Last May, Christa Wells and Jess Ray teamed up to do a joint giveaway in celebration of the release of Jess’s first full-length album, Sentimental Creatures. The giveaway was a hard copy of that new album and of Christa’s most recent EP release (February 2015), Covers. I already had a copy of Covers, so at first I didn’t pay much attention to the giveaway, especially because I had never heard Jess’s music. Then Christa tweeted one of the music videos from Sentimental Creatures as a way to promote the giveaway; on a whim, I watched the video for Runaway. It was beautiful and piercing and comforting all at the same time. I kept it on repeat on my phone the rest of the day, and it kept me in tears. After that, I just had to have Sentimental Creatures. So I entered the giveaway, thinking I’d gift the extra copy of Covers to my sister, who was just beginning her love affair with Christa’s music and didn’t have it yet.
Then a miracle happened: I won! Folks, I never win anything! Ever! The last time I won something, it was a Christmas coloring contest at the Legget store in the tiny town where my grandmother lived, and I didn’t even know my picture had been entered! My grandmother entered it for me after my weekend visit had ended, and the next thing I knew, I was the proud owner of that year’s Leggie Bear! And yes, I still own that bear and proudly tell anyone who asks (and even those who don’t) the story of how I won it when I was eight!
Trust me when I tell you, that my losing record is not for lack of trying. I enter giveaways all the time (go ahead and ask all my friends in Instagram!); it’s just that my name is never the one that the choosing software randomly selects from the virtual hat. So, the very fact that I won that giveaway should have been a clue. But hindsight is the only 20/20 vision we are afforded in this lifetime, and sadly my foresight is woefully nearsighted. So, I remained clueless—ecstatic, but very clueless.
Until I listened to the album.
It was God’s providence that won me that giveaway: I needed Sentimental Creatures. Every song resonated with so many of the things I had been working through in therapy, in my heart, in conversations with Pops.
Every. Single. Song.
But they also overflowed with deep spiritual truths about who God is and how He relates to and with us. Those songs provided more language that I needed for working through the wounds and traumas, but they also painted portraits of the God who was leading me through the dark and painful process, and maybe just a little bit of the why, too.
The portraits might be painted with different strokes and word images, but they all portray the same thing. The Who and the why are the same:
Driven. Fierce. Relentless. The kind that says, “There is no Plan B; there is only victory!” The kind that melts you with its quiet tenderness and whose power and force drive all fear from your reality. The kind that infiltrates so quietly that you don’t know it’s there until it’s completely taken over. The kind that says, “I don’t love you like this because you were already worthy; but you are now worthy because I love you like this!”
Now, in hindsight, I can see how Pops has been shifting some things about how I know Him (not method, but manner) and what my experiences with Him are. Those shifts have slowly impacted how I come to Him, what I seek from Him, even the truths whispered to my heart in Scripture—especially the truths whispered to me in Scripture! And I believe those shifts trace back to one of the songs on that Jess Ray album. It’s called “Deserve.” Have a listen.
The part of that song that completely rocked my world is close to the end:
Outside, we are dust
Inside, something’s hidden in us
And you, you are sick with love
For a treasure in dust
That you would go in your joy
And sell all that you had
And buy the field
You would buy the pearl
Those lyrics reference Matthew 13:44-46, where Jesus tells two parables about the Kingdom of Heaven:
“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure, buried in a field, that a man found and reburied. Then in his joy he goes and sells everything he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls. When he found one priceless pearl, he went and sold everything he had, and bought it.”
Now, all those who have always been taught that these parables teach us about how valuable the kingdom of heaven is and what we humans should be willing to sacrifice for it (i.e., everything, if asked, because heaven is the ultimate treasure), please raise your hand.
Yep. Me too. Then one day, after months upon months of not catching on, I listened to this song again and felt the realization slap me upside the back of my head:
We are the the priceless pearl, and Jesus is the one who sold everything to buy it.*
That realization stole my breath away. The idea that these parables weren’t intended to tell me how I should feel about Him or what I should do, but rather what Jesus did because of how He felt about us—about me—wrecked me just a bit. It flipped my perception of God, of His movement in my life, and even of my experiences completely upside down and inside out.
See, I already knew in my head and believed in my heart that the Bible is God’s story about Himself, that He is always the hero in every story and the focus of every verse, and that the story is one by love, for love, and about love. But I have always struggled with the tendency to see the Bible as an instruction manual for me. Even in the knowledge that it is a story, my natural response is, “Well, if the story is showing me this about God, then what is the right thing for me to do or way for me to be in response?”
Don’t get me wrong: that is a great question to ask, but ultimately it still leaves us focused on who or how we are and what we do, and none of that is ultimately the point. In the face of love that turns dust and filth into treasure of immeasurable worth, there is no doing that could ever measure up as a proper response, except to receive that love and soak in it and let it do what it does: turn us into the treasure it causes us to be.
And that is when the shift happened. Just like Chris Tomlin’s “Good Good Father” changed my perspective on the value of my past traumas and sufferings, “Deserve” redefined the divine motive and means in the current journey. All the suffering of the last eighteen months wasn’t primarily about my performance, my lack thereof, or that of anyone else. My sin nature and all those traumas and wounds—they keep me buried. But God wants His pearl, and He is digging me up so that nothing can keep that treasure buried any longer!
Life. Freedom. LOVE!
I love the musical and vocal dynamics that accompany the immediate lyrical response to this revelation:
You don’t treat me as I deserve
I don’t treat you as you deserve
But I want to
And I will
The song begins with a confession and a recognition that are centered on our performance, or lack thereof, which is the most common and historically accurate interpretation of the parables being referenced.
By the end, God is squarely back at the center of the story, right where he belongs, because the performance that matters isn’t ours, but His. And He never fails! His love conquered way back then, and it remains victorious in us even still, and it will one day permanently remove all distance and separation and take us home to be with Him forever. I wish I could love Him now to the full extent He deserves, but I am reassured and quieted by the truth that wanting to is the part that matters today and that one day, instead of saying “I want to,” I will finally get to say “I do.”
Someone please explain why that isn’t the interpretation we are teaching each other?
Yeah, I don’t know either, but I guarantee it has changed how I read Scripture, and I pray it is the message I spread from now on. It is by far the worthier message, don’t you think?
*For those who may be interested, Jess shared the explanations for each song on Sentimental Creatures in a couple of posts on her blog, which I didn’t discover until writing this post (and then only by accident!). Definitely check out the explanation for “Deserve.” I love how she equates our spirit with the treasure buried in the field—in other words, “in the dust of every person.” We are the pearl, our spirit is the treasure, and Jesus gave everything to give us life and make us His forever!