Several years ago, with one tentative toe dipping into middle age, I read life-changing words from the pen of Ruth Bell Graham, who confided she was finally learning that she did not need to weight in on every topic OR to speak up at every opportunity. This seemed reasonable to me at the time, a wise grid through which to steward my words, and I have consciously applied the rubric to social situations. (I’m sure the practice has been a blessing to both family and friends.)
However, recently, I’ve noticed some regret creeping in around the edges of my restraint. While I’m still an advocate for verbal discretion, I can think of at least two memorial services as well a couple of other gatherings where I felt strongly that I had something meaningful to share, but talked myself out of it: too risky, too vulnerable, too “out there.”
Raise Your Voice: Why We Stay Silent and How to Speak Up by Kathy Khang is challenging me to look carefully at the way I use my words, lending the realization that even my choice to be silent communicates something. Apathy, insecurity, or laziness are not traits I want to “give voice” to, so I’m trusting for courage to lean into a gracious and yet more vocal role in the communities I inhabit.
Khang shares her own legacy of silence, struggling with her role as an immigrant from South Korea, feeling voiceless, learning to raise her voice “doing the good work of the good news,” while struggling with credibility and suffering from imposter syndrome. Challenges arising from her experience as a woman of color in a leadership role in para-church ministry drove her deeply into the Word of God for assurance from biblical role models like Esther and Moses. Beloved and known by our Creator, we are called, at times, to speak gritty truth to one another, not to hurt or tear down, but to bless and to influence for good.
Learning to Speak Up
Going forward, I am working on a reasoned approach to raising my voice based on seven questions Kathy Khang has posed:
- Who Am I? What unique perspectives do I bring to the table as a white, middle-aged, long-time-married mother of sons with plenty of time in a pew? Who else is sitting around the same table with me? What can we learn from each other?
- What is in My Wheelhouse? The downward draw of imposter syndrome has muzzled me more than once in situations where I probably had the most experience in the room, but was too intimidated to speak up–even though I saw the conversation going in a direction that looked ominous to me. The lesson here? Any combination of gifting and experience that God has graciously given comes with a responsibility to speak up.
- Am I Willing to Fail or Be Judged? Quite honestly, his is huge for me, but most of the time, I am probably much safer than I imagine. Kathy points out that testing my voice is a matter of humility. I don’t need to “toughen up, become immune, or be unmoved by criticism or failure.” (59) I just need to be willing to learn from it.
- What Are My Unique Gifts, Talents, and Skills? Good stewardship demands that I put myself in the way of risk to be available for God’s agenda.
- Who Are My People? Who needs my encouragement? Whom has God already put within my circle of influence?
- What Diverse Voices Am I Learning From? Reading, listening, paying attention to people whose faces and stories are radically different from my own has been life changing. Raise Your Voice sat in a pile beside my bed for months before I made the commitment to read it, because I knew the author would call me out of my comfort zone. A word to the wise: sometimes the journey into discomfort is easier in community. If you’re looking for a challenge, The Red Couch Book Club is reading Kathy’s book this month.
- How Do You Care for Yourself? Self care can be as simple as going to bed at a reasonable time, eating healthfully and mindfully, or saying no to unreasonable demands. If my voice is shrill from exhaustion or unreasonable because of poor preparation, the message God has given to me may not be conveyed in the best possible way.
Raise Your Voice!
There’s plenty of work in these seven questions to last me well into the new year, and I’m wondering if you also are feeling the tug to raise your voice in profound and courageous words. It can be a fearsome thing to be visible in the world by becoming uncomfortably audible. God invites us to inhabit our vulnerability by faith, a sinewy confidence in a sovereign God that trusts in His placement of our voices, cherishes His assignment of our customized message, and leaves the outcome in His powerful hands.
Many thanks to InterVarsity Press for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with honesty.
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