2014 Nobel Peace prize winner Malala Yousafzai said in her United Nations address, “I raise up my voice – not so that I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard.”
There’s something here that young Malala understands deeply about her voice. Many of us have powerful (literal and figurative) voices and platforms that amplify what we say. This awards us opportunity and responsibility. This means that our voices are heard, or read, by many, and this gives weight to our words. What is their purpose? How do we choose them? Scripture is clear that those of us who teach and lead, those who hold a microphone in our hands within the church body on a regular basis, are to be judged more harshly for what we do with that honor. Do we take that seriously?
What are we doing with that chance? How often do we ask ourselves, like Malala, “Who benefits from how I raise my voice?” Does my family benefit from how I raise my voice? Do my friends and closest community benefit from how I raise my voice? Is my workplace better because of how I raise my voice? Does the church, as a whole, benefit from how I raise my voice?
A responsibility to use our words and voices wisely is not the same as an obligation to please everyone. I often find myself in a shame spiral, asking, “How can I make everyone happy with my words?” or "How can I do everything better?” This “checks and balances” of our words is not meant to perpetuate shame. Our personal impact is limited and finite, but the God who empowers our voices, is not. How can we be faithful to the purpose we have each been given to speak for the sake of others?
First, we must realize that there is a purpose to each of our voices. However, it is not about our own glory, it’s about God’s. We want our voices to remind others of His powerful and gracious voice. Are we spending time listening to the voice of the shepherd? Are our voices starting to resemble His?
Next, we must invite others to speak into our perspectives. We need accountability, growth, and humility. Without the voices of others, our perspective remains limited to only our own experiences, which is a dangerous gamble of our integrity. We need women to lead, mentor, and teach us to keep our eyes open to the many different ways that the Lord may be guiding our lives.
Finally, we must remember that our voice grows in impact, rather than decreases, when we invite others to share the stage. We must avoid the scarcity mindset that tells us to monopolize our platform and keep it for ourselves. Instead, we can hold the metaphorical door open for other women (and men) whose voices need to be amplified as well. We want our voices to unify our groups and communities, never to divide or discourage them.
We have the divine privilege of pointing attention to the Lord, and He has given us unique gifts and communities in which to do that. Whether we hold a microphone, a Bible, a guitar, an offering plate or a laptop, may we each remember Malala’s wisdom of using our voices well, and speaking up on behalf of those without voices.