I’ll never forget the first time someone said to me, “find your voice.” It was 2011 and I had just started a new job. One of the first things I did was attend a diversity workshop that was facilitated by our department. We were a training department and this was one of our flagship offerings to the company – it was a big deal at the time. It was a two-day intensive experience, designed to break down walls and cause participants to look at the world differently. Ultimately, the goal for me was to participate and observe, knowing that one day I might be teaching it. I came into this job very shy and very timid. You see, I had spent the last 8 years of my career doing systems training and crunching numbers in the mortgage industry but this role was different. Here I was going to be training leaders on how to motivate their teams, communicate better, etc. It was going to require the development of a whole new skill set and, unbeknownst to me, a level of vulnerability and courage I had yet to experience.
On the second day of the workshop, one of the facilitators asked for volunteers to rally the class and prepare a short presentation for the graduation ceremony later that day. I knew this was my moment not only to impress my new team, but also to step outside of my comfort zone and do something I wouldn’t normally do. The class had almost 50 people in it so I knew getting them all together to plan something with any semblance of order would be challenging. Honestly, I felt a bit like Katniss volunteering as tribute in the Hunger Games.
After we had lunch, it was time to “rally the troops” so to speak and plan what we were going to do at graduation. I grabbed the mic and made my first attempt. Literally two people paid attention. I tried again. Now 4 people were paying attention. I started to panic, thinking “how am I going to get all of these people to get this done?!” At that moment, I made eye contact with one of the facilitators and she motioned for me to come over to where she was sitting. I walked over and leaned in, expecting to get “fired” from my volunteer role. Instead, she put both hands on my shoulders, looked me directly in the eye and said, “Erin, find your voice.” And I knew in that moment that she wasn’t just talking about increasing my volume. She was talking about something much larger and deeper than that.
I’d love to say that something switched on in me and from that point forward, I was a new person with a confidence I’d never experienced before. Nope. I muddled my way through the rest of the day, we figured something out (although what it was I can’t recall so it was probably not great), and I started on this journey of finding the voice that God knew I had all along- after all, He gave it to me!
So what does it mean to find your voice? Some people when they hear this think that it means they have to have a public platform, a blog, a podcast, or some other way to communicate to the masses. Not the case. Jon Jorgenson, a Christian speaker and blogger, says, “Finding your voice does not necessarily mean finding the right words to say. Finding your voice means finding a wrong to make right. Finding your voice means creating something out of nothing. Finding your voice means acting on the impulse deep within saying, “Go ahead, speak up.” The world will be better because you did.”
Maybe you’re reading this today and you need to find your voice. You know God has placed something on your heart and you’re wrestling with what it might mean for you. Let me share with you some things I’ve learned along the way.
First, finding your voice means that you get to discover how God uniquely wired you. Whether it’s a spiritual gifts test, a DiSC assessment, or a Meyers Briggs personality test, SOAK. IT. UP. Get to know how God made you. In that job I talked about earlier, I learned how to teach classes based around the DiSC assessment, which sheds light on how you interact with others. Learning this about myself allowed me to own who I am and stop trying to be what I thought everyone else wanted.
Second, finding your voice means discovering why you’re not speaking up in the first place. For me, it’s fear. Fear of negative reactions, fear of being rejected, fear of making other people uncomfortable, and fear of just plain screwing it up. I let that fear rule me for many years. Discovering what was holding me back and having the courage to punch it right in the face took God’s help. He’s put me in situations in the last 5 years that have stretched me until I thought I would break. If you’ve been around for a while, you’ve heard me share that I am an extreme introvert. I barely came out of my room my freshman year of college. The fact that I’m a trainer and speaker now is a miracle that can only be attributed to the power of Jesus in my life that continues to conquer my fear on a daily basis.
Third, finding your voice means knowing when to stick to the script and knowing when to toss it right out the window. Dr. Martin Luther King was a brilliant communicator and he learned this during his famous speech during the March on Washington in 1963. This was at the height of the civil rights movement and this speech had a lot riding on it. All of his advisors told him, “don’t talk about the dream.” In fact, Wyatt Walker told him, “It’s trite, it’s cliché. You’ve used it too many times already.” So the night before the speech, King was up until 4 AM fine tuning a version of the speech that did not include those iconic words that we are so familiar with. But the next day, King was the 16th person to get up to the podium on a very hot day that had people huddling under any shady spot they could find. He delivered his prepared remarks and everyone basically said, “meh.” Then, from behind him, Mahalia Jackson a gospel singer who was close to King, yelled out “Tell ‘em about the dream Martin.” He continued with his prepared remarks and she yelled it again. At that point, observers saw King put his prepared notes to the side and change his stance from that of a lecturer to that of a Baptist preacher (which he was). Clarence Jones, who had helped King craft the original speech turned to the person standing next to him and said, “Those people don’t know it, but they’re about to go to church.” When King begin with “So even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream,” Walker said, “Aw shoot (except shoot was not the word he used), he’s using the dream.” And the rest, as we say, is history. In my life, it’s the times when I’ve set aside my brilliant plans and let God lead that I’ve found my voice the most.
Finally, finding your voice means you are free to speak the truth.
Ephesians 4:25 (MSG) says “What this adds up to, then, is this: no more lies, no more pretense. Tell your neighbor the truth. In Christ’s body we’re all connected to each other, after all. When you lie to others, you end up lying to yourself.”
Many of us, if asked, would say we rarely lie. And maybe we’re the rare exception where that’s actually true. But in an article called “60% of people can’t go 10 minutes without lying,” it says, “There are two things you can say for sure about human beings: our opposable thumbs make us great at using tools, and we are all big, fat liars. By age four, 90% of children have grasped the concept of lying, and it just gets worse from there. Just how bad is it? According to a 2002 study conducted by the University of Massachusetts, 60% of adults can’t have a ten minute conversation without lying at least once. But even that number makes it sound better than it really is; those people in the study who did lie actually told an average of 3 lies during their brief chat. And I know you’re sitting there right now insisting you would be part of the 40% that didn’t lie. That’s what the liars in the study thought, too. When they watched the taped conversations back, they were shocked at how many fibs they had told.”
“In general we lie about things that aren’t important, little things that we think will make us look better or more likeable. In a survey by a British film rental company, 30% of respondents had lied about seeing The Godfather.”
“Sometimes we do lie about things that matter. According to one estimate, 40% of people lie on their resumes. While that’s something for employers to be wary of, it’s worse if you are part of the 30% of internet users looking for love on a dating site. According to a study by Scientific American, a whopping 90% of people looking for a date online lie in their profile.”
You’re probably saying, “I get it, ok?! We lie!!” And for the most part, these examples are all pretty insignificant in the grand scheme of things. But what about when the lie gets in the way of our relationship with God? For me, it was the lie that my singleness meant that I had to completely pack my schedule with everything that anyone needed done. After all, what else was I going to do with my time? As I’ve journeyed through the last 24 months or so, I’ve found myself having to peel back all of the consequences of that lie. The busyness, the emptiness, and the feeling that I can’t even hear God’s voice anymore because I’ve completely drowned him out with tasks. I’ve spent so much time doing that I forgot about being with Jesus. I’m grateful for His grace in lovingly leading me back to a healthier place.
Here’s the thing about truth – it can be ugly, unpopular, countercultural, and shocking. And our temptation as humans is to sanitize it to remove all of the undesirable bits. I recently went and saw The Greatest Showman, which is advertised to be the story of P.T. Barnum of circus fame. As a musical, the movie was fantastic – great songs, great dancing, Hugh Jackman and Zac Efron… fantastic. But as a retelling of a true story? Not so great. As I left the theater, I told my friend, “I don’t think I buy most of what that movie was trying to sell.” The main message of the movie is one of inclusion, breaking through barriers, and having vision big enough to succeed. The reality is the truth of P.T. Barnum’s story is much more nuanced and complex than the sanitized version we see on screen. The fears I mentioned earlier that I have are universal – the fear of rejection, the fear of making people uncomfortable and the fear of failure. Those fears lead us to sanitize powerful truths and not speak boldly when we should.
Ephesians 4:15-16 (MSG) says, “No prolonged infancies among us, please. We’ll not tolerate babes in the woods, small children who are an easy mark for impostors. God wants us to grow up, to know the whole truth and tell it in love—like Christ in everything. We take our lead from Christ, who is the source of everything we do. He keeps us in step with each other. His very breath and blood flow through us, nourishing us so that we will grow up healthy in God, robust in love.”
The shortest distance between truth and a human being is a story. Whose story? YOURS. As Christians, we believe that the Word of God is the truth and that it changes us from the inside out. Each and every one of us has a story of how the power of Jesus intersected with our lives and made an impact. But no one will ever know unless we share it! How can you find your voice today?