By Sandi Patty
I pretended that I was good.
Marriage was good. Life was good. Being a mom of young children was good. My career was good. I worked hard to make it look like I had it all together. I would sing from emotional depths, then leave the stage, go to my dressing room, where no one would see me, and sit in the corner and cry. I would weep tears from so deep down I honestly didn’t know where they were coming from. And then I’d put the mask back on to go meet the people who were kind enough to come to the concert. When the line dwindled and the venue lights dimmed, I’d get back on the bus and do what? Eat.
The truth is I adored my kids and tried my hardest to be a good mom. But with four kids and their needs, on a bus, and a big career with lots of professional demands that never ended, I felt like there wasn’t enough of me to go around. I ate, perhaps unconsciously adding pounds to make more of me to go around. As I grew bigger and bigger, I fell deeper and deeper into depression and despair, with only occasional glimmers of short-lived hope. The weight (literally) of all of this brought with it great shame and furthered the familiar old feelings of being fat and ugly and unworthy and hidden.
All of this had a profound effect on my inner voice. With children and staff and marriage rolling along together from city to city, there were, naturally, plenty of relational needs and demands for conflict resolution. But I was so adept at avoiding conflict that I stuffed the need to have important conversations inside, allowing problems to fester, suffocating my voice all the more.
Unlike my internal struggles, I couldn’t hide my weight. So I sang louder and higher to distract people from seeing me, the real me. The stifled voice inside longed to be heard—really heard. I was caught in a vortex, a whirlwind of good and bad swirling around me and inside of me, sucking me dry. It seemed I could find no safe space.
Ironically, it was sometime during this period that my new label, Word Music, decided to brand me as The Voice. I didn’t say a word to object, of course. How could I? I should be honored, right? So I played the part. But it pained me to no end that of all times to be dubbed The Voice, it should happen while I was drowning in voicelessness.
Into this morass came Bible Study Fellowship, and with it, Bev. Two things happened at once. The first is that as I immersed myself in God’s Word, his truth penetrated my dark places, shedding light on areas that desperately needed help and healing. One thing I have seen happen over and over again is that when we draw close to God’s Word, God surfaces our “stuff” that keeps us blocked spiritually. His Word loosens the grip that our wounds have on us. Our baggage becomes more obvious and more uncomfortable because we are placing so much of God’s truth into our souls. My friend Marilyn Meberg says that “our wounds will come burping up to the surface.”
Once I became part of BSF, my discussion leader, Bev, called me every week (as she did everyone in our group). She would begin by saying, “How has your week been?” Thirty or forty minutes later, we would end our discussion. She not only invited me to share but also really listened. I think she was the first woman in my life (who wasn’t family or a close friend) who chose to come alongside and mentor me. I didn’t know that word at the time, but looking back, I see that is exactly what she was doing—mentoring me by helping me process the messy intersection of my life and faith. A consistent part of my life, she demonstrated her love and care for me so unconditionally that I was able to share some of my deeply rooted wounds—a huge step I’d never taken before. She built a safe space of grace for me to express my truest voice.
As I continued BSF and talking regularly with Bev, she sensed that it might be time for me to go to counseling. I thought, at the time, that counseling is for those who are weak, lack faith, and can’t get through life by themselves. God had to redirect this belief in my life. No one can make it through life by themselves. We need each other desperately. We need to hear one another’s stories and to share our stories as well. Sometimes, when that need is complex and painful, a trained counselor can be a tremendous gift to help sort out truth from lies.
So there I was, in my mid-thirties, finally allowing some truth and vulnerability to seep through the cracks in the armor I had fashioned.
God loves you, Sandi. You personally. Not everyone except you. You! I was hearing it over and over again—from God’s Word, from BSF, from Bev, from my Christian counselor—as if for the first time ever. It took me back to my old internal dialogue when I used to sing I Am Loved with the Gaithers.
I’m a terrible person. I’m bad. I’m ugly and fat. I’ve done this terrible thing and that awful thing. He couldn’t possibly love me.
Eventually, I began to believe his love for me might be true. Then I would think, Well, okay, he’s God. That’s his job. He’s supposed to love me. He’s obligated.
Then someone whispered in my ear one day, “Honey, God likes you, too.”
“He doesn’t just love you. He likes you. He wants to be your friend.”
Hold on! Honestly? God likes me? Me? What a striking concept! The names of people in my life whom I loved (maybe because I had to) but didn’t actually like popped into my head. Liking someone is a whole different thing than loving them. (I bet you can think of people you love but don’t necessarily like. You know you can. You’re thinking of them right now. Hah! Gotcha!)
To be liked by the God of the universe? This would mean he chooses me. He chooses to spend time with me because he wants to. How is this possible? Maybe he gets a kick out of the way I sing. Or laughs when I do something silly. Or maybe he smiles when I throw my arms around my kids. I’ve heard someone say, “If God had a refrigerator, your picture would be on it.” I only put pictures of people on our refrigerator whom I enjoy. Could God possibly feel that way about me?
This opened up a whole new inner world for me. I wondered: If I lived every day as though I were the most loved (and liked) person in the world, how would I act differently? I’d probably not worry about my weight quite so much (although that’s a never-ending struggle). I would probably worry less what other people think of me. I’d probably say hi to a perfect stranger and not be scared I’d say something wrong. I’d probably be more able to speak the truth in love. I’d probably have less fear when I go to bed at night, knowing God holds me when I’m broken. I’d probably be able to rest easier knowing that God not only has me but has my kids, too. My family, my parents. All of us.
And then it hit me—that’s what Bill and Gloria’s song was saying, but I had missed it back then. Yet somehow the truth got planted in my heart and bloomed at just the right time. And here it is: When I know that I am loved, I am able to risk (because let’s face it, relationships of any kind are a risk) loving others. When I am loved, I am able to offer grace and understanding to those around me as well as to myself. To offer kindness and mercy along with truth. Because the one who knows me best loves me most! And just as amazing, he likes me!
Jesus’ voice in John 15:15 seemed to come alive, speaking directly to me: “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.”
I don’t know about you, but my friends are people I like even though I don’t have to. And I am God’s friend.
But here’s a warning: When you decide to step into God’s truth and to step away from the lies you always held as truth, your world is upended. For a bit. It’s confusing and it’s disarming. And you may run around chasing your tail for a while. I used to get so irritated when people said that God is even in the chaos. Well, guess what? He is. And sometimes we need a good dose of chaos to shake us out of our familiar ways and wake us up to see his truth. And that is exactly where my chaos led me. Jesus was making himself known to me on a whole new level.
I saw my counselor in Indianapolis, and as those weeks and months became a couple of years, it became clear that the deeply broken places in my world needed to be addressed head-on and at full steam.
I have become a big fan of counseling in the last half of my life. I honestly wish I had known its value long before I hit my mid-thirties. In my generation of Christian women, going to a counselor was still a bit taboo and difficult to admit or talk about. I think today’s generation of women really understands the importance of making sense of life while in process. Don’t hesitate to use the great resource of a good counselor. The earlier in life you unpack your baggage, the better.
Taken from The Voice: Listening for God’s Voice and Finding Your Own by Sandi Patty. Click here to learn more about this title.
Christian music icon and forty-time Dove award winner, Sandi Patty has long astounded listeners with her powerful voice. And yet, off the stage, Sandi struggled to have a voice at all.
Through deeply intimate stories of her life and the empowering spiritual truths she’s learned, Sandi offers readers wisdom to navigate the journey from voicelessness to discovering the voice God has given you. With a poignant history of sexual abuse, infidelity, divorce, and crises of self-image, Sandi lived much of her life feeling unworthy of love or value. And like so many of us, she coped by living through the voices of others, allowing other people to prescribe her identity. As she performed around the world, Sandi met others just like her, who hid wounds behind quiet smiles and struggled to live with fractured identities.
Sandi’s warm and invitational writing will draw you to the voice of God who sings over your life saying you are seen, you are loved, and your voice is worth hearing. With timeless wisdom, The Voice will help you uncover your God-given identity and a voice of your very own.
“God heard my voice even when I couldn’t hear it myself and then his voice broke through my walls and wounds, insecurities and self-doubts. I am voiceless no more!”
Sandi Patty is the most awarded female vocalist in contemporary Christian music history, with forty Dove Awards and five Grammy Awards. She was inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 2004 and named an Indiana Living Legend in 2007. She has released over thirty albums with over 12 million albums sold. Sandi was introduced to the world with her rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” during the rededication of the Statue of Liberty in 1986. Virtually overnight she became one of the country’s best-loved performers. Sandi and her husband, Don, have been married for over 20 years and are a proud blended family, with eight children and three grandchildren. They currently reside in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Learn more about Sandi at www.sandipatty.com.