I grew up going to church. I went to Sunday School, worship services, Vacation Bible School, and various Sunday night and mid-week events. After graduating high school, I went on a short term outreach trip to Mexico and have done several such trips since. I went to a missions training school and a Bible college. I have always been neck deep in spiritual “stuff” like that.
Despite all of that experience, until three years ago, there was a pretty deep problem living in me, especially considering how much churchin’ I’d had. From my earliest church memories, I had known that “God so loved the world…” and “God is love.” I had always been taught that God loved me. But, I didn’t believe it. Oh, I knew it. I had the correct theology when it comes to God loving me, but the reality of His love did not live in me.
In 2011, I signed up for a program called Wounded at Valleybrook Church. Wounded helps folks like me heal from the wounds caused by abuse and/or neglect. I walked through a lot of healing during that season. It was rich, deep, and liberating. And, for the first time, I began to believe that God actually does love me… this guy, Ed Hudgins in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. How did that happen? How did I come to believe this? Well, it was because of a song, the truth in the lyrics of the song, and how that truth was painted in the lyrics.
The Wounded meetings would usually start with us singing some songs together, like you might experience in a Sunday morning service. During one meeting, I shared with my small group that I had a hard time singing some of those songs, especially the ones that talked about, in intimate and really descriptive terms, how God loves me. I felt disingenuous when singing them. The guys gently and lovingly encouraged me to “sing them anyway.” They weren’t being jerks; they were just encouraging me to embrace the truth in the songs’ lyrics. So, I listened to those guys and I began to let go and sing.
One of those songs was “How He Loves” by John Mark McMillan. Here is a sampling of some of the lyrics:
He is jealous for me,
Loves like a hurricane, I am a tree,
Bending beneath the weight of his wind and mercy.
And oh, how He loves us so,
Oh how He loves us,
How He loves us so
So Heaven meets earth like a sloppy wet kiss
And my heart turns violently inside of my chest,
I don’t have time to maintain these regrets,
When I think about, the way…
He loves us,
Oh! how He loves us,
Oh! how He loves us,
Oh how He loves.
The picture McMillan paints of God’s love here is unlike any kind of love or intimacy I had experienced before 2011. That’s why it was such a friggin’ uncomfortable song to sing. Does God really love me like that? When His love hits me, is it really as intimate and passionate as a “sloppy wet kiss?” Can I just lose sight of my many regrets when basking in the depth and intimacy of divine love? These words challenged me. They pushed me. And, as I sung them, I began to accept the truth in them, slowly but surely.
That truth grabbed a hold of my innermost being and for the first time in my life, I began to feel safe, secure, and really, truly loved. The feeling of being loved has literally changed everything for me. I have become a better husband, father, friend, and member of my community. It has helped me to love others better and to actually receive their love for me. It has brought new life to my relationship with my wife and we share an intimate love now that we had never known before. My life has literally been transformed because of the truth in John Mark McMillan’s song
It’s not that “How He Loves” told me anything that I didn’t already “know.” It told me that thing I had always known in such a creative, expressive, and emotive way that I finally began to grasp the passionate and pursuing nature of God’s love for me in a way I had never before experienced. I have always loved music. I have been impacted by lyrics and melodies time and again. But, I had never experienced the life changing impact that I experienced through McMillan’s song. This is the power of music. It can literally change lives. It changed mine.
This is why I have become an advocate for the arts, especially on the local level. The arts can help us grow into better versions of ourselves. They can challenge us with truth our hearts desperately need. They can literally change lives, and the world. They certainly have helped revolutionize my world.