Striving for Excellence, Maintaining Humility

“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”
(1 Corinthians 12: 4-7)

My love for singing began before I was even old enough to remember. I do recall as a young child in church, counting down the minutes left in the Mass based on the number of songs left to sing. My parents tell stories about me, at the age of four, singing the National Anthem to a bunch of strangers before 4th of July fireworks. To me, it has always been clear that this was a gift from God, because it’s so central to who I am. There’s no way I could have chosen it for myself. 

Singing at church was a natural progression from the other various “stages” in which I found myself. My family actually switched churches when I was in middle school so I’d have an opportunity to sing with a church choir. I served for years as Cantor of my family’s Catholic church in Pennsylvania before moving to Richmond for college. Those years, singing both inside and outside of the church, shaped me both as a singer and as a woman of faith. 

I struggled a lot (and still do) with an internal conflict between striving for excellence and maintaining humility. On my worst days, I let the performance aspect of singing take over, even telling my best friend in middle school that she couldn’t sing with me in the talent show because she wasn’t good enough. On my other worst days, I was paralyzed by the fear of being seen as boastful or praise-seeking, and I had a hard time accepting my gift. I created my own version of the scarcity fallacy, wherein, if I take all the talents or opportunities, they’ll be none left for anyone else. And that left me with a strong desire to sing with excellence, mixed with a building feeling of guilt every time I was recognized. 

The truth that I cling to, which has been healing for me in recent years, is the idea that God gives us gifts in order to show who He is. When we hide our talents away, we are hiding the very parts of us that show God to the world. An elderly man in my church growing up once said to me, “When I listen to you sing, I feel like I know what heaven will be like, because you have the voice of angels.” This sentence was simultaneously the kindest thing anyone has ever said to me and also the most painful. I knew that I was no angel, so I felt like a fraud. 

However, one of the wonderful mysteries of God is that He does miraculous things through common sinners. It’s not me who is angelic; it’s God’s light and beauty being reflected through the gifts He has given me. So I choose to share those gifts with the hope that, through them, someone might see God.

(Written by Colleen James)