Every woman has a committee of women living inside her. The members of your internal committee represent different parts of yourself, competing sides of your personality, a multiplicity of inner voices clamoring for expression. Small wonder that minor decisions leave us feeling conflicted and large decisions can make us take to our beds with mental exhaustion. It's hard enough battling the many external voices in society that claim to know what's in our best interests (e.g., parents, spouse, government, physicians). How are you supposed to negotiate the clamoring voices within?

"I keep a journal," a writer once told me, "in order to stay in conversation with the many women who live inside me." That's as good advice as any on the wisdom of journaling. Get to know the women who make up your internal committee by writing about each one of them.

Unfortunately, some women never learn quite how to preside over or reconcile the different women that exist inside them. They never learn that we are all a mass of inner conflict and divided loyalties. To them an inner chorus of voices is a sign of their mental and spiritual weakness, their failure at being strong women of faith who act out of the strength of a supposedly undivided self. No one has ever told them that there's no such thing as being single-minded and having one side to your personality. Human beings are far more complex than that. They have to be. After all, different situations call for different sides of ourselves. More importantly, different seasons in our lives call different aspects of our personality.

Pausing to caucus with the women who make up you, therefore, is not a sign of faithlessness, indecisiveness, or, worst, mental defect. We all carry around within our heads voices that vie with each other about what's best for us. Each voice has value and a role to play in our life. Let each one have her say.

Suppose, for example, that you have to make a major decision about a job opportunity that has come along. Of course, we are taught to admire the woman who seems to know what she wants and goes after it. But you may find yourself conflicted about which direction to take. You're torn by competing loyalties.

A blast of persistent little voices rises up inside, one expressing fear about traipsing off into unknown territory, another warning you against being overly confident about your ability to do the job, another whispering that you're better off where you are. Those are the so-called negative voices, the supposedly nasty little saboteurs inside all of us that, if not balanced by a subcommittee of more daring, self-confident voices, subvert, derail, and undermine our aspirations.

The supposedly positive voices are the ones that goad us to try new things, take chances, throw caution to the wind, live a little, and exercise more faith in God and in ourselves. Suppress your doubts and ignore your fears, goes the advice of popular pundits.

But it's not as simple as all that. The woman who acts in a way that's true to her self and in her own best interests is the woman who has learned how call an inner committee meeting and to preside over all the members of her committee, hear each woman out, weigh the advice of each, and then move in the direction of her goals and values. The women within represent the sum of all of the experiences, emotions, and wisdom you've garnered over the years, all of which go into making you the wonderfully complex, passionate, and captivating woman that you are.

I've managed to identify at least five different women who make up my inner committee and have given a name to each.

There's Faustina, my critic. Nothing is good enough for her. She's never satisfied. No book or article I write is ever ready to be seen by the public, according to her. No sermon I preach was good enough. There's always something that just wasn't right. She's critical of the way my body looks as I age. She insists upon excellence, and I appreciate her for that; but if I'm not careful she will silence me before anyone else has a chance to do so.

There's the bully within whom I've labeled Shayshay. She refuses to take no for an answer. She's my hard taskmaster. She drives me to exhaustion and hysteria with her will to succeed, win, and her determination to crush anything and anyone who gets in the way of what she wants. She refuses to be intimated. In fact, she hates for anyone to try to intimate her. By the way, did I mention that Shayshay remembers every hurt and wrong anyone has ever inflicted on me? She is bent upon proving my naysayers wrong.

Neecie is forever apprehensive about trying new things. She sees ghosts and goblins around every corner, and cautions me against making a complete fool of myself. She's the first to remind me "I told you so" when making a fool of myself is just what I've done. No matter how much God blesses me, Neecie can't help looking for doom and disaster to strike at any moment. She teaches me caution, but she's wholly incapable of coming to my aid when trying to figure out how to get out of a jam.

Then there's Wanda the Wonderer who's the antithesis of Neecie. Wanda is always seduced by the next adventure. She is easily distracted. She's the girl in me who's filled with wonder and curiosity. She loves trying new things. She loves a dare, and is elated to tackle new creative possibilities. She never allows herself to get bogged down with the big picture, the practical realities, the consequences of actions. Wanda always has big ideas, so don't bother her with practicalities.

At last, there's Inez the Intellectual. Inez is a brooder. She is a thinker. She prefers contemplation over action. She's not critical like Faustina or scared like Neecie. Inez just likes to think and think and think. She prefers books to people, email over a phone call, and the solitude of her own thoughts over the push and pull of relationships. Give her time, and she'll figure out most things. But you must give her time. Of course, you'll be glad you did, if you can wait for her to make up her mind. When she's at her best she is thoughtful and wise. If left unchecked she's a procrastinator, and a moody one at that.

Call it your inner committee. Call it instinct. Call it intuition. Listening for and to God often involves "trusting that still small voice(s) within." How do you do that? you ask. Call a time-out, go inward. Close the door. Take time to hear yourself think. Pray. Trust your instincts. Respect your feelings. Give yourself credit for knowing some things. Listen to your life. Listen to your body. Don't allow yourself to be pressured into replying when you feel you need more time. Give yourself time to get back to the person with an answer. Don't talk yourself into liking someone you don't like, or trusting someone you don't trust. Be cordial, but keep your distance. There are things we know that we don't even know that we know.

Failure to honor the voices within is a sure way to make you dependent on others for advice and wisdom. I wish someone had told me this years ago at the one and only time in my life when I thought seriously about taking my own life. I couldn't turn off the voices that were screaming back and forth in my head telling me what to do. Instead of learning how to chair the committee and draw on the wisdom of voices gathered around the table, I huddled in the dark and wept. I dreamed of ways to quiet everyone including me.

But ultimately I found the place within where all the wisdom I've gained over the years is stored. It's a place where lessons learned, insights gained, and dreams dreamed are kept in safekeeping. In that sacred place and around that sacred table sits God who waits to help us put the pieces of the puzzle together. With growing up, growing older, and growing wiser comes learning how to dive deep inside yourself to get what you need from yourself-and from God. All the information you need to do what you need to do is there waiting for you. It's a matter of learning how to break the surface, diving deep within, and sitting still long enough to hear what emerges.

I've shared with you my five secret selves. What are yours? Take a blank sheet of paper, and list, name and describe your inner committee of secret selves. Get acquainted with them. Listen to what each has to say. Thank her for her perspective. Introduce her to the other women on the committee so she will know that she has to learn how to coexist and collaborate with other women with equally important perspectives to share about the choices you make and the direction you take.

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