When I was a child, a pastor visited our church accompanied by his son who was also about my age. The boy, who had a slight speech impediment, sang a song for the congregation. Later that afternoon at home, I began to the sing the same song. Just as I would’ve tried to copy the singing style of someone on the radio or television, I mimicked how boy sang it, speech impediment and all. I wasn’t trying to be mean. That’s the way I’d initially heard the song and therefore believed it was the right, and perhaps only, way to sing it. I distinctly remember that upon hearing my copycat version of the song, my father said, “use your own voice.” But I honestly didn’t know what he meant because I thought I was singing it correctly.
Only later as I grew older did I begin to understand my dad’s advice, and I’ve spent a long time since trying to find and use my own voice. And that’s not always been easy. Over time, my fashion sense has changed, my career aspirations have differed, and my beliefs have evolved. I’ve strived to become more authentically myself. I’m still a work in progress and always will be. But I’m closer to my truth now than I’ve ever been, so at least I’m going in the right direction.
I’ve tried to impart to my children the importance of maintaining or finding their genuine selves. That when they can be completely themselves with other people and those people accept and embrace them for who they are, they’ve found their special people, whether they be friends or significant others. Pretending to be someone else or hiding your true self is exhausting and ultimately unsustainable. Convincing young people that being true to themselves regardless of the consequences to popularity or inclusion is difficult. I certainly didn’t understand that when I was young.
In Romans, the apostle Paul writes that we all have “different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is . . . serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.” Romans 12: 6-8.
I read these words and hear God telling us to be ourselves. Not grudgingly or with resignation. We need to embrace the truth of who we are – of who God made us to be. He created each of us to be unique with various personalities, talents, and traits. When we do things the way others do them, without digging down to know if that path feels genuine to us, we deprive ourselves from living with authenticity. We also diminish our communities and the world because they need us to be real and whole. Let’s stop wasting time trying to be someone or something we’re not.
Sometimes these days when I’m singing along to the radio, I catch myself trying to copy the singer exactly. But the world is already acquainted with the voice on the radio, and it doesn’t need another copycat. God wants me to use my voice in the ways he’s gifted me. He wants that for all of us. He needs all of us to tap into our voices, our gifts, our authentic selves and share with the world. In that way, we are all more comfortable and grounded in our lives, and the world benefits from the people God created us to be.