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Singing in our own voice

A version of this talk was given in sacrament meeting on May 14, 2017.  It is based on Elder Holland’s remarks from the April 2017 General Conference titled “Songs Sung and Unsung.”

Mormon, chapter 7, contains the last words Mormon wrote before he was killed.  As part of his testimony of Jesus Christ, he says this:

“And [Jesus Christ] hath brought to pass the redemption of the world, whereby he that is found guiltless before him at the judgment day hath it given unto him to dwell in the presence of God in his kingdom, to sing ceaseless praises with the choirs above, unto the Father... in a state of happiness which hath no end.” (Mormon 7:7)

That is how Mormon ends the Book of Mormon:  with a promise that we can join the choir in heaven if we are faithful.  It is also the same vision that begins the Book of Mormon.  In 1 Nephi, chapter 1, Lehi goes somewhere to pray for his people and as he does this a pillar of fire appears on a rock.  Nephi doesn’t tell us what Lehi sees or hears in this fiery vision, but it’s enough to make him “tremble exceedingly”.  He returns home exhausted, collapses on his bed, and has another vision.  Immediately, Lehi sees:

“...God sitting upon his throne, surrounded with numberless concourses of angels in the attitude of singing and praising their God.” (1 Nephi 1:8)

Lehi then sees the Savior, the apostles and what will happen to Jerusalem.  As he comes out of this vision, he begins to sing.  Nephi even tells us the words that Lehi sings and the reason.  He sang because “his soul did rejoice, and his whole heart was filled”. (1 Nephi 1:14)

There are times when my heart is so full with joy that I start to sing.  If I’m alone, I might even sing out loud.

But there are also times, when I want to sing, when I want to be filled with joy, yet something is missing.

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland described this condition in his most recent conference address.

“Among the realities we face as children of God living in a fallen world is that some days are difficult, days when our faith and our fortitude are tested. These challenges may come from a lack in us, a lack in others, or just a lack in life, but whatever the reasons, we find they can rob us of songs we so much want to sing.”

So, what do we do when we find ourselves in this situation?

Sometimes we feel like we can’t sing because we mistakenly think we lack some essential element that others have.  We compare ourselves to an unrealistic version of others and feel that we can’t participate in the choir because we aren’t as good in some say.

The reality is that we are both terrible judges of other people (which is probably why we are commanded not to judge others in the first place) and we are often guilty of misleading others by just showing temporary versions of our best selves.

If all anyone sees of us and all we see of others is what appears on social media or during our weekly appearance at church, we will end up with a skewed view of ourselves and others.

It is easy to paint a good if superficial picture.  True story.  About ten years ago, the BBC recorded me singing a hymn in St. Paul’s Cathedral in London and then broadcast that recording on Easter morning.  That sounds pretty amazing.  I bet there is no one else here in this congregation that can say the same thing except for Thelma and Emma who were singing with me.  Now, the full story doesn’t sound quite as amazing.  We were visiting St. Paul’s in February.  The BBC was recording an Easter service for broadcast later.  At one point the audience got to sing along and we were part of the audience.  It was really no different than singing the rest hymn along with 15,000 other people at General Conference.  But I can spin that story to make it sound more exceptional than it really is.

My point is, we do each other a disservice when we seek to amaze or try to conform.  We are all unique creations.  That is not a surprise to our Heavenly Father.  That is part of his glory.  That is his design.  He wants us to add beauty and variety to our earthly existence.  Our lives are enhanced when we are surrounded by variety.

I can be exhilarating if we are willing to join our unique voices with our brothers and sisters.  I love being in the ward choir.  Choirs sound great precisely because the voices are not all the same.  There are different parts.  There are different notes, different words.  I sing the bass part.  Frankly, the bass part is kind of boring by itself.  It feels as though you can  just pick a note and stick with it for a while.  But, when that bass voice is combined with the other voices in the choir, the feeling is amazing.

That doesn’t mean we have to limit our range of expression to just a few rigid parts in the choir.  Two weeks ago, I was singing next to Braeden in the choir.  He has a great singing voice.  If you had compared the notes that were written to the notes that he was singing, about half the time he was just doing his own thing.  But it sounded great.

That’s not to say anything goes.  There are still moments when we need to be fully in tune with the Lord.  As Braeden and I sang, there were moments when I knew our conductor, Sister Milne, wanted us to hold a note a little longer than was written or pay particular attention to a passage.  Likewise, with all of the paths we take in our individual lives, there are still key checkpoints through which the Lord wants us to pass.  Some of these are principles we need to learn such as faith, humility, repentance, hope and charity.  Others are covenants and ordinances such as baptism, sacrament, accepting the priesthood through ordination or marriage.  Yet in between these checkpoints, we have been given the Holy Ghost to guide or steps and help us sing with the tongue of angels.

Elder Holland assures us that:

“Once we have accepted divinely revealed lyrics and harmonious orchestration composed before the world was, then our Heavenly Father delights to have us sing in our own voice, not someone else’s. Believe in yourself, and believe in Him. Don’t demean your worth or denigrate your contribution. Above all, don’t abandon your role in the chorus. Why? Because you are unique; you are irreplaceable. The loss of even one voice diminishes every other singer in this great mortal choir of ours, including the loss of those who feel they are on the margins of society or the margins of the Church.”

Now, sometimes our inability to fully join in songs of joy isn’t because we lack perspective, or confidence or a true sense of our worth.  Sometimes we do truly lack something in our lives.  Our hearts hurt because of sin or because of lessons we are struggling to apply or simply because we lack a sincere and righteous desire.

There is no one-size-fits-all remedy for these situations.  But may I suggest two things that will help?

First, surround yourself with strong singers.  I am not a great singer.  I only know one note.  It’s the middle one on the bass clef.  I don’t even know what it is called.  I just know that when I see that note, I can make the right sound 95% of the time.  For the rest of the notes, I sit next to Brother Lowe or Brother Smith.  Their voices are strong and sure.  I learn the song by following their example and before too long I can sign it with almost as much strength and confidence.

Likewise, when we feel like we are lacking in some way, we can listen to the voice of the apostles and prophets.  They are true.  They are strong.

Second, focus on joining your voice and your will to the Savior in prayer.  Songs are prayers.  So we can pray for the strength to sing again.  We can pray in faith for what we lack.  Even more than we do, the Savior knows exactly what we lack, exactly what we need and precisely when we most need it.

“Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.” (Romans 8:26)

Just as the Savior can hear the songs we cannot sing, he can likewise offer the prayers we cannot utter.  In my times of need, how grateful I am to know that the Savior is pleading my case with the Father, even when my own words and prayers fail me.

I know that he loves our unique voices individually and collectively.  He is preparing a place for us in the choir. Until that day, let’s sing just a little bit more. Let’s sing songs that are honest with one another. Let’s sing songs that build and lift one another.  Let’s delight in the songs of our brothers and sisters.  Let’s sing songs of gratitude.  Then let us watch the hand of the Lord shape our voices to become more than we imagined.


Olivia Cobian said…
I really like this, Adam. Nice to see your blog!

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