I Hate My Voice

Here’s the thing: I hate my voice.

Sometimes at Christmas, we watch old home videos. There’s this one where I am six or seven years old, and I’m showing my sister Katie, who’s three or four, how to play piano. She’s just having a grand old time banging away on the keys, loving the drama and the noise. I smile sweetly and say, “No, no, Katie. That’s not the way. You put your fingers like this. Here is middle C.”

and this is how you hold a baby

The first time I saw this video as an adult, I cringed. And with good reason. Why was I trying to teach a three year old to play piano? Why was I such a stereotypical firstborn? Why was I such a damn goody-two-shoes? Why couldn’t I just dance to the chaos?

Recently I’ve started reading through my ten-year old journals. It was my first year out of college, and I was living in Southeast Asia, writing sometimes for myself and sometimes for my blog. Much of my writing has the same tone I had as a seven year old piano teacher: it’s sweetly didactic, and very sure of itself. I can’t stand it. 

From the distance of a decade, my naivete shines. The truisms I trumpeted (sweetly, (falsley) humbly) lacked depth or substance. They were sincere, yes, and usually true; but they were also awfully churchy and idealistic.Now, they just sound hokey, and ridiculous coming from someone my age, writing about things I really knew nothing about, railing against the materialism of the western church, coming up with bad metaphors about fireworks and stars and young nations and old nations.

Me, as writer and director of "A Cambodian Christmas Carol" at age 23

I don’t write much now, and in part that’s because I’m afraid of that voice coming out. I’m a teacher, after all; I often sound teacherly. Even if I tell stories, I can't get away from the lesson in them.

But who am I to speak? Who am I to say what’s right or wrong, with my youth and inexperience? Even if I’m right about what I say, isn’t it already obvious to everyone?

Won’t I be embarrassed, a decade from now, of anything I say with sincerity today?

“Not many of you should become teachers,” James warned. He was talking about Bible teachers. Sometimes I wish he had written that not many of us should be bloggers, or tweeters, or preachers with national platforms. (I


think not many of us should be teachers with national platforms.)

But sometimes I can’t tell if my silence is born more of humility (I don't want to be wrong, who am I to speak?), prudent caution (I don’t want to be wrong), perfectionism (I don’t want to be wrong), or fear (I don’t want to be wrong). Sometimes I want to add my voice to the cacophony, and sometimes I want to stay safe. Sometimes I think that of the making of many books (and blog posts), there is no end, so I’m just going to quietly fear God in my own little place.

When your heart burns within you, is that a time to speak, or a time to stay silent?

A question for you: How do you know when to speak, and when to stay silent?