In Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Mermaid, Ariel exchanges her voice for a pair of legs. I suppose I love the story because I see so much of myself in it. I've been in the exchange business for much of my life.
There have been times, for example, I have given up my voice in exchange for another's approval. At these times, I usually just shut down...that is, I go silent and say nothing and it's usually when someone is judging me. While today I'm a bit more discriminating than in times past in whose approval I cannot seem to live without, I still want approval so strongly, I'll give up my voice. I do this by withdrawing emotionally. I get angry inside at myself for shutting down instead of standing on my own feet, I feel helpless to be any different.
Is this you, too, or just me?
At one time in my life, I wanted so badly to have the mobility to climb the ladder of ministerial success, I exchanged my voice for the voice of the crowd. I said I believed things, for example, I really didn't believe. I did so because I knew if I did not, I would never have upward mobility. And, after all, what's more important than success in the ministry? Getting to the top? Having a staff at your command as large as some churches? I was told such things were not most important but every ministerial role model around me appeared to be giving up their voices in exchange for mobility, too.
If you wanted to step up you had to speak up and say what everyone wanted to hear.
I can remember, for example, sitting with a "Pulpit Search Committee," as they are still known in evangelical churches today. Such committees were appointed by a church whenever their minister had moved on and a new one was needed. A committee member would ask, "What do you believe about the Bible?" They were, of course, very often looking to see and listening to hear for the "right" voice...the right words to come from your mouth...as if what I or they could ever say about the Bible was as important as what the Bible could ever say to me...or, for that matter, to them.
This sort of madness would sometimes go on for hours. "Tell us," Reverend McSwain, "what do you believe about the Bible? Is it the inerrant, infallible sole source of truth? And, what of the Trinity, sir, tell us what you believe about God? The virgin birth? Are you a pre-millennial, dispensationalist? Or a post-millennial dispensationalist? Is Jesus the one-and-only Savior of the world?"
For mobility upward, I exchanged my voice more often than I care to admit. You had to in order to pastor the biggest church...to be successful...to be praised and liked.
I wish I were completely free of this madness today. But I'm not there yet. Admittedly, the audience whose approval I seek has changed, but the inner need that drives me to give up my voice in exchange for another's approval remains.
Do you ever shut down when you should speak up? Do you ever say things just to keep the peace? Or, worse, say nothing to keep the peace? To please another? To impress the group in whose membership you'll sell your personhood to buy their praise?
Here's what I'm going to do today. If it serves to help you, too, well that's good. I will be mindful...that is, aware...whenever the little me in me remains quiet when it should speak. Or, when it speaks, but only so as to impress, please, or draw attention to itself. I will be aware of how belittled I feel whenever someone whose opinion I value too highly criticizes me. But, I will also be aware of how inflated I feel whenever someone's praise I too readily crave comes my way.
I will not punish myself whenever I observe the ego--the little me that too quickly exchanges my personhood for the passing praise of another or to avoid the pain that comes with the criticisms of another. I will be glad instead. I know what I'm learning...that my inner observation of these endless exchanges is enough to diminish the power of an insatiable ego.
This inner power of observation...I wonder...could it be the inner voice of the spirit? Could this be that presence Jesus promised would be with his followers who feared his leaving? (John 14). What I'm discovering is that this inner voice provides me a new kind of mobility...MORE - ABILITY to "overcome the world," as Jesus said.
This is the secret to happiness.