Whose Voice Are You Listening to?
August 10, 2008
Frank Picone, Lay Speaker
Montgomery United Methodist Church
I am the light of the world. If you follow me you won’t have to walk in darkness because you will have the light that leads to life.
My name is Frank Picone, and I have been blessed to be a member of this church for a little over 4 years. My journey to preaching this sermon at Montgomery United Methodist Church began with playing softball.
I love softball. And softball is how I came to be a member of MUMC
David Lawrence and I worked together and he invited me to play on his church’s softball team. I enjoyed the fellowship with the men on the team (even though we were really terrible, we had fun). I was not going to church at the time so he invited me to come and sit with him and his family and I took him up on it. It is very hard to come to a church alone as I do often, unless you feel the warmth and welcome feeling I have had here. Well, I saw a flier for a lay speaking course and thought about it and it felt right. I took the course. Then, with much encouragement from Arlene Bougher, I agreed to do a sermon and here I am.
The title of my sermon today is:
“Whose voice are you listening to?”
For as long as I remember I have heard peoples voices guiding me, supporting me, rewarding me, scolding me and sometimes I replay these voices in my head. Now I work in the mental health field and I know that that statement I just made about hearing voices could get me hospitalized for observation. No, I am not talking about those kinds of voices. I am talking about all of the voices or internal dialogue that plays in our thoughts that bounce around in our minds when we are reflecting on something important or trying to make a difficult decision. In my earlier memories this internal dialogue was very simplistic. It was the devil and angel on my shoulders. I’m 11 and my friends and I are on a mission to shoplift some candy at the local convenience store. The angel whispers “Don’t do it Frank. It is a sin to steal” and then the devil whispers, “It tastes good. They won’t miss it. It tastes good.” Then the angel would take out the big guns in trying to win me over. “What would your mother think if she knew you were doing this?” The devil would match it with “Your friends will think you are a wimp if you chicken out. Are you a wimp or a man?” This would go on. Sometimes the devil or angel person would bring in guest presenters to make a point or two for their cause. My mom might drop in with “Shoplift!!!! My Frankie? He would never break his mother’s heart by shoplifting”
Our earthly journey from birth to death includes events and experiences that span a wide range of emotions from despair and loneliness to love and joy.
In my life, as I am sure in many of yours, I have tried to make decisions and choices that maximize all the joyful stuff and minimize the lousy stuff. I have realized I have way less control than I would like. There is randomness and unfairness that is quite devastating to those of us who like to think that “tragedy happens to other people not me.” How are we to maneuver through these events and emotions? What is the right path for us to take? Well, I formed a theory and that theory is this:
God has a clear plan for how to live our lives with maximum joy, love and positive impact on the world. “Let go and let God.”
He is with us as we try to make choices throughout life.
He is guiding us in so many ways but,
Are we open to the guidance?
Can we hear God’s voice when he is telling us how to live by his guiding principles?
Often, I am not open to God because I think I can do it alone, or because doing what I know is God’s will is too hard or scary.
As I reflect on the positive and negative things that have happened in my life, I have noticed that each time something really bad happened, an internal dialogue in my head begins with
Why is this happening to me?
Lord, take this cross off my shoulder.
I began to realize there were other ways to view an event and its meaning in my life. I discovered better questions to ask and prayers to pray.
Lord how do I use this time of suffering to discover what parts of me I should discard and which I should develop to gain a better understanding of your will for me?
Help me to hear your voice and your guidance through this pain.
Lord, help me to find and accept the strength I will need to endure this and hear your voice.
“I am the light of the world.
If you follow me you won’t have to walk in darkness
because you will have the light that leads to life.”
Are we open to that guidance? I want to share something that happened in my life just prior to joining this church.
I was the director of a large department in a hospital. It wasn’t always large. When I first arrived, this department was about to be axed for poor performance. When I started they told me the department I was running was losing a lot of money and would be closed if I could not turn it around in 6 months. I did turn it around, and in 9 years we grew from a small stumbling program serving 12 kids to a large well-respected facility serving 62 youth. I did not do it alone. I recruited a core leadership team one by one and brought in the most talented and dedicated professionals I could find. Together we built a great team and they were loyal to me and I was loyal to them. Through the years I fought to enhance their salaries and benefits. I fought to keep all of their jobs when cuts had to be made. Our team was tight and there was nothing my team would not do for me. Almost nothing!
One day I was having a tense discussion with my boss about how important it was for the department to do this or that. She gave me an answer I did not like. One thing led to another and the following Monday I was fired and escorted off campus. Needless to say, I was devastated. As I was driving home that day I asked God, “OK, after 9 years I am gone and have to look for another job. Lord, help me use this time of suffering to discover what parts of me I should discard and which I should develop to gain a better understanding of your will for me. Help me to hear your voice and what it is telling me through this pain.”
The message I received was this, “You were really unhappy there. You know it and I know it. Your heart has not been in this for the past 3 years. You knew what you were doing making public your disagreement. You knew what that would lead to. Now keep your eyes open because great things await you, things that will bring you more in line with the plan.”
Well, that helped, and there was also the fact that I was looking forward to the great goodbye party my loyal team would undoubtedly throw for me to give me the recognition I deserved for all I that accomplished at this place. I went home, re-wrote my resume, and waited for the calls. No calls the first night, or the next week, none for three weeks. I was stunned. Not one call from anyone. Not by the assistant director, not my clinical director, no one. I thought losing the job was bad, but the desertion of my team broke my heart. After all that I had done for them to not even care to call or write or care how I was.
There were a lot of voices in my head after that. I didn’t even look for God’s voice; I was so hurt and angry. The voices I listened to were saying things like “Live and learn, you can’t trust anyone at work. Everyone is out for themselves. Remember that the next job you get and do not let people in because when it comes to their job or you, the money part of that equation will win out.” Those thoughts led to more hostile thoughts. I was in a bad place. I then started coming here to this church and requested to meet with Pastor Tony to share this painful experience and get his counsel. He was very empathetic to it all. He asked me if I “considered forgiving them because they were young, and scared of losing their jobs if they were to connect with me.” I looked at him like he had two heads. He then smiled and said, “You know, Frank, you are in good company. Our Lord Jesus had an administrative team that bailed on him in his hour of need.”
Something clicked at this point, and later I reached out to God saying, “OK, I didn’t ask for your input on this betrayal thing so you helped me get to Pastor Tony and this good church to figure out that people not living up to your expectations, and choosing safety over you, does not mean they didn’t care about you or feel loyal to you. It was just that they were weak and chose security over you.” Can you really blame them? Forgive them and accept that we are all flawed.” I thought God was done but then for some reason a few things popped into my mind about the event. The first was the fact that the nurse in the program who already was a dear friend, quit (against my vehement protests) out of loyalty to me, and I did get a call after a couple of weeks from David Lawrence and a guy from maintenance. Some people came through. Some people had the courage. Friends in times of trouble are very precious. Be thankful!
What I take from this is the following:
God is our Father and He does know best. Like our children we don’t listen sometimes. We even rebel sometimes, but true happiness is we that we know and love our heavenly father.
It is His voice we should look for when life is challenging or just doesn’t feel right.
Sometimes it is hard to know his voice amongst our own thoughts and influential people in our lives. So here are some tips:
Read the bible, come to church- It will help you to get a sense of what God stands for, and I promise the more you study and reflect upon God’s word, the more you will recognize his voice
Do God’s Work. Give of your time, talent, and treasure to help less fortunate people. “Whatsoever you do to the least of my brethren, that you do unto me,” Doing God’s work refreshes your soul and clarifies God’s plan for you
Find ways to limit the distracting voices and influences. For me being in nature calms my mind and I can hear God better.
Be open to his guidance through a variety of means.
Know that your truest happiness is the byproduct of reaching out for and receiving God’s guidance, and living according to that guidance.
My prayer for all of us is that we are
open to hearing God’s voice as we struggle to find our way in this world,
bold enough to follow where he leads,
faithful enough to trust in God’s love through difficult times.
Thank you for listening, and may God bless you all.
© 2008 Frank Picone