How do we know when the right answers come?

By Noelle Sterne

Frazzled and frustrated with all I had to do, I paced, then moaned, then ate something I shouldn’t have. Finally, in desperation I went to the Bible and opened it at random. The passage I saw prompted an involuntary sigh of relief:

Open wide your mouth and I will fill it. (Psalms 81:10)

These words buoyed me. Material answers may come, often unexpectedly, in offers of supply or immediate practical help. But what about answers, like I needed now, for the next actions or decisions? I’ve found that these come inside, especially when we open our mouths—that is, our consciousness—and just ask. As we stop thinking we must solve it all and instead acknowledge and develop our inner knowing—our Voice, Guide, Inner Self, God-in-Us—the answers do come.

Our Inner Voice

You may or may not be acquainted with your Voice. Many New Thought teachers instruct us in finding and listening for its wisdom: Martha Smock, Charles Fillmore, Wayne Dyer, Marianne Williamson, Deepak Chopra. I have often gone back to a Unity booklet for a reminder: 

Listen to your heart, and know it will lead you in the way that is true to yourself—your spiritual self—for I am in you and you are in Me. When you listen to your heart, you are listening to Me. (Unity, Spiritual Preparation for Easter 2000, p. 45)

In a powerful and timeless essay, Unity minister Mary Kupferle assures: “There is a responding presence that hears your every call . . . a responding power that fulfills your every need. . . . This presence and power is God the Father who hears and answers—always.” Kupferle quotes another Psalm, which reiterates that condition for action:  

The Lord hears when I call to him (Trust in the Goodness of God, pp. 42, 43) 

Opening My Mind

In personal, interpersonal, and work quandaries, I’ve often proved not only the Voice’s existence but also its reliability. One startling time took place when I was in graduate school. What I discovered has become an ongoing faithful beacon. 

At the library to hunt down research material for a paper in my literature seminar, I braved the “stacks” of the Columbia University Library. These are multiple levels of vast, dimly lit, dusty inner rooms buried deep in the building’s core. Each room holds endless rows of bookshelves wedged tightly between cement floors and ceilings. And each shelf has a long row of books wedged tightly against each other, most of them worn brown or black, distinguished only on their spines by stark white, careful print with their Dewey Decimal classification numbers.

Coughing slightly in the dank air, I dutifully traced the confusing numbers of the and tiptoed down the narrow aisles, looking for what I needed. As I approached the right section, from a nearby gritty shelf a slim volume caught my eye. It wasn’t the one I was after, but something made me pull it out. 

With this small, impulsive, apparently distracted action, I discovered a poem that would influence me profoundly throughout my life. I had no idea how greatly two lines in this poem would contribute to my growth, and I’ve shared them with clients and friends, written about them often, and repeated them to myself countless times. 

The lines are from American poet Richard Wilbur’s “Walking to Sleep,” and they have never failed to reassure and sustain me:

Step off assuredly into the blank of your mind.

Something will come to you. (Walking to Sleep: New Poems and Translations, p. 1)

Like every creative person, Wilbur knows the dread of facing the empty page, canvas, roll of film, lump of clay, music paper, or cavernous stage. His words aren’t for artists alone. We panic at creating the all-important plan for a project or presentation. We freeze at addressing a group or creating the perfect menu for important guests. Instead of sleeping at night, we ruminate over whether to call or not call a crucial individual, and then we fear the response. We despair at doing everything we’ve been pressed into service for—job, husband, wife, partner, kids, mother-in-law, friends, house, holidays, church, synagogue, community car wash. 

Wilbur also knows the terror that paralyzes us when we rely completely on ourselves for answers. Instead, he counsels that the elusive “blank” of our minds will give us what we need. Although in a secular context, Wilbur’s words reverberate more widely and can be applied to our spiritual life and practices. 

Opening Our Mouths  

Like the Psalm, Wilbur too calls for action. His startling instruction—”Step off”—

mirrors the Psalm’s directive to first open our mouths, and this act show our willingness to act on faith. We’re demonstrating to ourselves our strength of mind and character to meet the unknown without the material assurances we think we need and usually rely on above all.  

In our daily existence, we tend to live by the assumption “I see, therefore I know.” But to experience the wondrous Biblical and later metaphysical promises and their abundant results, before the physical shows itself in front of us, we must step off, open, and surrender our proud reasoning,

      However great or humble appears our life’s mission, we will fulfill it if we take the risk of ignoring our material senses, unhooking ourselves from the world’s logic, and looking beyond so-called reality. We will fulfill our purpose as we courageously open wide our mouths, step off, and trust. 

Testing Your Voice

  Test the Psalmist’s (and Wilbur’s) promise. 

Find an undisturbed spot, mentally and physically. Quiet down. 

Ask something simple: What should I cook for dinner tonight? Who should I phone next? How should I approach the boss? Should I do this task or that?

     And listen. If fourteen things are whirling in your head, you’re not quite ready. Let them stream until they run out. As your mind echoes the question you’ve asked, it may come up with “good reasons” for choosing one over the others. But somehow these don’t convince you. 

     Ask again.  

If there’s no clearcut answer, just wait. Take a breath. And ask again. Then you’ll hear it. Or maybe feel it, or see the image of it in your mind’s eye, now or a little later.     

Something, assuredly, will come to you. 

How Do We Know? 

When that something does come, its rightness will be unmistakable. Unity minister Ellen Debenport says that we know it’s the Voice when “We finally stop asking whether we truly heard God’s voice” (“How to Recognize God’s Voice,” Survival Guide for the Soul, Unity 2009, p. 18).

Often, I’ve found that in a given situation, as much as my stomach may have been turning and my head pounding trying to figure out what to do, when I finally listen to the Voice, all bodily symptoms fade and mental torments vanish. My brain no longer whirls with frantic possibilities, weak attempts, and overly logical pseudo-solutions. 

I feel no more anxiety, no more wondering and grinding, no more futile monologues: “Well, maybe if I said this, did that, tried the other thing.” Instead, lightness spreads in my chest. A sense of completion comes over me, of everything dropping into place, like a toddler finally getting the right block into the right hole. 

As I hear the Voice’s certainty and strength, the perfection of the answer brings peace. I no longer doubt the Voice. 

Keep turning to your Voice. It will become stronger and emerge more easily. As you get past all the other voices and pulls of conditioning, you will develop the habit of asking, hearing, and listening. With practice, you’ll gain more confidence in your Voice and rely on It more often. You will open your mouth, something will come to you, and you will have your answers. 

Adapted from Noelle Sterne, Trust Your Life: Forgive Yourself and Go After Your Dreams (Unity Books, 2011).

© 2022 Noelle Sterne