J.S. Park on Finding Your True Voice

J.S. Park, (BA Psychology, Univ. South Florida; MDiv, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary) is a hospital chaplain, viral blogger, and teaching pastor. As an interfaith chaplain at a large hospital in Tampa, he provides grief counseling and assists with end-of-life care. He shared with us about his book, The Voices We Carry: Finding Your One True Voice in a World of Clamor and Noise.

We all carry so many voices with us, don’t we? Tell us about the different types of internal and external voices that we carry and where they come from.

The internal voices are Exalting Self, Exalting Others, Condemning Self, and Condemning Others. An easy way to remember this is ECSO: Exalting, Condemning, Self, Others.

The internal voices are valuations which go up or down. These voices demonize or victimize. They shrink or flex.

For example, if you have a leak at the house, you can call a plumber and say, “Don’t you know who I am?” That’s exalting ourselves. It’s our pride and ego.

You could plead, “I’ll pay you double with a nice steak.” That’s exalting others. It’s people-pleasing.

You can shout, “Look, you’re a nobody, just fix it.” That’s condemning others. It’s judging and controlling.

Or you can murmur, “I’m a nobody, please help me.” That’s condemning ourselves. It’s self-doubt and insecurity.

The internal voices work as a protective mechanism to cover some fractured part of us. It turns out these mechanisms don’t work very well. So we might condemn ourselves because we expected an idealized outcome, which drives us to claw up the ragged cliff of perfection. Or we exalt someone else to keep them happy, which makes us feel safe even at the expense of compromising our values.

The external voices are Guilt, Family Dynamics, Trauma, and Grief. A way to remember is PLSO: Pain, Loss, Self, Others. Guilt is Pain from Self, Family Dynamics is Pain from Others, Trauma is Loss of Self, Grief is Loss of Others.

These voices come from precipitations, external events we don’t always control. Like a flood busting in through the windows. As extreme as a car accident or hate crime, to less visible frameworks like prejudiced structures and institutions, or as fast as two unkind words from a fifth grade teacher. Such events get trapped in our bones, becoming voices of their own. External voices are harder to navigate, buried in the topography of our souls, shaped by our individual stories. At times they flare up without notice, wreaking havoc by shrapnel. For example, the voice of trauma might get you to believe that the bad things which happened to you also make you bad, so you might choose harmful things as a confirmation of your “rotten” self.

The bad news? Each voice has destructive messages that can shut us down. The good news? By listening further, unscrambling each voice, we find something redeemable. In each of them, there is harm, but in each of them, healing can be found too.

By listening further, unscrambling each voice, we find something redeemable. In each of them, there is harm, but in each of them, healing can be found too.

In the midst of the daily cacophony both internally and externally, how do you learn to listen your true voice?

I’m watching my baby daughter grow up, and I can see that some of her personality is from me, some from my wife, and some—well, a mystery mix given by God. My daughter is her own person. With her own voice. It’s all that God has given her that makes her who she is: her likes, dislikes, her gifts, her callings. Her voice is the story she will tell, and her true voice is all about telling it well.

This voice is what she brings to the world. As a pastor once told me, God made you the way He made you because He wanted to say something through you that He can’t through anyone else. No voice is like hers or like yours or like mine, and we each bring something meaningful and transformative to our corner of the universe.

Whether it’s from prejudice, failed systems, or bad baked-in narratives, much of the world will attempt to suppress my daughter’s voice. Yours, too. To control it, use it, coerce it, shut it down. Your true voice solidifies when 1) you establish what is not true, and 2) find those values and God-given gifts that are particular to yourself which cannot be negotiated. What do you bring to every room? What do you hope to bring?

I spent a lot of time trying to Frankenstein-patchwork my voice from every room I was in. But to find my true voice, this meant entering the room with my voice already. To enter in surplus. Of course, I must keep one hand open to new ideas and everyone’s input. But I have one hand closed: my non-negotiables which make me who I am and what I hope to bring to each room.

The main way I know how to enter in surplus is to rest on the Grace of God. To hold onto the Voice of Christ as my main non-negotiable. It’s here that I’m not scrambling for the hot potato of social points, stitching a voice together to appear likeable or impressive, or judging others as a way of covering my own insecurity. By grace I am already full. By grace I have been given a voice to speak life in the places I go—a piece of the same life that was given to me.

Grace is amazing indeed! It’s also encouraging to read what you’ve written: We carry voices, but they can carry us too. Whose voices have carried you through the past year? What characteristics do they share?

The last year was a manic marathon where we were randomly forced to sprint for long sections and still avoid the potholes. The pandemic, politics, racism, the riot, and online fervor were taxing, too much to bear. What I did not need was one more voice that demanded something from me.

I noticed a lot of books and blogs I read were about “better habits” or some form of do-this and not-that. You know, “How to succeed at the pandemic, write a novel in lockdown, make your sourdough bread go viral.” It seemed every YouTuber was telling you how to relax, be mindful, enjoy what you have—and you better do this or else. When people start yelling at you to relax in a pandemic, that’s a clear sign they’re not relaxed either.

In 2020, my wife and I moved to a new house, we had a baby, and I released a book. We barely made it. I couldn’t take on one more thing. The voices which carried me were the ones who did not make a deadline or demand. They were the voices that set us free. Sometimes that meant they were silent while I vented. Other times they filled in the gaps of my emotional and provisional needs: I know it’s hard and you’re doing great. This looks hard—why don’t I bring food? I’ll check on you later but you don’t have to answer. You will have ice cream in your mailbox tomorrow. I didn’t know ice cream could be mailed, but apparently it tastes better after a rush delivery.

Two of our friends, a married couple, did this for us: They came over, asked what house stuff needed to be done, watched our baby, and let us take a nap. None of our house stuff had been done because we moved in a month before the pandemic. Our friends stayed completely masked and sanitized. They put up our curtains and our picture frames. I was so exhausted I barely remember them coming over. But I was grateful for a nap and to wake up to pictures of our family on the walls. The next nap I had was the best ever because of the curtains.

A voice doesn’t have to speak out loud to carry you. A person’s voice, the totality of who they are in their compassion and kindness and presence, can carry you too.

Learn more about J.S.’s latest release, The Voices We Carry: Finding Your One True Voice in a World of Clamor and Noise.