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?