All her life, Carly Simon has battled the Beast.
The Beast is her name for the all-consuming sense of Not-Good-Enoughness that has plagued her from her earliest days.
She was supposed to be a boy. Her parents, who already had two daughters, had even picked out a name for their new son: Carl. Upon her arrival as a girl, Mom and Dad navigated their disappointment by simply adding a “y” to Carl.
Because her father was Richard L. Simon, the founder of the Simon & Schuster publishing empire, Carly’s New York City childhood featured elegant parties and visits by high profile celebrities. Jackie Robinson and Albert Einstein might drop by for dinner.
But underneath it all was the deep suspicion that she was not pretty enough or talented enough.
She felt neither favored nor loved. At age eight she began to stutter. Her stuttering became so severe that she shrank back at school and at any public function where she might have to talk.
One night at the dinner table she couldn’t even say the words “pass the butter.” Her mother, in a rush of compassionate insight, asked Carly to sing the words instead. The words came out flawlessly. The whole family joined in. Soon everyone was singing “pass the butter” in harmony.
Music was at the center of the Simon household. Older sister Joanna (“Joey”) would go on to become an opera singer, and sister Lucy would forge a career as a pop singer and Broadway songwriter. Sadly, both sisters died one year ago last month, just 24 hours apart, each having lost a battle with cancer.
No one suspected it when they were sitting at that dinner table, but their shy, awkward, self-doubting little sister – the one who was finding her voice while singing for her butter – would go on to become a global musical superstar.
Carly still battles stuttering from time to time, and the Beast can still manifest itself as overwhelming stage fright. She is one of the few guest artists on Saturday Night Live ever permitted by Lorne Michaels to pre-tape her performance. But it can truthfully be said that Carly Simon got beyond her stammering and found her voice by singing.
Do you stutter sometimes when you pray?
Do you struggle to find the right words, express the full range of your emotions, or get across to your Father in heaven what’s really on your heart?
The Holy Spirit will help you.
The apostle Paul, right in the middle of what many consider his most impassioned theological discourse – what we now call Romans chapter eight – describes how this happens:
“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. When we don’t know how to pray, the Spirit intercedes with sighs and groans too deep for words. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God” (Romans 8:26-27).
The Spirit, in other words, fills in the empty spaces of our cries to God. When we can’t find the right words, the Spirit knows just how to pray with us and for us.
Perhaps you, too, will find your voice – your praying voice – by singing. Paul talks about “singing with his spirit” in I Corinthians 14:15 – something we wish he had described in much greater detail.
Or sigh your prayers. Or scream them. Or cry them out with real tears.
Some people pray best by dancing. They don’t utter words at all, but offer movements and gestures that mere language could never express. Still others walk their prayers. Or silently drive them on country roads. Or wordlessly pour out their deepest feelings – whether gratitude, grief, hurt, or hope – while exercising.
When we are too tired, too afraid, too crushed, too angry, or too confused to pray – to find any words at all to express the longing of our souls – all we really need to do is turn our hearts toward God as best we can.
The Spirit will always be with us, interceding in such a way that our cries will reach the Father’s ears without a hint of static on the line.
Don’t let the Beast have the last word. Find a way to find your voice – your praying voice.
Even if we stutter, God is always eager to hear whatever we have to say.
And his Spirit will faithfully fill in the gaps.