Maybe you grew up watching Disney movies like I did. We would sit breathless watching Ariel sign away her voice to the sea witch in “The Little Mermaid.” Eyes glued to the TV, we watched to see if the prince would “kiss the girl” even though she was mute. Now, on the other edge of “happily ever after” I wonder about her choice to give up her voice to get a man.
Because if you give up your voice what do you have left?
I never thought of myself as a writer. That was for the boys in tweed with the bangs they swept out of their eyes while quoting “Prufrock,.” I stayed safe behind proofreading, literary criticism and writing about writing. Things that seemed a bit more solid. What did I have to offer anyway, besides a paltry amount of sheltered life experience and the immense desire to please others?
I had such a very small voice.
I went to graduate school. I earned a Ph.D. I had lots of babies – babies that came a bit more quickly than we’d planned. My world was consumed with diapers and sleeping and feeding schedules. We moved to three different cities in three years and then we moved to the wilderness of Salt Lake City to start a college ministry.
I didn’t have time or energy to find my voice anymore. So I pushed it down, I gave it up for scrubbing floors, cooking meals and leading Bible studies. All those things that good Christian women were supposed to do.
But I’d lost my voice in all the hustle.
There wasn’t time for creativity when I couldn’t even manage to fold the laundry or not lose my temper with my children, I reasoned.
But last October, I signed up to write every day for the month with Write 31 Days. I needed to find the beauty in my mundane; I needed to find my voice again. Nothing had spun too terribly out of control. But I found myself irritable, resentful of my family for their claim on my time, listless. I needed something to push me over the edge. I needed to not give up my voice for a man, or for ministry, or for my adorable children. I needed to find me all over again; and I needed to do it through (not in spite of) the ordinary.
Through the daily discipline of writing, it was as if the dam burst open and this voice exploded out of me from the depths. Rumbles of dormant feeling cracked open. When I gave space to the quiet that gives my soul pause, my voice flowed out strong and sure. I noticed the beauty in the trees, in an old necklace, in life around the table. I had words – words not just to sustain me, but also to help others.
I hadn’t even known it was there, buried deep inside me.
Finding your voice isn’t easy. Usually, most days, it takes hours of reading and practice and what Anne Lamott calls “shitty first drafts.” But it’s there. Your voice is there.
We’ve been made creative beings, to help bring order out of chaos. When I give myself the time and space to create, even in little slivers of time stolen from sleep or “productivity,” I’m fueled for the ordinary. Then, all of sudden, the ordinary has a sheen around the edges. The ordinary becomes part of a narrative of creativity.
My voice ebbs and flows, sometimes it rages, sometimes it quietly tells stories of belonging. But when it’s given space, it opens up, like a singer breathing for the next note. Don’t strangle your voice before you’ve even begun to sing.
Don’t give your voice away. It’s yours to use in service for others, but it’s no one else’s to keep tight for you. It’s powerful and strong and sure. Even when you feel your voice is limping right along or the words aren’t coming, use it anyway. It gets stronger the more you use it.
Breathe in deeply and see what your voice has to say.