On a cold Sunday morning in January of 2016, I led the most difficult worship set of my life.
My wife Bethany and I had just received terrible news about my sister-in-law and our niece. Bethany immediately boarded a plane to join them in Florida, and I stayed behind for work.
The shockwave caused by these circumstances was devastating to us and our family. Friendships and relationships were shaken and torn apart. Tears of anger, confusion, and sadness were shed. Unfortunately, life goes on even in the face of tragedy, and three days later I found myself on the schedule to lead worship at our home church.
I wasn't okay.
I was full of hatred, and I didn't care. I could not let go of my pain, and I didn't WANT to let it go. I wanted the people who had hurt my family to hurt, to feel the pain they had caused to these people I loved so dearly. I remember talking to God in the car and telling him that I didn't care how wrong I was. My grief and anger climbed and wrapped around me like gnarled, twisted veins on the side of an old house, creeping into every corner, every dark place, every shadow of my being.
Looking through songs as I prepared my setlist, I picked anthems of hope and healing- hope and healing that I refused to accept for myself- and begrudgingly took the stage.
Every chord I struck on my guitar was struck in that black, dripping anger. Every word I sang was soaked in bitterness and sarcasm, and even if the congregation wasn't able to tell, I wanted those words to reach the ears of God with every bit of sting and malice I could spit into them. I knew of His goodness and kindness, but in the past 72 hours I had felt my grasp on just how far that kindness could reach slipping and crumbling away until I was barely clinging to it by cramping, weary fingertips.
As the band reached the end of our set, I took a step back from the microphone. Exhausted and defeated, I took a deep, shaking breath and closed my eyes. My fingers lazily plucked half-hearted chords and my weight shifted uneasily from my left foot to my right foot and back again.
"God," I screamed in my head. "How can I sing about how good You are when things like this happen?" I was facing betrayal and pain in a very personal, real way for the first time in my life and all of my intellectual understanding of the love of God had been torn away me. I was empty.
I began to hear a simple melody over the four chords repeating from my guitar. I walked back to my microphone, drew one more deep breath, and began to sing.
"I can't escape Your goodness, God- I can't escape Your love, it is all around me."
I didn't mean a single word of it. I didn't believe it, I didn't want to sing it, but I was so exhausted and empty from all of my fighting and rage that it was all I could do.
But it was enough.
This emptiness was all Jesus needed. I sang this chorus over and over again as the band joined me, quietly at first and then building to a tremendous roar, and I felt my words turn from sarcasm to sincerity. The greatest truth, the ultimate, highest truth in the Universe- there is no escape from the love of God- did not require my belief and understanding to grant it validation. It was true not because I meant it when I sang it, but because it birthed everything from nothing and gave form to the formless, gave life to the lifeless, and took black, empty space and filled it with light and hope and potential.
Months later, Bethany would speak about her similar experience at an event at our church. She shared about her anger and her unwillingness to let it go. She talked about how Jesus sat with her, gently by her side, and told her that He wouldn't leave her in her hatred, but that when she was ready, He would take it from her. This is the kindness that we cannot escape, that even when we are so angry that we do not want to know this kindness, He sits with us, seated on the floor with clenched fists and kicking feet, and loves us through it all.
The melody and chorus that I sang that Sunday morning would eventually become "Steady Wind." Though I have written dozens of songs to date- some more complex, some more lyrically intricate or with stronger hooks- it is still the song that has had the most impact on my own life. I have not fully healed from that season, though I surrender more every day and have come a long way from that first Sunday service. But I know that as long as I draw breath, I can find the strength to sing of the kindness of God, and that whether I can find the strength to believe it or not, the truth of that kindness is far greater than any anger, sadness, pain, or defeat I could ever try to hold in my heart.
"Though seasons change, this hope remains- I can't escape Your love."