by Bebo Norman
I am an accidental musician. This was never really my plan, never really my dream even. There has always been a certain level of unease or discomfort—insecurity may be the more honest word—with the idea of standing in front of people, night after night, with supposed words to say and songs to sing. It has however been a dream dreamed for me…wider and deeper and higher than I ever could have conjured up. And yet I find myself even still, after all these years, uncomfortable with the titles and attention attached to my occupation.
There has been a joy and richness in living life these past 15 years as a professional musician and songwriter that I quite honestly don’t know how to describe. It should be understood that my life—like anyone else’s—is full of flaw and brokenness all around, in, and thru the depths of it. But I can honestly say that I do still see this life that I have been given as a true gift. The mystery of how God uses songs written out of one man’s living room to speak into the lives, to relate to the lives, of so many others is to this day something that it is still stunning to me. Even more, I have found myself rich in marriage and fatherhood and community and friendships that are deep and true. I live a life where in some form or another I am surrounded daily by the goodness of God in conversations and relationships and in vision and song. I suppose we all live lives surrounded by God in that way…we simply struggle to have eyes to see and ears to hear.
But I can say to you quite honestly that I have struggled lately with feeling a certain separation from the real Source of all that is good in my life. And I think the great irony here is that the abundance of life in the form of these gifts of relationship, and occupation, and love…that very abundance has of late become the source of this subtle distance and, in turn, a seeping emptiness. I am astounded how gifts of such goodness can, with constant and time, become idols of misdirection—offing our gaze from the true Source of the very gifts we’ve been given. Lord Jesus, I thank you in this moment for my wife—for her clarity and resolve, her directness and compassion, her unwavering commitment to be who she really is, even as you are changing her heart so much of late, for how much I miss her when we’re apart, for how deeply you have allowed me to fall in love with her. But I thank you especially that you are reminding me that she is not my Savior. She is not my lifeline. She is not you. I thank you also for my two boys…for their purity and curiosity, for their honesty and tears, for the overwhelming sense of security and fullness and drama that they somehow seem to fill our home to overflowing with, and the fact that they have no idea how beautifully they have wrecked the hearts of their mother and I. But I thank you especially that they are not my Savior. They are not my lifeline. They are not you. I thank you Jesus for this improbable career of writing songs and traveling the world to deliver them to eager listeners with hearts wide open. I thank you Father that you have built a community of believers so vast and rich that just last night in a foreign city I could sit at a table with a group of relative strangers—new friends—and share food that had never before crossed my lips and conversation full of laughter and goodness and quality and depth. From all angles, in distant and familiar places I have had life placed before me that is good and true. And none of it is my Savior. None of it is my lifeline. None of it is you.
I know that as believers we are called to dive headlong into relationships and culture and even the good hard work of our careers, but I am desperate to be reminded that none of these things define me, that not of these things are the sum-total of who I am. I am desperate to be reminded of my complete and SINGULAR identity as a child of God. I am nothing more and I am nothing less. I am neither husband nor father, brother nor friend, singing soul nor beating heart but for the grace and the goodness of God.
So this is my season…and thus my song. “You are an Ocean, that I can get lost in / You are the first wind on my shore / You are the sunrise to open my new eyes / the end of the dark night that is no more.” The entirety of my newest group of songs speaks, in one way or another, to this theme of identity…of where we find ourselves, of how we define ourselves, of where we are truly found. The words of an accidental musician singing his “living room prayer” of longing to be found in no one, no thing, no occupation, but Christ alone.
You are an Ocean.