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Natalie Lederhouse
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May 11, 2010

Finding My Own Voice

How do I deal with the confusion of singing versus lip-synching through life?

I almost always spend part of my long daily commute listening to the radio or my iPod. I usually sing along: scatting with Ella Fitzgerald, rocking out with Robert Randolph, or attempting those strong, soaring notes with Aretha Franklin.

Lately, though, I’ve noticed an odd development: from time to time, I notice myself lip-synching rather than singing along to the music.

I haven’t analyzed this development enough to notice any sort of pattern here: for example, whether I mouth the words to gospel songs or jazz riffs, whether I bow out when it’s time to hit the high notes during the bridge of a power pop ballad, or whether I start out strong, then fade away. I just find that, without noticing it, I’ve stopped making any sound.

What makes this especially strange to me is that I have a passable singing voice. While you won’t see me on American Idol or Gospel Dream anytime soon, I have a soft but steady Bapticostal soprano, and I’ve often led songs as part of a choir.

In fact, I have secret aspirations of becoming a singer. I’ve even started assembling some wardrobe. A shimmery dress or two hang in waiting toward the right side of my closet, just above several pairs of killer pumps that mostly accessorize work outfits. I occasionally ask my hairdresser to style my layered bob into a high, fluffy flip, and I have a penchant for vintage accessories. I like to think I’ll be ready to hit the road if the Supremes get back together and need a young background member to ooh, ah, coo, and sway. Or the Exciters, or maybe the Velvettes, Vandellas, Shangri-Las, or Shirelles. (Tribute bands: call me!)

Right now, though, aspirations are really all I have. As much as I enjoy singing, I haven’t sung publicly for a while. Not only haven’t I been blending my voice with others, since it’s been a while since I sang with a choir or a praise team, but I also haven’t been singing enough to develop my own style and increase my confidence. A friend once listened to a recording of me singing, and said, “It was good, but I was waiting to hear you really put your own stamp on it. I think you were holding back.” He was right, but I haven’t done enough singing since then to overcome that. I haven’t been doing something I believe I was made to do, and it’s becoming a problem. I’ve started lip-synching, holding back even in the privacy of my own car.

I’ve occasionally run into the same issue in other areas of my life. I’ve become aware of a gift, even a calling, often connected to something I have to say. Sometimes I even make preparations to use my voice, but stop there.

For example, for several years now, I’ve had a great idea for a book. It’s a book I know would be helpful to a lot of people. But because it concerns a somewhat controversial topic, part of me dreads writing this book. I don’t really want to be seen as an expert on the topic, even though I actually am. There are other reasons I haven’t completed my manuscript, but a big one has been fear, with the result that I choose to silence the voice God gave me, even though I know he allowed me to have the experiences and gain the perspective and expertise to write the book. It’s not really a matter of finding my voice, as much as it is of using it.

From time to time, I have opinions that people find interesting. I tend to see things from unusual perspectives, and, as a writer and editor, know when I could probably develop a decent opinion piece. But I hesitate to speak out. Part of it has to do with the fear of what I see as the decline of civil public discourse, aided by the immediacy and anonymity afforded by the internet.

So I lip synch, moving my lips without really making much sound. I let someone else say what’s on my mind, or rant to a supportive group of family and friends. I keep my thoughts to myself. I don’t speak up, sometimes without realizing I’ve chosen to keep quiet.

I’m challenged when I consider the idea of finding or using a voice, and its place in the life of a Christian. For example, how do I know what it means to develop “my” voice in a society that often needs less individualism rather than more? When I don’t speak my mind, is that discernment, diplomacy, or cowardice?

When it comes to using a gift that can lead to some recognition or prominence, what’s shining the light God gave you, and what’s just showing off? How does one use such gifts for God’s glory, and avoid the trap of self-actualization for its own sake?

I’ve realized that I have some thinking to do about these issues—and that right now, I often err on the side of caution and restraint. It’s time for me to start singing, and writing, with regularity and boldness.

I’m interested in hearing your responses to the questions I’ve posed. When it comes to developing and using your gifts, how have you negotiated the tensions I’ve described? Have you ever found yourself lip synching, and how did you get past that? How is the idea of “finding a voice” compatible or incompatible with Christian practice?

Related Tags: Spiritual gifts

Comments

Gosh, LaTonya, I wish I had answers for those questions! I, too, am a writer and while I think I've found my writing "voice" in my fiction, I am terrified that my novel will meet with disapproval from others in the Christian community. #Ironically, I don't intend for it to be published by a Christian publising house.# And I too have been lip-synching when it comes to sharing my opinions openly; I'm scared of alienating friends from church if I openly disagree with their opinions. The root of my problem seems to be fear of disapproval; I'm constantly seeking affirmation of my worth in my writing or my life choices from other people. Maybe one way to "get over" this is to remember my affirmation needs to come from God. He gave me my gifts; with prayer, I think he will show me how to sing without becoming a self-serving diva.

"Finding a voice" becomes incompatible with Christian practice when it becomes more about drawing attention to me than pointing other people to God. I struggle with this, too. I recently added a Facebook page and invited some of my FB friends to "like" me. I wanted to have a way to bring my blog feed to FB without all of my profile friends having to have it in their newsfeed if they weren't interested in it. I have a feeling that sending my blog feed through to a hundred friends may be off-putting to some, as if I'm "using" our "friend status" to promote myself and asking them to "buy" my product without ever offering anything in return.

Yet I've been very hesitant to invite people to "fan/like" me; it feels so egotistical. Am I drawing attention to myself and promoting my writing too much? I really feel as though God has given me some things to say, but am I glorifying myself or glorifying him? I'm struggling with this.

Brilliant piece on lip syncing! Hits the heart of being hamstrung in reaching out with His Hope. I'm curious about "the" book and suspect it's exactly what He wants to write through you, now that you've confessed hesitation. When it's ready, let me know. I'd love to introduce you to my listeners on womantowomanradio.com

LaTonya, your words resonate with me!

I've been studying how God speaks to people who don't necessarily want to hear a message. I read three gospels to see how Jesus talked about unpopular topics, and I realized my ideas about what's appropriate to say come more from culture than the Bible. I also saw I had wrongly thought that sufficiently gentle words wouldn’t hurt or anger, yet Jesus’ words often angered His hearers. I pondered quite awhile on His calling hypocrites snakes and vipers (yikes!#, and concluded that since this was during passion week, there was little time left to warn them away from what they were about to do, and soft warnings wouldn’t get through to hard hearts. I think too that His words may have been as much for the observers so they would recognize the snake-like hypocrisy behind their actions, in particular their delivering Him up to be crucified.

I’ve started asking myself “What is kind to say?” rather than “What is gentle?” because it is kind to speak frankly about things that may be hurting a person, even though they may not want to hear it. This came partly from meditating on what love has to do with frank rebukes in Lev. 19:17.

I also read Jeremiah and Ezekiel to see how God spoke politically incorrect messages through them. I was touched to see how both prophets were reluctant to say the unpopular words God gave them, but God encouraged them by giving them insight into what was hidden in the hearts of the hearers and by telling both he would strengthen them against the inevitable personal attacks that would result.

A month ago as I was thinking about what it means to set my mind on what the Spirit desires rather than what my flesh desires #Rom. 8:5#, I realized my flesh wants to be liked and approved of, whereas the Spirit wants truth told. This was both convicting and scary.

It was particularly scary because I began working through these issues two years ago after a dream in which I was feeding myself and a creature named Shirk rather than women who needed food. As part of making sure I don’t shirk what God gives me to do, I’ve started writing again after a long break. A couple of the things I’m writing now are somewhat controversial, but I think they’re important.

I pray for you what I’ve been praying for myself: that you will fearlessly make known whatever God gives you #Eph. 6:19-20). Thanks for the blog comments. They hit home.

Latonya I am deeply moved and challenged by your commentary. About 2 years ago God deposited 2 specific books in my heart. Somehow I have been waiting for somewhat of a confirmation. So, instead of going with His leading I did too much self-analysis. I have not written since high school, and have never been shy of handling controversy. Yet with the topics, which granted are quite controversial, I am all of a sudden reserved. I am not sure whether this is because then I had been a new believer (saved for 3 years only) and wanted to avoid criticism. Deep down I am aware that my heart will not find rest until (at least one book) is published/completed. There is a dire need for the material in question, and I have really ran out of excuses for not writing. So, I am eager to follow this blog and listen attentively to what you (and other readers) have to say. Thank you for the rude awakening.

Thanks La Tonyo for this great piece! This is so me...i was also in a church choir but of late i Lip-synch a lot even when others are singing out loud around me. I would like to be bold

Afraid to admit but yes, this is true of me too. Sensing the potential disapproval of others I tend to hold captive my stronger opinions and less conventional thoughts and I'm left to ponder what I might do to create a broader band width of grace in my own community of faith so that fuller expressions of who we are could flourish. I'll make this a matter of prayer and discernment.

Lip sinker here!

What you say resonates with me both literally and figuratively. I too am a 'passable' singer, who has kept my singing voice silent. I am a speaker who has kept her speaking voice silent.

I think my main issue is, as you say, this notion that I may be seeking the spotlight or trying to elevate myself. Even though I know that's not true--that God created me exactly the way that I am for his purposes--it still doesn't translate to action.

Please post again and let us know what God is revealing to you.

This is a very inspirational piece. Thank you so much for your transparency.

I'm such a lip syncher too! Well not, really with singing, but with writing. I've been writing for a long time and recently I felt God calling me to write more for moms, so I started my own website. But now I'm nervous that no one will care about what I write, or worse, think it's useless or silly. So now I'm scared to tell people about it a lot. And I don't want people to think I'm trying to promote myself so I get self conscious.

I wish I had some great insight on how to solve this tension, but I'm still trying to figure it out too. If anyone has any wisdom to share, please pass my way! Thanks for acknowledging the tension and raising the questions LaTonya.

LaTonya Taylor,

Yikes! How many of us out there have books or other talents within that we've been hiding by lip-synching? You got me! What you wrote resounded with my spirit. Thank you for your honesty & openness in this area; I needed to hear this. Now- with God's grace- I need to act on it. :)
May God uphold you as you seek to glorify Him in this area.

Thank you,
Natasha

LaTonya,

I know this feeling, in a lot of different ways. I have been singing less and less, and you know I'm a vocalist, so this is an identity shift as well. My pastor noted the interconnectedness of everything - how the things I experience in my spirit come outward. If I open my mouth to sing in church, I start crying.

I also silence my own voice when it comes to stating opinions. I rarely feel like stirring the pot when faced with opposing viewpoints, so I mostly just disagree silently. And while I avoid the confrontation, I feel my presence is less meaningful because of it.

I don't have answers, but I wanted to say that I understand. I hope you'll write your book. Especially since you may be the only one who could write it.

Angela

LaTonya,
Wonderful piece! Like the other commenters, I'm in the same boat, though have currently begun rowing, so to speak. It's only taken 27 years to find the courage to pursue it (har). But, I believe God has called me in this direction, and I hope you, too, learn to sing outloud and passionately in every way in your own life as well :)

You are 100% right about church members keeping their mouths shut and not spreading gossip even if the gossip you spread is true. It is a very unchristian thing to do. I believe that many people will fill the forbidden words that they could have spoken if only the stop and think before they speak!

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