Have you ever winced as you heard your own voice played back on a voicemail or video? Upon hearing the playback most people lament, “Do I really sound like that? Is that really me?” We grow up hearing our voices one way, as they come to us internally, echoing through our inner ear. As a result, you may experience your voice as deep and husky, yet in reality it may be high pitched or even shrill. It can be difficult, even disorienting, to discover how your voice sounds to others.
The term voice can mean the physical sound produced by your larynx. Yet when it comes to literature and life, voice takes a different meaning. In literature, voice is the form an author or narrator uses to tell a story, the way writers put themselves into words. Voice reveals the lens through which we experience a story. Consider Huckleberry Finn or Scout as they come to us via Mark Twain and Harper Lee.
While most of us naturally struggle to identify with our auditory voice, it can feel just as disconcerting to identify our narrative voice. Each of us has a narrative voice—the interpretation of and reaction to the events that shape us. The ability to reflect upon our lives and exercise voice is a divine gift everyone receives, and yet recognizing and using it can seem an insurmountable task. Your life is comprised of a set of circumstances and events unique to you. No one on the planet will ever live your beautiful, exhausting, tumultuous, grace-filled, or anxious life. Your narrative voice is the way you bring your experiences to a place that honors God by contributing to the lives of others. Narrative voice is a combination of three things:
1. An individual’s unique set of life experiences.
2. A person’s acceptance and interpretation of those experiences.
3. The edited (or unedited) retelling of those experiences.
Consider Rosa Parks who briefly used her auditory voice on that Montgomery bus, but who powerfully used her narrative voice to make a statement that bolstered the Civil Rights Movement. Parks harnessed her life circumstances for good and used her voice (both audible and narrative) to speak against the injustice she experienced. God has provided each of us this same opportunity.
Do you recognize your voice when you hear it or see it in action? How do you feel about your voice? Do you reject it? Do you find it unrecognizable? Subdued? Valiant? Silent? God gives every person agency and voice, yet most women will tell you that their narrative voices are a mystery. For years I wondered if I had anything at all to contribute to the world. Even as a seasoned leader I still ask, Who am I? What story do I have to tell? And who would even bother to listen? These questions infect my thinking on a regular basis.
Women have historically shied away from using their voices. In some circles, women are told they are inconsequential, non-contenders from whom little is expected. Women are at times robbed of the economic, social, or educational opportunities they need to fully understand or project their voices. In other places—including the church—women are told their voices are incomplete until they jump through a particular set of cultural hoops (marriage, children, domestic achievement). Has your voice been limited in any of these ways?
Interestingly, Jesus encourages women to boldly use their voices. When he meets the Samaritan Woman at the well in John 4, he engages with her story. She is a scandal-clad nobody, dismissed from her community, a woman whose life was muted and scorned. Then she meets Jesus. He receives her story. He honors her with the gift of conversation and does not disregard her. Jesus calls her out on her past. He trusts she can handle it. He embraces her life and she makes the fullest proclamation of faith in the Book of John up to that point. Jesus so encourages her to use her voice that she races off to her village and employs her auditory voice to share the gospel. She is the first evangelist cited in the book of John, and her audible and narrative voice make a huge kingdom impact.
What if this Samaritan woman had hesitated or edited herself? What if Jesus had insisted she follow cultural protocol? After all, she was female in a male-dominated world. She was a Samaritan woman found alone who had just chatted it up with an upstanding Jewish Rabbi! Who would believe her? On that note, who would believe a tired seamstress like Rosa Parks? Who would believe you or I have anything to contribute to the world?
The God of the universe has given you a voice, and the world needs to hear it. It is a great loss when we allow self-doubt, cultural expectations, or the misguided voices of others to mute us. To have a voice is to live that which is true about you and God. It is to tell the story (through words or otherwise) of grace, forgiveness, love, mercy, and justice. It is to show others, in your unique way, that there is a God who loves and embraces us all.
Take a moment this week to consider what is currently muting your voice:
• Make a short list of what silences your voice.
• Are there people, expectations, old stories, or broken narratives that need to be shushed so that you can listen to what God is saying about you? If so, list them.
• Commit these lists to prayer, ask God to help you hear his voice.
• Pray, too, that God would bring you people who can help you hear and develop your true voice.
For more on discovering and harnessing your voice, read True You: Overcoming Self-Doubt and Using Your Voice by Adele Calhoun and Tracey Bianchi.
Tracey Bianchi serves as the Worship and Teaching Pastor at Christ Church of Oak Brook (in the burbs of Chicago). For more musings like this, check out her website: traceybianchi.com.