Woman covering ears

How to Quiet the Voices in Our Heads

Written by Amy Isham, Australia

Amy Isham is a librarian with a PhD in Leadership and has taught undergraduate social science. Amy works at City Bible Forum as their Marketing and Content Manager, and co-hosts CBF’s Deeper Questions podcast. She is married to Pastor Luke Isham at St Kilda Presbyterian Church, and has two beautiful kids, Evangeline and Solomon. 


“I should get up and do my laundry,” I think, as I watch a K-drama.

“I should get my steps above 6,000.”

“I should unsubscribe from that streaming platform I am no longer using.” 

“I should go to bed earlier. I should wake up earlier.”

These are just some of the milder “shoulds” that pass through my head on any given day. As I was writing this, an AppleTV notification popped up on my laptop, reminding me that the movie I rented had expired. 

I seem to live in a state of “want” too. I want more time. I want more energy. I want to wake up and exercise, rather than blearily reach for my phone and assault my senses with the dumpster fire that is Twitter.

The world we live in is full of nudges, reminders, and “shoulds”. Our friends want to see us, our passport is expiring, we need to see the doctor. Our floor needs cleaning, there are no eggs left in the house. We are eligible for a discount from the local giant supermarket, says our email, peddling us wares we don’t necessarily need.

There seems to be no time for silence, but even when there is, our thoughts fill it with worries, with memories, with things we forgot to do.  


Uncovering an old treasure 

Over the Easter break, my family and I cleaned out the garage, discarding old camping gear, kids’ school reports from five years ago, and Christmas cards from even earlier. In one of the boxes, I found something wonderful—a copy of The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, by the late Puritan pastor Jeremiah Burroughs (1600-1646). 

In the days before phones, I carried this book everywhere I went in my handbag. I read it on buses, trains or while waiting for friends at cafes.

The book’s power had not faded in the 15 years since I last opened it. It was just as I remembered, a “box of precious ointment, very comforting and useful for troubled hearts, in troubled times and conditions” (a quote from the book’s introductory page).

Burroughs reminded me of three ways to quiet the voices that compete for my bandwidth:

1. Relish the fullness of God

Rather than expecting a natural desire in us to relish God’s fullness, Burroughs knows we are battling with the opposite response, and that’s being consumed with a sense of not having enough; of not doing or even “being” enough. We can so easily get caught up in the “shoulds”, the “must have” and “must do”, that we lose sight of the great riches of God’s grace to us.

To help us quiet these anxious voices in our heads, Burroughs encourages us to consider these things:

Consider: the greatness of the things we have and the [smallness] of the things we lack.

Ephesians 1:1-4 says that we have every spiritual blessing in Christ: 1) being chosen to be holy and blameless, 2) adoption as God’s children, 3) our redemption and forgiveness, and finally, d) the knowledge of His will. 

Thinking about the spiritual realm is a great comfort when we are faced with having to change jobs, find a new flat, or find a medical specialist for ourselves or a family member. It reminds us that these earthly troubles are temporary and we have eternal blessings. 

Consider: that God is before us with His mercies.

My son often asks me to pray that he has a “good day”. When I pray for his day, I also pray that he will have eyes to see the good things God gives him amidst difficulties. For him, a maths test is a bad day, but a maths test given by a teacher who cares that he succeeds in life is a good thing. 

In the same way, a late train, a virus, or change at work can be for our good in ways we may not immediately see, but all come from the hand of a merciful God.

Consider: that others have suffered before us and are yet servants of God.

There are Christians across the world who have suffered—are suffering—terrible difficulties, yet God sustains and holds them. This humbling thought can make our lighter troubles feel less devastating.

Taking time to meditate on the fullness of God—as seen in all the ways He meets our needs—can lift us above our feelings of inadequacy, anxieties, and fears. The more we keep our eyes (and minds) on God and His mercies, the less room we’ll have to dwell on the nagging worries of daily life. 


2. Contentment can be learned (practised)

The beauty of contentment is that it’s something we can “learn”, as the Apostle Paul describes in Philippians 4:11-12: “I have learned, in whatsoever state I am in … to be content”. 

Paul sometimes had everything he needed and sometimes, well, he really didn’t. There were likely great times when he enjoyed safety and relative wealth, and (many) other times when he suffered immensely. 

Yet he doesn’t claim that he didn’t notice the difference. He just knows that his “heart is fully satisfied” in either state. 

I remember years ago, when I tried to explain the contentment I had developed and someone remarked that I was naturally content, I laughed uproariously, because I had so many worries and intense emotions. I remember being really excited about starting a new course of study, only to feel depressed when I saw someone had finished theirs. I’d be perfectly happy with my holiday at home until I see a friend on social media who is on an overseas trip.

But by God’s grace, these wants and worries have become quieter than before. Contentment was something I had to remind myself to practise, to stop myself from getting overwhelmed. 

I cultivated contentment by reading a paragraph from Burroughs’s book whenever I missed the train, or that time when I injured myself and had to lie down. When I was filled with a desire for a different job, I reminded myself of the blessings I had at my current job. When I was single and longed to find someone, I reminded myself that I have God’s love that will outlast any earthly love.

We can learn contentment without suppressing our “wants”. And we can start right where we are—to hold them out to God and not let ourselves drown in them, and to seek delight and satisfaction in Jesus. 


3. Let our dissatisfactions point us to God 

Here is another secret of contentment, according to Burroughs: “The Christian is the most contented [person] in the world and yet [they] are the most unsatisfied [person] in the world.”

We’re “naturally” insatiable creatures. We eat a meal, and we are hungry again hours later. We have our hearts lifted by a friend but the high fades the next day when we see our bills. Even when we get to do a serious streaming binge, we still turn it off feeling somewhat unsatisfied.

Even if we were wealthy enough to buy all the pleasures and treasures we could want and healthy enough to enjoy them, we still wouldn’t be satisfied (Ecclesiastes 2:1-11), because our souls are designed to be satisfied in God. Only He can fulfil us. 

This is why we still feel somewhat shortchanged by the dream job or by finally meeting a person we can love (I should know, I have found both). 

When we remember this, we can stop expecting the weight loss to finally make us happy, and that finishing our degree will make us feel smart and capable. It means that when our parents still don’t say “I’m proud of you”, it doesn’t matter so much. It means that getting a cold before a long-awaited trip no longer seems like such a downer. 

If we learn to hold the things we desire loosely and ask God to keep our delight in Him, we can enjoy the things He gives us without the great burden of expecting them to satisfy us. 

The way of Christian contentment is looking to God who gives us His peace (John 14:27), and who provides for us despite the whirlwind around us. Cultivating contentment is a work of the Spirit and a continual journey of remembering Christ and forgiving ourselves for all the times we forget Him. 

While earthly life is finite and fraught with challenges, we have the greatest treasure of all: we get to know the Maker of this universe—His delightful character is endlessly thrilling, surprising, and beautiful to our souls. We have Christ, whose forgiveness is great enough to swallow all our sins. And we get to look forward to a new heaven and earth that God has promised us.

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