Singing Unhindered

This kind of embarrassment went way beyond the social undoing caused by wearing the collar of your polo shirt the wrong way in the early 1980’s.

It was the beginning of a new quarter. I dutifully arrived in the choir classroom for the first day of the required class. I’d already completed the other 7th grade required quarters of shop, home economics and art.

Familiar with piano after several years of lessons, I understood what she meant when she instructed the class to sing back the arpeggio she would play for each individual. This was, apparently, the means by which she would determine vocal range and placement in the choir. 

Students were called forward one at a time. She played an arpeggio and the student sang it in response. The teacher directed each student to a seat in the choir accordingly.

Then it was my turn.

She played an arpeggio.
I sang it back.
She played another.
I sang it back.
She played another.
I sang it back.

Again and again.

Until this point, nobody had sung more than one arpeggio in response. My cheeks began to flush underneath my feathered hair. I was grateful most of the class couldn’t see my growing discomfort as I faced only the piano and the instructor. I just wanted it to be over.

Please, tell me where to sit.

Finally the arpeggios came to a halt. I waited expectantly for her words. They came… jarring and painful:

“Go find another elective.”

Remember: this was a required class for seventh graders. Required. And I had just been invited to leave. Instructed to find an “elective” in lieu of this required class. In front of God and everyone. Mortifying.

A seed of belief was planted that day. A belief that I couldn’t – and shouldn’t – sing. So, I didn’t. I avoided projecting my voice or trying to match a tone in any and every setting other than my own bedroom or car for the remainder of my junior and senior high career. In college my venues expanded to include bars, using a bottle (or thumb) as a microphone.

Then I began to attend church.

My new church-going friends eventually noted that I never sang during the service. They graciously gave me time to learn the musical repertoire before inquiring as to why.

“I can’t sing.”

Armed with verses instructing me to simply “make a joyful noise” (Psalm 100), they tried to draw me out. And, to some degree, they succeeded. My vocal offerings were tentative and quiet, ever mindful that the person in front of me might react to my singing the same way as my 7th grade choir teacher.

Today, I see the talents of those who lead song during worship service and feel envious. God has given them an ability to usher the rest of us into His Throne Room. I’m grateful for their ministry; they are God’s agents in my harried-heart on many days. Wistful that I don’t sound more like them, I cannot fathom letting them hear me sing. Under any circumstances.

I forgave my choir teacher long ago. But only now — 30 years later — have I finally learned why I should sing.

Because God gave me my voice.

He picked out my hair color and shape of my nose. He determined I would stand 5′-5″ tall and have skin that burns when I’m outside for mere moments. He decided I would prefer Peanut Butter M&M’s over a slice of chocolate cake any day. He gave me my voice, depth and tone, even if off-pitch.

All these qualities were given so that I might return them to Him for His joy and glory. The attributes I posses may not be highly esteemed by my culture or my peers. But they were sovereignly appointed to me for the delight of my Creator.

When I don’t sing, He misses my voice.


Please share!
    • Susan Stilwell

      Great post, Kirsten! I’m so sorry for the bad circumstance behind the lesson. Gosh, back in the 70s those teachers just “called ’em like they saw ’em” and it didn’t matter whose dreams they crushed. (My high school guidance counselor pulled a similar stunt on me.)

      God DOES miss our voices, and they’re all melodic in His ears. So grateful for that!

      • Kirsten

        Amen, Susan! They’re all beautiful to Him.

    • Hester Christensen


      I relate. I too had a painful high school experience and hid the negative words from my coach for years!! And they would re-play over and over whenever I faced a ‘big’ decision on anything. Finally, I realized how this was holding me captive.

      God has given us a voice to sing to Him as you said. Our melody to Him lies not so much in the beauty of our voice, but the beauty of the One who gave us our voice. :)

      (And, as a little side note of encouragement — your voice is glorious when you proclaim His truth to others!)

      Love to you,
      Hester. ;)

      • Kirsten

        Thanks for the encouragement, Hester. I gave a version of this post as a message at youth group last night and my sweet daughter was kind enough to offer similar affirmation. I’ll trust Him to use my gifts for His glory, and those things the world views as my weaknesses, too.

    • Emily

      Thank you so much for sharing! Sometimes we have to remind ourselves that God sees us as perfect amidst all of our imperfections. I think we all can remember a time when we wanted to hide a God-given asset for fear of rejection or ridicule:

      During my Sophomore year in high school, I was taking a speech class when the instructor abruptly stopped his lecture. Then he walked toward me, looking down at my feet (which were donning a pair of flimsy flip-flops).

      “WOW. You have really long toes!” said my charming teacher. Giggles ensued.
      “Yep!” says I, unamused.
      “No, I mean- REALLY long toes!”- as my teacher proceeds to grab a ruler, measure my toe, and draw the length of my alien-like digit on the chalkboard for all to see.

      Well….13 years later, I can say- my long alien toes have done me well. They complement my tall height, which makes stretching my arms to the top shelf in the grocery story for the nice little lady who needed some paper towels possible (without falling over). They help me get from point A to point B. They have even brought me to the “foot” of a pedicurist who desperately needed a listening ear. It may be a “stretch”~ but God has used my ugly, imperfect, long toes for the greater good.

      Thank you for the reminder. =)

      • Kirsten

        Emily, it’s clear to me that you’ve allowed God to use all of you! Thanks for sharing your story, painful as it may have been back then.

    • Ellen Landreth

      Your God-given ability to speak, and write, far outshines the best of the Hollywood singers. If I had to choose between the two–hands down I would choose your ability over being able to sing. But I do feel for you. I have always loved to sing but haver realized my ability to fading.

      • Kirsten

        You’re sweet, Ellen. Thanks! We’ve all got to use what God gives us — ALL of it!

    • Linda Jackson

      I used to teach Elementary School Music, and I NEVER told a student he/she shouldn’t sing. I believe that if you can talk, you can also sing. A person may not be the best singer, but he/she can learn to sing better. I think your teacher did you a great disservice.

      Think of how quiet the forest would be if only the “great” singing birds actually sang. But God has given many types of voices to the birds, and when they are all singing, a forest gets its beautiful sound texture.

      Your voice is needed — for praising the Lord in singing, for speaking and teaching God’s word, for inspiring others with your writing and speaking, for participating in the beautiful sound texture of His people.

      Thank you for sharing, Kirsten! {{HUGS}}

      • Kirsten

        Love the image of the forest — Thanks, Linda! And I appreciate your words of affirmation, too. Thanks for reading along; it’s good to know someone’s out there. :-)

    • Jen Pope

      I had the same sort of experience in high school. My music teacher laughed at my voice… I didn’t really sing again in public until they needed someone to lead the music at the MotherHouse Bible study in Boulder, years later. A total God thing… :)

      • Kirsten

        Wow, Jen, I had no idea! Was it hard to step into that role? Thanks for doing it!

    • tom magnuson

      Kirsten– I too was never much of a singer so I took band instead. I do remember in church as a middle schooler sort of mumbing the worship songs each and every week and every week my dad would turn to me, hold the music page in front of me and say “belt it out.” He got it and I hadnt. My dad knew good singing voice or not God wants our best with the mouth he provided. It wasn’t until after college I started to get it. Now I really try to put out some decent volume each week, maybe not “belting it out” but i am getting there!

      • Kirsten

        RIGHT ON, Tom! I love that you both found (and used) your gifts in band, and are still willing to give God even that which doesn’t feel ‘natural’ in your voice. Thanks for the example. And the comment and Tweet!

    • Jannica

      I love this post and all the comments, Kirsten! I’ve fought many mental battles with the numerous ways I consider myself not “good enough” and your post is such a sweet reminder that we are His creation… His masterpiece. His love for us is not performance or appearance based. What an important message for us as adults AND for our youth. Thank you for sharing yourself and pointing us to Him.

      • Kirsten

        The comments have been great, don’t you think, Jannica? I’m so grateful we don’t have to be ‘good enough’ but that Jesus is more than enough!

    • Jason C

      Kirsten, I can so totally relate. Our church choir director told me during Christmas Concert rehearsals to “just mouth the words but don’t sing” when I was in elementary school. I was crushed and never sang in public – singing became my greatest fear. But Lisa and I are blessed with 3 girls who all have beautiful voices and last summer I coaxed Lacey into giving us all voice lessons. I made a little progress but I did resolve that I would lift my voice to my Lord even in church, 50 years later.

      • Kirsten

        Gosh, Jason, that’s such a neat story. I love that Lacey was coax-able! Thanks for taking time to comment!