When Your Voice is an Idol

We spend more time analyzing ourselves than ever before. With the rapid expansion of social media and technology, we live in a world constantly bombarded with self.

Which profile picture will I use for my avatar? What do my liked pages say about me? What interests do I showcase that make me look good?

We live in a culture that capitalizes on more than our personal tastes, it capitalizes on our persona, our brand. 

Whether it’s the TV shows we like, the books we read, the stores we frequent, or the places we go, there is a growing desire to share bits of who we are with others. You can tweet during your favorite shows, share excerpts of the books you read, capture your pumpkin spice latte and map your location down to your favorite neighborhood Starbucks.

Some would argue that this narcissistic bent is why connection is often difficult, why comparison and insecurity arise when everyone else’s Instagrams are so much cooler than yours, because you never eat watermelon in cowboy boots and a floral dress whilst leaning over a vintage table with the perfect yesteryear wash bathing the photo in golden hues. You just stand at the counter in your faded yoga pants and spit seeds into the garbage pail next to the pile of dirty dishes you have yet to get to.

And maybe you’re doing it wrong. Maybe the life you live is less than. Or maybe you are the girl with the cute boots and impeccable taste Instagramming away your seamless life? Even you know there’s more to your story than the pictures you share.

default of the heart

But social media or not, I think the human heart always seeks to compare. Our default is to be concerned and consumed by our own glory. If ever there were an idol of our times in the blog world, I believe it is our voice. Our need to always be heard saying something.

There are the shock value bloggers capitalizing on every current event, every controversial divisive line needing to be parsed and severed and inspected with scathing sarcasm and open letter rants.

There is the desire for our words to reach further, to impact more, to challenge or encourage or matter. But there is a grace-less way about always needing to have our voice heard. And there is the quiet despair for those who faithfully share their voice and stories to the humble reception of silence and wonder if they matter at all.

We gather at conferences and wonder about the elevator speeches we’re supposed to prepare summarizing who we are and what we offer. And sometimes I think we’re too practiced at saying all the right things that we never stop to listen.

Because at the heart of it all, we tie our performance with words and platform and branding to our worth. If our story doesn’t matter, maybe we don’t either?

And I know I’m not the only one, but I’m tired of it.  I’ve felt the sticky fingered lure of candy coating what is, at it’s core, pride. The syrupy tongued words that pave the way to a bigger audience have sent me writhing back to silence, like a child found in bloated emptiness amid a flurry of candy wrappers the day after Halloween.

I’m an advocate for story because I believe the word of God’s people, the testimony of His beloved brings glory to Him, connection to the body, and light in the darkness but there will always be the temptation to focus so much on ourselves, our story, our path, our contribution to this writing world, that we forget that to live a good story, we’d be wise to listen and slow to speak.

Because grace happens in the pauses, when we stop to soak in words that are not our own. We live better questions when we stop reciting what we have to offer and start to champion other people’s voices. Start to believe in the storyteller who’s writing our moments with a master’s precision. When we find our humanity not just in the words we craft but also in the words we cultivate. When we worry less about our own voices being heard and allow God to speak.

crafting words

 I will always champion God’s people using their voice, but let us also learn to hold our tongues and listen with bold ears and hearts wide open, and maybe then, God will speak and our words will be tinged with grace, soothing to our souls, and full of life.

Alia Joy

Alia Joy is a cynical idealist, homeschool mama to three little ‘uns, wife to Josh, book wormy, coffee dependent, grace saved, writer of random musings and broken stories, collector of words, attempter of all things crafty, lover of mustard yellow, turquoise, Africa, and missions. She lives in Central Oregon with her husband and three children and loves to visit big cities because there are no decent Indian, Moroccan, or Vietnamese restaurants close by. Maker-upper of words. Disliker of awkward introductions and writing in the third person.

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  • KARRILEE AGGETT

    I love you… (Insert further Gushing, if you must!) Girl – your silence speaks as loud to me as the rhythm of your poetic words! Counting down the DAYS…

    • ALIA_JOY

      Can’t wait to see you again, friend. It almost doesn’t feel real, I’ve been so busy. I’m looking forward to slowing it down and getting to connect.

  • http://memyselfandmercy.blogspot.com/ MARY BONNER

    Karrilee Aggett mentioned your poetic words…yes, Alia Joy, you write beautifully of things we so need to read, hear and reflect upon. Thank you.

    • ALIA_JOY

      Thank you Mary. I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately and I love the way blogging allows for connection and community but I also think we can talk over each other at times. I just want it to be less about me, always less. And if I’m honest, I need to take breaks from writing to make sure it stays that way. The heart always wants it’s own glory. Only God changes that. So, I’m right there reflecting as well.

  • http://tuningmyhearttopraise.blogspot.com/ RO ELLIOTT

    Alia Joy….I love love this…I think we can peel this back even to a deeper layer…or at least I can…this hits not just in blogging but for me in everyday conversations…learning to be quite…to listen…to be fully present…not rehearsing my response while the other person is speaking…to see my words are not more valuable than the person who is speaking…Gods love has shown me areas of spiritual arrogance that I have walked in….this post speaks right to my heart… Blessings

    • ALIA_JOY

      Totally. So often I think we do that. We’re formulating our response. And I totally see that spiritual arrogance in my life at times when I honestly think someone doesn’t have anything to offer me. Sometimes, those are the people God uses to speak powerful humbling truth to me. And I have to remember to humble myself. God is funny like that.

  • http://beautifulinhistime.com/ APRILLE {BEAUTIFULINHISTIME.CO

    This is beautiful and so needed. And convicting, sadly.

    • ALIA_JOY

      I wrote it because it’s been convicting me too. It’s all good. God is in the pauses. ;)

  • http://www.heartsonguard.com/ VANESSA

    I agree, Alia. Been praying a lot about our obsession with “self” these days. This is why I think we have to be careful about how we encourage each other as we listen to our stories. The way we encourage and celebrate can further drag our fellow sisters down the path of pride and boosted-too-high-self-esteem. We should be encouraging each other to live a life of humility, always pointing them back to His Word, as we share our stories, rather than telling each other how great we all are. At least that’s my belief. Thank you for the reminder that my words don’t always need to be heard, that sometimes, more times, it’s more important to listen. And on that note, I’ll stop commenting :) Love you!

    • ALIA_JOY

      It’s funny because I believe that biblically there is a huge case to be made for encouragement and esteeming each other in Christ. And I know there are times when words spoken by fellow sisters where the very words of healing and God’s mercy in times when I needed to know His love. The hands and feet and voice of Jesus in my life, if you will. But there is also that great puffing up that happens because if we’re honest, we all want to feel seen and noticed and heard. It is a gaping hole since the fall. I don’t believe that it is an accident that God meant us for communion with Him and community with each other and some of the way He meets those needs is through each other. But we will ALWAYS fall short if we think that validation of our voice or our place is going to come solely from others. We will always be prideful and vain or insecure and wanting. We will never win in that economy.

      I don’t know what I feel about how we celebrate each other. It’s an interesting conversation for sure. I’d hope my writing always points back to God but even if it does, that doesn’t mean my heart doesn’t struggle with vanity or insecurity.

      For me, I think it must always start with the wisdom to know when I need to remove my voice, seek my God, and humble myself before Him. I think we need to be super quick to extend grace for where others are at in the process and to allow for the fact that God may very well be calling some to use their voice extensively and giving them the platform to do it. We need to check our hearts with envy and with insecurity. We can be just as self centered when we’re worried about not fitting as we are when we’re the one everyone wants to be BFF’s with.

      I need to take those times to go silent and be reminded that I’m a listener and a learner first. I don’t know. I’m kind of rambling now, but I’m with you in remembering that I don’t always need to be heard and it’s important to stay quiet sometimes and let God work in my heart. Ultimately, He’s the only one who knows what’s in it.

  • KIM@ONEREBELHEART

    I needed to read this today, from the chuckle when I read about the faded yoga pants and spitting seeds into the garbage can, to the inner whine of self-pity, to the sting of conviction. It’s so true that we tie our self-worth to our reception in the online world – how many likes, views, comments we get – even when we know better. Because if our story doesn’t matter, if people aren’t interested in hearing it, we think that WE don’t matter. I wish I knew how to flip the switch and make that go away, because I really need for that to happen. We all do, I think.

    We
    live better questions when we stop reciting what we have to offer and
    start to champion other people’s voices. – See more at:
    http://allume.com/2013/10/when-your-voice-is-an-idol/#disqus_thread
    We
    live better questions when we stop reciting what we have to offer and
    start to champion other people’s voices. – See more at:
    http://allume.com/2013/10/when-your-voice-is-an-idol/#disqus_thread

    • ALIA_JOY

      Kim, we all do. Yes. But I don’t know if it’s an instantaneous flip of the switch so much as a slow and steady obedience. A constant battle of flesh, a turning to Him, remembering who we are in Christ alone. Spending time with Him to be reminded of the grace we are afforded and the truth we are given. It’s telling ourselves a new story. One where we matter because He loves us so much. It’s not a one time thing, but a constant process of walking with HIm day to day and trusting Him with my story. In my thirties, I stress less over me than I did when I was in my 20′s but there are still those times when I know I am struggling and need to remember who I am. I am His, and that is always enough.

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  • MSLORRETTY

    I had this conversation today with a quiet friend in a quiet place and it was a good thing…to be quiet. We discussed how noisy it is out here and how neither of us really wants to add any more noise..I like your pause. I’ve walked the barn ridge back and forth on this issue, slipping from one side to the other and always needing the Spirit’s guidance to stay on track. I really do not want to fall…I’ve done that already. I’m still learning the necessary lessons of how to truly champion another and stay out of the way but my sights are set on that as the goal and destination. Thanks for making space here…you are generous, as always.

    • ALIA_JOY

      You said it right there, needing the Holy Spirit to guide us. There is not formula for how to make sure you’re not adding to the noise, or being faithful to write when God’s called you. The way we know, is by seeking Him. That’s it. And it’s the only way we guard against making our stories and voice self-focused.

      • MSLORRETTY

        The area I struggle with the most is the fine line between being a self-sacrifice (using my story as a jumping off place/reflection pool for God’s glory) and being self-centered. I obviously, don’t want the one (centered) but the struggle is how does one write to reflect the beauty He crafted from your ash-pit life? THAT’s my #1 goal…to somehow be a conduit for grace through all the patched up places so that others can see the potential of the same thing happening in their lives. Make sense? I desire so much to be clear with pure intent.

        • ALIA_JOY

          I get that. I do. My blog tagline and intent is Sharing God’s glory one messy, broken, beautiful story at a time. I see tremendous value in the redemptive factors in some of my stories.
          I want to be super clear than it taking those pauses and worrying less about our posts and voice and stories getting out there, I’m not saying there’s no value in them or that by sharing your posts, linking up or doing those bloggy things there is something prideful or arrogant going on. And from the outside, no one can ever 100% judge the intent of someone’s heart in sharing their stories. But I’ve got the gift of discernment and I can almost always sense when someone is struggling in this area with the way their voice/tweets/stories come across.
          There is a desperation that happens when we’re not ok with where God has us. There is something disingenuous that happens in the striving. I recognize it because I’ve struggled with it. Probably still struggle with it from time to time, if I’m honest.
          Only God knows our hearts and our intentions and only God can set us right. I think He’s pretty honest with us about our hearts when we seek Him. God doesn’t shy away from telling us the truth when our hearts look a whole lot like idol factories. And He’s the only one who can transform the selfish glory seeking pride to humble obedient servants. If we take the time to earnestly seek Him, our words will be silent when needed and loud when called. And we’ll never have to worry about the results.

  • http://www.adrielbooker.com/ ADRIEL BOOKER

    I think about this stuff a lot. Recently I was accused (by someone I respect, not an anonymous commenter) of using our ministry stories to build my personal brand rather than to help promote our organization. I was hurt deeply, and I was also offended. Firstly because my ministry IS me and the stories and heart are mine to love and share and hope to inspire others. There’s nothing fabricated or exploitive about them whatsoever and I always try to write in a way that’s honoring to God, the people we’re serving, and the people we serve alongside. My purpose is to promote God and what he has done, what he’s doing, and what he wants to do in the nations… and mobilize others to use what he’s given them to bring change. But secondly because I hate being reduced to a brand. I hate that the online world has actually transformed people into brands. I’m really grappling with how–as a writer who wants my work to find its place–to build my brand without building my pride. Because I do realize that “brand” is not something any of us can avoid. And sure, I want a platform to be a writer-influencer and so I need a brand. Some days I feel it’s just too hard and I suck at the PR of it all and want to hide under a rock. Other days I feel a conviction that it’s not me, it’s my message that needs out there and so find it easier to promote myself (my writing) then. But always, always it’s a tension and a challenge. Like you said, I don’t want to find my identity in this stuff. It’s hard though. It’s so hard.

    • ALIA_JOY

      It is so hard. It’s also really hard when you feel you’re doing a good thing with pure intentions and you’re harshly criticized. And when you have something so closely knit as part of your life, there is no separation between what you do in ministry and who you are.
      It’s ironic, because really, ALL Christian’s ministries should be so much a part of the way we live our everyday lives that whether we’re writing about changing poopy diapers or going to work and getting stuck in traffic or trekking through some village, we carry with us the gospel and the glory of knowing and sharing God’s love. So you being called out for building a platform or brand about how you live is kind of strange.
      It’s a super hard struggle. Branding and PR and platform building make me feel like throwing up in my mouth. But I’ve seen people I really respect and love do it and I’m fine with that too. God calls different people to different things. I don’t think there’s a one size fits all for branding.
      I feel like I’m a writer who blogs so all of the blogging stuff that goes with writing is just a way to get words onto the screen. But for me, once I’ve shared it, I’m good with it being whatever. I really like the connection and I know if I was huge I wouldn’t be able to respond and connect in the same way. As it is, it’s hard to keep up. Also maybe because I write mini-blog posts when commenting. ;) I think I’d feel like something was lost then.
      Don’t feel guilty for what you’re led to write/do. But also, make sure you stay open and receptive to God when He’s speaking to you. If you have a clean heart and pure intentions it doesn’t matter if you’re building your brand or platform, because it’ll all point back to Him if you stay out of the way.
      Kind of wish you were in Bend and we could chat over coffee at Looney beans. ;)

      • http://www.adrielbooker.com/ ADRIEL BOOKER

        Thanks Alia. And yeah, I would love that – to have time to talk it all out across a table over a couple of steaming drinks. No idea when our next visit will be.

  • http://gretchenlouise.com/ GRETCHEN LOUISE

    Oh such an important reminder. Thank you, Alia.

  • http://www.jacquewatkins.com/ JACQUE WATKINS

    Oh the grace to listen instead of speak, to pause instead of rush forward. I long for this, oh ..yes I do. And I think we all long to know it is us, not just our words that are loved. To remember He loves us for who we are and not what we can do for Him. And that His MERCY is new every single moment for even us, yes for us, for always. Thank you for this Alia…with so much love…xoxo

  • KATHY SCHWANKE

    This is so good Alia.

    And I love this verse:
    No, O people, the Lord has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you:
    to do what is right, to love mercy,
    and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:8

    {To focus on the walk and not the talk…and the ‘humbly’ part-that is the key. Like daily bread-daily surrender. Every morning new mercies. And a new cross to carry.}

  • http://momentsandinvitations.com/ DANA BUTLER

    Alia, thanks for this. For your boldness, for truth in love. Yes to being quick to listen and slow to speak. I appreciate your heart and respect you immensely, friend. Just–thanks.

  • http://sixinthehickorysticks.blogspot.com/ NACOLE SIMMONS

    I LOVE this. Every. single. word. I whole-heartedly agree, Alia. I think that must be why we connected the way we did at Jumping Tandem. I loved you immediately–I was so drawn to you. I have my own stuff (my own words) to write on this topic as well, and y’know, you make me even braver. Thank you for that. xo.