I am a writer. Or at least I like to think so. I am not prolific. I am not disciplined. My body of work is not impressive. But I enjoy writing and I usually like what I write. I guess I’m a writer simply because I say I am a writer. Pretty great, huh? Best thing about being a writer or a musician or an artist is that you need only say that you are one to be one. There are not many labels that work that way. I can’t very well just say that I’m a doctor or an architect and expect to be one. You need credentials for those things. You need some kind of official certification. You need to be paid to do those things. I know dozens of amateur musicians but I’m pretty sure I have never met an amateur dermatologist.
But eventually, if you are to call yourself a writer, you must write something. I write songs and, most recently, essays. I write personal stories — stories about me. I write to wrestle out loud with the questions, struggles and joys of my life. I write about faith and family and the journey that seeks to make sense of both. Writing rarely leads me to answers, just harder questions. I think I like it that way. Most answers make God small; but the questions … the questions remind me just how big He is. I find peace and comfort not in the knowing but in the mystery.
Most of my songwriting is vertical. I write more to God than about God. I write worship songs. I’ve been thinking lately that my writing is starting to change. When I first began writing worship music, the lyrics were typically simple songs of devotion. Love and adoration expressed in the voice of an infant who had not yet presumed to question or challenge their parent’s love. I still love those songs. I still sing them. I still believe them. But something happened along the way. The innocent trust of childhood had given way to the deeper and harder trust of struggle.
An infant’s love is so pure and simple. “Feed me, hold me, keep me warm.” No questions asked, no explanations required, just needs expressed and met. But only a few years pass before it all changes. “Why” becomes the heart cry of every denied longing. “That’s not fair!” the proclamation of perceived injustice. Years pass as we struggle to know our parents. Somewhere along the way, usually after we have our own children, we realize the layers that have formed our parents are deeper and more complex than we had imagined. And, if we are very wise, we learn to celebrate that complexity and its legacy in our own lives.
I see the same arc in my songs; these letters to God that mark all the points on my journey. I sometimes miss that simple devotion that led me to sing, “… there is no god before You, I worship You alone …” I was newly born and needed only to be fed and held. I trusted God because I didn’t know any better; because the questions had not yet occurred to me. As I grew in my faith, the questions began. Simple questions at first but bigger, more difficult questions later; questions that caused doubt, anger, bitterness and hopelessness. The questions damaged my childhood trust. There were so many things I needed to know, but I no longer trusted deeply enough to risk the asking.
Journeys demand movement. The further I travel the less secure I am in the path. I am sure that I do not know the way and I often fear that my scout and guide is never coming back to show me. But something strange has happened. The longer I wait the bolder I become. The questions tear at me until I can no longer contain them. I would rather shake my fist and risk the wrath of heaven than spend another moment in the safety of silence.
I cannot dance for You. Lord I can barely stand
My strength is gone and hope is just a dream
You seem so far away; Lord I can’t reach Your hand
I want to scream but I can barely breathe
But I am not destroyed. He does not crush me. And he does not always answer me. He simply does what Fathers do. He puts his arms around me and says, “I know it hurts … I know.”
And trust deepens. Faith deepens. With every question or doubt, God becomes a bigger mystery to me; a deeper well. I can never reach the bottom, but I trust that there will always be water when I need it. I will never understand God, but I am starting to believe He loves me. He loves me enough to let me cry and beat my fists on His chest in anger. He loves me enough to let me doubt. He loves me enough to keep me when I am not sure I still love Him. He loves me enough to lead me to better questions, not better answers.
I have tried to run from you but Lord where can I go
…Who else loves a broken heart?
I am a writer. I write to clean out the attic. I write to find out what I really believe and how little I really know. Maybe you should be a writer too. It’s really easy. Just say it: “I am a writer.” But do yourself a favor; try not to write about the answers. Spend most of your time with the questions. Scream and pound the table if you need to. Be honest … doubt … ask … and listen in the mystery for the voice that simply says, “I know.”[Mark is a worship leader and songwriter living in Little Rock, Ark. He spends most of his time singing, writing and talking about his "foolish faith in a dangerous God.” You can visit Mark at www.recklessworship.com or e-mail him at [email protected].]