When I was little, I had a friend who…well, let’s just say she had an intense desire for things that belonged to other people, and she was quick to make those things her own if given the chance. On several occasions she had been accused of stealing things that weren’t hers, and rightly so. It was an ongoing thing with her, and those of us who knew her knew we had to be careful with our things around her.
On one occasion, she and I were found arguing over a cheap, pink plastic ring that I had gotten as a prize from one of those quarter vending machines near the entrance to most grocery stores. I knew the ring was mine, yet she claimed with equal adamancy that it was hers. A teacher intervened and took the ring from us; if we were going to fight over it, she said, no one would get to keep it.
I remember the moment as though it happened yesterday. As the teacher walked away – the ring in her pocket – I clinched my fists and exclaimed, with all the passion I could muster in my angry little-girl heart, “She has so many things that belong to other people that she doesn’t know WHAT is really hers!”
My outburst didn’t resolve or change anything. I hadn’t gotten my ring back, but I felt as though I had won. I had had the last word. There was nothing more that could be said.
This story came back to me last night as I was washing dishes, not thinking about anything in particular, and I thought, “I’ve been doing the exact same thing.” The realization came like a lightning bolt from the sky: part of what I’ve been struggling with lately has been a loss of my own voice.
I read a lot. I would much rather read than watch TV any day of the week, and I enjoy seeing how other writers express themselves. Reading is more than a pastime for me; it is a way of honing my craft – of refining the way I write and learning from others. Generally, this is a good thing. I’ve been told that successful writers are avid readers, and I believe this is true. The problem arises, though, when I, the reader, begin to absorb the voice – the writing style and personal method of expression – of other writers.
If I read one or two posts from other blogs and then sit down to write here, I quickly find that I don’t recognize the voice that I “hear” in my mind and that ultimately comes out as my fingers fly over the keys. I look up to other writers and, without intending to, I begin to steer my wording into their lane. I try to sound like them, both intentionally and unintentionally, consciously and subconsciously. My own voice is drowned out as I try (without success) to sound like Ann Voscamp or Rachel Held Evans or Jennifer Lee or Michelle DeRusha or Shelly Miller…or…or…
Before long, I have essentially stolen so much from other people that I don’t know anymore what is mine. Rather than taking a cheap plastic ring from a friend, I’ve tried to steal her unique, God-given voice.
And that? Well, it’s a lot more serious.
Because when I do that, I’m not only idolizing the person who writes/speaks/blogs in a certain way, but I am making a claim that her voice is better than mine. That what God has given me is inferior to what He has given her. That rather than pursuing God and becoming who He made me to be, it’s better to pursue someone else and become more like her.
The tragedy? That in doing so, I am holding back from the world the very thing God created me to give. I am depriving the world of my own unique voice, experiences, viewpoint, and wisdom. I am trying to fill a spot in this world that I was never meant to occupy – a spot that is already occupied. I am trying to add a voice to the world’s noise that the world does not need.
At the risk of sounding prideful, I am realizing that I have a voice, and the world needs it. It needs my voice as it is – not as I try to make it. Yes, there there is a place and a time for honing my craft – for improving my skills and being a better version of myself. However, I am learning that “better” does not mean “like someone else.”
I am me. God made me this way, and He has given me a voice. I pledge to you, my friends and readers, that I am from here on out going to invest more of my time and energy in pursuing the God who gave me a voice than I have been. That is my promise to you, not because I am secretly hoping that by being closer to God He will reward me with a platform and an audience like those I admire. In the past, that would have been true. Today, though, I want to pursue God because He alone gives me words and a voice, and if I want this space (and ultimately my life) to be more that mere noise, I must be in tune to Him.
And my question for you is this: is there an area of your life where you have lost your voice? Maybe you’re a writer, too, and your struggle is similar to mine. But perhaps you have lost your voice in the area of your motherhood. Your marriage. Your job. Your friendships. I want to explore this idea more, and I welcome your voice to this conversation. Let’s talk about it.