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In “Perfectly Imperfect,” a TedxMacatawa Talk I’ve watched and re-watched about a dozen times, my beloved college poetry teacher Jack Ridl asks, “What is something you used to do, something you loved to do, something you gave up because you weren’t good enough?” Jack tells of how he began each of his classes with this question, asking students to raise their hands if they had ever given up something that mattered to them. And all of them always did.

The thing I gave up — the thing I stopped doing as soon as I realized I wasn’t good enough — was singing in public. To be clear, natural musical talent is not a gift I was bestowed, evidenced by the fact that one can count my years of childhood piano lessons by the number of rhythm notebooks I accumulated.

But I always loved to sing, and when I was young, the children’s choir at church and music programs at school were a given. Everyone participated, no tryouts needed. I was quick to try out for solos and extra parts, and a few times, joined my sister and two cousins to provide the Special Music for our church’s evening service. Calling ourselves the Cousins Quartet, we gathered around one microphone and sang along to accompaniment music cassettes, or as my aunt called it, the “canned music” that was a popular item at Christian bookstores in the 90s.

It was around ninth grade that I stopped getting picked for special singing parts in the school choir. I joked that my slightly-out-of-tune voice must not be quite as cute anymore and decided my energy might be best directed into more successful ventures. I quit choir and joined the school newspaper instead.

During a recent Sunday morning church service, I was struck with the joy of the invitation to stand and sing aloud. I was moved by raising my voice to blend in with the voices of others without having it vetted first. And I was deeply aware that standing inside a church is the only place in my life where I receive this invitation, especially as my children are not particularly forgiving of my carpool karaoke, nor did they encourage my attempts to sing along to Pandemic Zoom church in the living room.

I love that there is room for my voice when we gather for worship. I love that there is room for so many voices without qualifications. It makes me think of the Brene Brown’s Braving the Wildnerness when she writes, “I intentionally go to a church where I can break bread, pass the peace, and sing with people who believe differently than I do,” and Rachel Held Evans’s Searching for Sunday when she writes, “Imagine if every church became a place where everyone is safe, but no one is comfortable. Imagine if every church became a place where we told one another the truth. We might just create sanctuary.”

I’ve written before on this blog how at different times in my life I’ve struggled with a stutter. But singing is a stutterer’s safe place. In music, there is breath. Scientists haven’t pinpointed exactly why this is, but research at The University of Iowa suggests that “Music is an activity in which you use the right side of the brain (language uses the left), so when you sing music, you’re no longer using your left brain (and probably no longer stuttering).”

The Stuttering Foundation of America offers other theories. One is that we use our vocal cords, lips, and tongue differently when we sing than when we talk. Another is that in singing, the pressure of time evaporates. We know what words are coming. There are no surprises, no word retrieval, no communicative pressure.

Likewise, my friend, an Episcopal priest, has told me about one of her parishioners who had a stroke. Once one of her congregation’s best readers of scripture, he now struggles to speak, but he can still sing in the choir. In songs, especially the most familiar, his voice comes back.

In our curated lives, most of us are somewhat choosy about who we talk with, who we spend time with, and which voices and news stories are shared on our cell phones and computer screens. I once heard a pastor compare our modern-day lives to a road trip in which we may be sitting in the same vehicle, but everyone is wearing headphones and tuned in to their own individual station. I wonder if that’s another gift of community worship; it cracks that isolation open and requires us to take out our headphones, tune into the same station, and sing together.

If worship is for God, if it’s an offering and a gift, rather than a manicured performance, then it is, by its very nature, inclusive. It doesn’t demand perfection but welcomes all voices with all their shortcomings, brokenness, and beauty. Paradoxically, the act of gathering together to sing makes space because we must put ourselves aside — we must let go of our insecurities, our self-consciousness, and our awareness of our slightly pitchy, out-of-tune voices. And in that offering of imperfection, our hearts and mouths are opened to receive the gifts of forgiveness, grace, and joy.

Dana VanderLugt

Dana VanderLugt lives in West Michigan with her husband, three sons, and spoiled golden retriever. She has an MFA from Spalding University and works as a literacy consultant. Her novel, Enemies in the Orchard: A World War 2 Novel in Verse, releases in September 2023.  Her work has also been published in Longridge Review, Ruminate, and Relief: A Journal of Art & Faith. She can be found at and on Twitter @danavanderlugt.


  • Daniel Meeter says:

    So right. I too have a not-stuttering-while-singing story and a being-able-to-sing-despite-a-stroke story. Thank you for this.

  • Fred D Mueller says:

    Perfect timing! This Sunday will be our first singing without masks. With your permission, I’d like to copy a few of your excellent sentences.

  • Jan Zuidema says:

    You have touched on a beautiful truth. Sit toward the front some Sunday, stop singing for a moment, and listen to this sweet sound, giving thanks for even the monotones. We recently adjusted our live-stream to let those listening and watching hear less of the leaders singing and more of the congregation singing their faith and what they believe. This is the power of song in the church universal.

    • Emily Brink says:

      Amen! Thanks, Jan. And thanks, Dana, for this beautiful piece. As an organist in former years, I would sometimes drop out of playing during the hymns so everyone (including me!) could hear the beauty of our voices together. Always, they would start listening better to each other, even starting to breathe together in ways that interpreted the text, rising and falling in volume. I’ll never forget one person rushing up to me after a service, exclaiming, “I love it when you don’t play.” Then saying, oops! But I knew exactly what she meant and loved her saying it. Though I jumped back in as needed to keep the tempo and even build on that energy, the true blessing comes from our voices united together in the song of the church of all times and places.

    • Bob VE says:

      Brene Brown’s Braving the Wildnerness when she writes, “I intentionally go to a church where I can break bread, pass the peace, and sing with people who believe differently than I do,” and Rachel Held Evans’s Searching for Sunday when she writes, “Imagine if every church became a place where everyone is safe, but no one is comfortable. Imagine if every church became a place where we told one another the truth. We might just create sanctuary.”
      This is my prayer today. Thanks!

  • Jack Ridl says:

    I said that???😄

    I assume that absolutely everything I do is not good enough, certainly loving God and my fellow world dwellers.

    Thank you for another beautifully composed piece, cherished Dana❤️

  • Michael Weber says:

    Excellent thoughts. Thank you

  • Rodney Haveman says:

    Thank you so much for this writing.
    When I was younger I was not good enough at writing poems, so I stopped. I’ve come to understand through my years of preaching that sermons are much closer to poems than essays (at least when I’m capturing their essential nature). I haven’t picked back up poetry, but maybe I should.
    As for me and singing, I believe I have the worst singing voice that God has ever created. My children would bear witness to that truth. When I was younger, I never sang-too self-conscious, too ashamed. One service, I sat next to our Pastor (Rev. Gary VanKoevering), and his voice was almost painful to listen to. I swear he missed every note in the most familiar of hymns, but he sang with more joy and gusto than anyone I had ever encountered. From that day forward I sang with everything I could muster. First, I could never sound worse than Pastor Gary. Second, he taught me a tangible lesson of grace and joy and offering back to God what God had gifted me. Thanks, Pastor Gary, and thanks Dana for this lovely story. I think I must share a good portion of what you wrote, and of course, appropriate credit will be given!
    God bless all the woeful singers! Make a joyful noise! And God bless the Church that makes room for us!

  • James C Dekker says:

    Thank you so much.
    “There is a crack, a crack in everything [often voices]. That’s how the Light gets in.” L. Cohen

  • Christopher Poest says:

    Thank you, Dana.

  • Rowland Van Es says:

    Amen about the joy of singing together in church and blending in with other voices. This is why I hate it when the music is too loud, as most praise and worship music is these days. I can’t even hear myself, let alone all those around me, all we can hear are the performers up front with the microphones and amplifiers. SAD!

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