Have you ever winced as you heard your own voice played back on a voicemail or video? Upon hearing the playback most people lament, “Do I really sound like that? Is that really me?” We grow up hearing our voices one way, as they come to us internally, echoing through our inner ear. As a result, you may experience your voice as deep and husky, yet in reality it may be high pitched or even shrill. It can be difficult, even disorienting, to discover how your voice sounds to others.
The term voice can mean the physical sound produced by your larynx. Yet when it comes to literature and life, voice takes a different meaning. In literature, voice is the form an author or narrator uses to tell a story, the way writers put themselves into words. Voice reveals the lens through which we experience a story. Consider Huckleberry Finn or Scout as they come to us via Mark Twain and Harper Lee.
While most of us naturally struggle to identify with our auditory voice, it can feel just as disconcerting to identify our narrative voice. Each of us has a narrative voice—the interpretation of and reaction to the events that shape us. The ability to reflect upon our lives and exercise voice is a divine gift everyone receives, and yet recognizing and using it can seem an insurmountable task. Your life is comprised of a set of circumstances and events unique to you. No one on the planet will ever live your beautiful, exhausting, tumultuous, grace-filled, or anxious life. Your narrative voice is the way you bring your experiences to a place that honors God by contributing to the lives of others. Narrative voice is a combination of three things:
1. An individual’s unique set of life experiences.
2. A person’s acceptance and interpretation of those experiences.
3. The edited (or unedited) retelling of those experiences.
Consider Rosa Parks who briefly used her auditory voice on that Montgomery bus, but who powerfully used her narrative voice to make a statement that bolstered the Civil Rights Movement. Parks harnessed her life circumstances for good and used her voice (both audible and narrative) to speak against the injustice she experienced. God has provided each of us this same opportunity.
Do you recognize your voice when you hear it or see it in action? How do you feel about your voice? Do you reject it? Do you find it unrecognizable? Subdued? Valiant? Silent? God gives every person agency and voice, yet most women will tell you that their narrative voices are a mystery. For years I wondered if I had anything at all to contribute to the world. Even as a seasoned leader I still ask, Who am I? What story do I have to tell? And who would even bother to listen? These questions infect my thinking on a regular basis.