Despite having debuted over five years ago, Sara Groves is yet to be a household name. That doesn’t bother her, since her low-key profile affords her the chance to impact listeners on a more personal level, much like a small congregation can be a bit healthier for the soul than a gargantuan mega-church. Still, acclaim doesn’t elude her, and her elegant brand of introspective adult pop has gained her a growing number of critics and fans. RELEVANTmagazine.com recently caught up with her to discuss the breeding ground for her latest outing, The Other Side of Something, as well the one-on-one confrontation with God that served as its catalyst.
[RELEVANT MAGAZINE]: Why The Other Side of Something? That doesn’t seem to say much.
[SARA GROVES]: The album is trying to document a faith struggle, and The Other Side of Something is the best way to describe where I am right now. When I was talking to Charlie Peacock [the album’s producer], I said that I wanted to describe the last season of my life. I told him, “I’m on the other side of something, and I don’t know what it is yet because I’m too close to it. I have to wait a few more years in order to be able to name it better. I feel like I’m definitely over something. A season of victory. A season of feeling a little more confident in my faith than I have over the last three years.
[RM]: So you’re not quite there yet.
[SG]: I’m never there. I’m always in the process. But I am on the other side of this struggle that I’ve had for the past three years. I’ve put an exclamation point on it. I’ve ended that sentence.
[RM]: One time you said that your goal in life was to take listeners from point A to point B, not sing about point B only, like many of your peers.
[SG]: I think we need point B songs. I need those songs in my life. But this whole album is definitely a point A to point B album. It starts with “The Boxer,” me feeling very defeated, and “Like a Skin,” where the new man isn’t really showing up; and it ends with “Compelled” and “The One Thing I Know,” with the understanding that the new man is still coming. [God’s] doing a work in me, He won’t let me go and at the end of the day I’m compelled by Him and His gospel.
[RM]: Would you say this is a concept album of sorts?
[SG]: It’s probably the most thematic album I’ve ever done. There are three songs with the word “compelled” in it. Two songs that talk about God not letting me go. Two songs that talk about a feeling of defeat. Three songs that talk about a fight. A lot of overlapping. So instead of weeding out songs that had similar messages, I let them be a part of that story.
[RM]: Many Christians believe that one cannot attain completion, reach that destination that you’re describing, while here on Earth. Would you agree?
[SG]: I don’t see Paul ever saying that, or even other guys in the Bible that I can find, even David in all his writings about himself. As far as I know, as long as you’re a human being living in skin, you’re finite. You are not infinite. To me it’s a positive message. It’s not a negative message to say, “I can never arrive there.” My grandfather is 81 years old and he’s still learning and unveiling new mysteries about God. He’s still not come to the end of himself — his sin nature — or to the end of God’s grace or God’s holiness in his life.
[RM]: As far as that struggle that lasted over three years, what prompted it?
[SG]: I gave my heart to the Lord when I was four years old, and I always had a strong sense of faith. I never rebelled from my parents when I was a teenager. In college I was really passionate about my pursuit of all the things God had for me. Even as a newlywed and at the beginning of this career, everything was pretty much, “Lord, take me, break me, send me.” In 2000, however, when I had my first son Kirby, I kinda hit a wall. I was tired, all my gauges were on empty. We hit the road with him being five weeks old, and from that point on, during a three-year period, I was not believing what I said I believed. I had a lot of distrust towards God. I wasn’t able to commit Kirby to the Lord the way I thought I should. I started asking Him, “Are you really looking out for us?”
Every single night during a tour I’d meet up to 10 people with stories that simply blew my mind. Night after night I’d hear these stories from people. You watch the news. Even a couple of family tragedies in my own life. I went to the Bible looking for a verse that said, “As long as you serve God, He’ll take care of you. You’ll always be safe and your kids will turn out perfect.” I wanted to know that Kirby was going to serve the Lord, that he wasn’t going to die. But there was no guarantee like that in the Bible. So I entered into a paranoid-mom argument with God, where I’m just saying, “Lord, do you look after your own?”
[RM]: Why the paranoia?
[SG]: [When you have kids], you’re responsible for their welfare. All your hopes are in them. You love them more than you love yourself. You’d truly throw yourself in front of a moving truck to save them. It’s easier to say, “Lord take me, break me.” But to say, “Take them, break them” is very hard. It’s hard to see them go through things.
[RM]: What resulted from that argument with God?
[SG]: Everyone has to swallow the sovereignty pill, and I was having a hard time choking it down. I went there, in my heart, and instead of just asking my question and running away, I just stood there. I stood there before the Lord and I told Him, “I don’t get this. I don’t understand it. Tell me. I want to know.”
[RM]: You wouldn’t say you doubted God, right?
[SG]: I never doubted Him. I never have. There’s too much evidence in my life that there is a God. Yes, I doubted His goodness. I doubted His intentions towards me. I doubted His ability to manage us. However, when I let myself go there, I realized I worked out all the wrong muscles. I worked out my doubt muscle. I worked out my fear muscle. I worked out my anger muscle. Cynicism. Anxiety. There was no fruit there. And at the end of it, I was exhausted, and all I was left with was fear, anger, bitterness and cynicism.
[RM]: How did you treat the problem?
[SG]: My [husband] Troy and I took a year off the road this past year, and I just went to the Word. I said, “I’m done. I’m done fighting. Show me your goodness. I’m ready to not be mad and look at everything like a trick. I’m ready to see the goodness in You.” And God began to show that to me. I read a Brennan Manning quote that said, “You’ll never get the joy without gratitude.” And I realized I had a severe supply shortage of gratitude. I was practicing cynicism, but not gratitude. We named our second son Tobias, which means in Hebrew, “The Lord is good.” We just wanted to end it. There was no fruit there, only death. At the end of it, I said, “Alright. I want what you have for me. I want to be grateful. I want to be faithful. I want to know what Job knew in the middle of his trial and said, ‘I know my Redeemer lives.’”