http://tchildschristianityblog.blogspot.co.uk/ Tim Childs

      ‘I think people will stop using it once we stop forcing them to “prove” their spirituality or connection with God or whatever by including as a “proof statement” for anything they say that we don’t like.’ That’s the problem really isn’t it Matt; proving or disproving a relationship with God just sin’t really possible, not in a snap-decision anyway. I think we will know someone has a relationship with God when they are kind, peaceful, gentle, considerate of others, not arrogant, not proud but genuinely humble. I try to be like all these things, but I trip up all the time. On my best days, I may appear a good Christian… on my worst days, I can be a pain in the a**e!!!

    • Addie Zierman

      Matt, this makes total sense to me. I, too, feel like we do this in a lot of places: this forcing one another to “prove” their relationship with God by doing specific things and using certain words and phrases. It makes me sad, and I don’t know how to change it. Except by refusing to play that game. I want to be the kind of person who is glad and confident in where I’m at; the kind of person who’s so sure of who I am in Christ that I don’t need to prove a thing to anyone. Thanks for this insight.

  • Jerry Hodge

    #1 break up line at Baylor and it’s heartbreaking. It’s one of the scenarios it’s hardest to be honest but it’s one where honesty is most necessary. Thanks for weighing in on it!

    • Addie Zierman

      #1 breakup line at ANY Christian college, I’d say. Bleh.

  • Handsfull

    Agree with the overuse of this line… the funny thing is that whenever I’ve said that, I’ve always felt slightly embaresed… and then felt guilty because I wasn’t saying it with power and authority! Lol!

  • Jennifer

    I’m rereading this post and the comments, and wow is it resonating. I too can point to important moments in my life where I was waiting for guidance and God was silent… I don’t think I have anything too insightful to add to what’s been said, but I did want to let you know the power of this discussion carries over time. Thank you.

    • https://sites.google.com/site/holyhugs/the-voice-of-the-lord Jim Fisher

      (Stealing an image from Barbara Brown Taylor) God’s silence and His divine game of hide-and-seek is intended to draw us closer into an intimate relationship. When and if we actually discover God’s hiding place and we respond with “I FOUND GOD AND THIS IS WHAT HE SAID I SHOULD SAY” we are not getting the point of the game. The point is that we should take off our sandals (for this is holy ground), drop to our knees, and bow in reverence and awe of the burning bush before us … and come to know that the fire that burns but does not consume has taken up residence within us.

      • Addie Zierman

        Love that Jim. Thanks for sharing.

  • http://vickwong.wordpress.com Vicky Wong

    You’re killing meeeeee ladfiojfldifhalweuhfluei. (In the best possible way)

    I always wondered why that phrase made me vomit in my mouth a little. I could never appropriate that reaction though. Thanks.

    • Addie Zierman

      Haha. Love it. Thanks Vicky.

  • Judy Swords

    Ok, I’m a little late to the game, just found this post….but I am jumping around goin’ wooo-hooo, preach it, sister! My youngest daughter’s first real love did this to her at age 16, and still, at 21, after many more boyfriends, I think she really guards her heart and doesn’t let them in completely. I just wanted to pull a mama bear at the time and obliterate the kid, but restraint kicked in. This phrase just makes my skin crawl whenever I hear it, in conversations, meetings, it’s like, how are we supposed to argue with God? It just seems so pretentious or something. Glad to know there are kindred spirits out there thinking similar thoughts.

    • Addie Zierman

      Thanks so much for sharing Judy. I can so relate to your daughter. It’s so hard when it’s your first real love (it was mine too.) To this day, it’s one of my least favorites of God-speaky phrases. *shiver*

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  • Krysti

    Hello all. Just wanted to note that Jesus taught us not to judge others, this would include the words they say- because the person who spoke them alone will be held accountable for those words. If they are in fact lying about an encounter with God, via Holy Spirit, then trust His Word, He will handle it. He knows their heart, and He also knows ours when we’re sinfully analyzing another’s motives. The only exception to this would be in the event someone says they’re being led in a direction that contradicts the perfect Word of God, the Bible. We should take care to not slip into using or desiring to hear worldly explanations in substitution for truth- divine, not-of-this-world encounters (conversation: led/told by God Himself). God will and wants to lead us in every big and small step of our lives, even if the direction doesn’t make sense to us – we just have to let Him.

  • Julie

    I’m new here and just catching up on your blog. I came over from A Deeper Story. I too have been in a cyncial place over the last few years. My faith has been torn apart and slowly rebuilt.

    During the past few years I’ve purposefully stopped saying “I feel led…” When we left the church that we were attending for 14 years the pastor asked us if we felt led by God to leave. And that was one of the first times that I boldly said no. This is me leaving, not God telling me to. That was the first of many times that I’ve had christians question me about my decisions. Because of course if you feel led by God then it’s ok to stop going to a Bible Study that is heavy on filling in the blanks and light on real connection with God. If you’re leaving because going to the study and hearing all the christianese spoken in trite ways just rubs you the wrong way well then that’s just plain WRONG.

  • William Mathis

    AWESOME POST! I would also add that its often a cop out. A way we can make the decision with out being able to be held to account for its consequences. A way we can put the burden on God for what WE are doing. I know I am guilty of this, and I do not want to be any more!

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  • Kat Brown

    This is a *cracking* post. I don’t attend an evangelical church in England, and I don’t hear phrases like these – yet, anyway – but I completely hear the ethos behind breaking up these excuses. Much better to see things with clear eyes. A lovely blog, and I really look forward to reading more of it!

    • http://howtotalkevangelical.addiezierman.com/ Addie Zierman

      Thanks so much Kat!

  • AWu

    Not saying it wasn’t a cop out of the boys part, but why are you assuming that it would be god rejecting you if he said, “This isn’t the person I had planned for you to be with.” Couldn’t it just mean: “I have other partners waiting for you later on when you are ready to meet them.”?

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  • Dennis

    I lost my faith to Christ after my lovely gf broke up with me. She said that God told her to end the relationship. I have nothing I can do because God told her to…I remind the hurting all time when I read the bible and go to church. I think staying away from god is the only way to let the pain go. Now, I am no longer to be a christian. I don’t know how to rebuild my faith to Christ. My heart is broken.

    • http://howtotalkevangelical.addiezierman.com/ Addie Zierman

      So sorry this happened to you Dennis. I know the ache of this kind of breakup. I hope that you can find a way to slowly rebuild your faith in the wake of this.

  • Rshy

    I can identify with this. When I had feelings for this one girl and she found out that I did, she led me on and then all of a sudden, she didn’t want to like me. She tried a bunch of underhanded tactics and then when those wouldn’t work she told me, “I don’t think God wants us to date.” I confronted her and said, “I think you just don’t want to date me,” to which she just ignored me. Of course, when she found a boy she was truly interested in; would you believe me that God never came up once. How Ironic.

    I also know someone else who’ve just recently started this up as well. We were really great friends and he was at an event for a very long time and he was suppose to come and see me as well as come back to where I am located, but then he told me, “You know what? I think I’m going to stay down here and get a job because “God wants me here,” I asked him, “How do you know?” His response: “I just know.” This wouldn’t be the first time he’s said something like this. He ended up quitting going to the Church I used to go to because he says, “I’m being led to be a pastor at this other Church,” I think he did it because he wanted to. I also think he’s doing the other thing he wants to because he’s got a girlfriend and he needs to stay with her. Gosh, that makes me mad.