Thoughts on Songs from my Childhood: “All I Ever Have to Be” by Amy Grant

Having been through the “academic track” that has gotten me two master degrees and a PhD—all in Biblical Studies—one can say that I’ve spent quite a lot of time in the “academic world.” Nevertheless, I have tried to take the good, solid learning I received at the graduate level, and make it understandable and accessible to teenagers.

But in addition to that, I have been challenged to continue learning, primarily along the lines of philosophy, western culture, and Church history and theology, all subjects that I had somewhat limited background in when I started teaching them. And so, over the past nine years, I have given myself as much of an advanced education in those subjects as I possibly can. I’ll admit it, it’s pretty heady stuff.

And although it has been worth it to learn and discuss these things, I can say with a fair amount of certainty that one of the biggest temptations in the academic world (and academic study in general) is to be so concerned with appearing learned that one ends up actually using all that learning as a disguise: “I don’t really want to face the real despair and sense of meaningless in my heart, so I’ll talk all scholarly-like on Nietzsche!” “I don’t really want to reveal the deep yearning in my heart to know Christ (because that would be too vulnerable), so I’ll try to give an insightful analysis of the Trinity.” …stuff like that.

I say that because I have found that, given my academic background, I feel my primary calling is to, in fact, expose students to all this truly wonderful and challenging academic learning that unfortunately simply gets ignored in much of the Evangelical world. I don’t want to sound harsh, but it’s true. But at the same time, “academic learning” in and of itself is worthless if it is not guided by a true heart for God. I though, am actually quite introverted and private when it comes to, I guess you can say, “my heart of hearts” of my faith. I don’t particularly like to open up that part of me to people I’m not close to…

AmyGrantNeverAlone

…nevertheless, lately I’ve been reflecting on my spiritual journey since when I was in junior high. And, thanks to the internet and things like itunes, I’ve been able to re-purchase virtually all of the influential Christian music I listened to back in the 1980s. And what I’ve come to realize is that much, if not all, of my spiritual convictions and outlooks have been definitely shaped by the 1980s Christian music of artists like Amy Grant, Phil Keaggy, Keith Green, Bob Bennett, and many others. Now when I listen to that music I listened to as a teenager, I am able to look back at certain songs and see how they have completely shaped my spiritual life—things that I “intellectually” came to as an adult were already instilled in me back when I was a teenager, and I just didn’t realize it.

I think that says something about our faith. Regardless of how many degrees you may get, or how many sermons, Sunday Schools, or Bible studies you take in, much of our Spiritual formation comes through music, poetry, art—namely creative expressions of faith, not academic/intellectual explanations of it. And so, from time to time I want to focus on particular songs that have been the means of my Spiritual formation. If you read my other posts, you’ll discover what I think and how I see things; in these next few posts, though, I’m going to try to reveal about who I am. For, truth be told, when I look at myself, I do not see myself so much as Dr. Anderson, or an “academic intellectual”—I see myself as the kid who was shaped by these songs.

The first song I’d like to share comes from Amy Grant: All I Ever Have to Be. It is found on her album entitled Never Alone. Here’s the youtube link to it:

Here are the lyrics:

When the weight of all my dreams
Is resting heavy on my head,
And the thoughtful words of health and hope
Have all been nicely said.

But I’m still hurting, wondering if I’ll ever be
The one I think I am….I think I am

Then you gently re-remind me
That you’ve made me from the first,
And the more I try to be the best
The more I get the worst.

And I realize the good in me,
Is only there because of who you are…who you are

And all I ever have to be is what you’ve made me.
Any more or less would be a step out of your plan.

As you daily recreate me,
Help me always keep in mind
That I only have to do what I can find.

And all I ever have to be
All I have to be
All I ever have to be
Is what you’ve made me.

COMMENTS:

Never Alone was one of the first Christian albums I ever listened to, and it had a tremendous impact on my young “junior high” life. Looking back, most of the things we go through in grade school and junior high seem pretty silly—but to our junior high selves, those things were the most important things in our world. The “thing” I was dealing with was this: I was one of the “popular kids” in grade school, but when 6th grade came around and we all went to a new junior high school, it seemed everyone else grew over the summer, but I stayed small. Not only was I one of the smaller kids in the junior high, I somehow also became the favorite target of junior high bullies. My junior high memories basically consist of getting my books kicked down the hallways, getting my baseball cap thrown in the boys’ urinal in the locker room, and getting jumped from behind walking home from school. I even remember one day, when I  stayed behind to help the Industrial Arts teacher clean up after school, he said, “You know Joel, you’re not as bad as the other kids say!” Wow…even though I’m sure that guy thought he was giving me a compliment, what I heard was, “Hey Joel, everyone hates you.”

Needless to say, junior high was not fun for me. But being the strong-willed child that I was, even though I had to endure quite a lot of mean behavior, that experience further entrenched in my character to fight back. I might get beat up, I might be laughed at, but I certainly was never going to back down or let them get the best of me. I guess, that junior high experience put that chip on my shoulder, and it hasn’t ever left.

Nevertheless, those experiences hurt…a lot. And when I would go home, especially when I would go to bed, I would put Amy Grant’s Never Alone cassette in my tape player and often cry myself to sleep. I couldn’t understand why, for no apparent reason, I had become hated by the very kids I was friends with in grade school. All I Ever Have to Be became more of a song for me—it was the cry of my heart. Every single line seemed to speak to the struggles I was going through as a confused and hurting 12 year old. And when you find yourself in the midst of a crisis that leaves you broken and hurting, you realize that All I Ever Have to Be is one incredibly deep and serious song. You can have your Thomas Aquinas, A.W. Tozer, or St. Augustine—Amy Grant’s All I Ever Have to Be was the Holy Spirit blowing through my troubled soul.

Even though every line spoke to me, these lines in particular always made me cry:

As you daily recreate me,
Help me always keep in mind
That I only have to do what I can find.
And all I ever have to be…is what you’ve made me.

To be quite honest, they still make me cry. First off, I find it amazing that even though it was during my time in graduate school that I came to really see how the biblical theme of “re-creation” runs throughout the Bible and is at the very core of the Christian hope, I was being reassured of God re-creating me all the way back when I was a young kid. The “theology” my mind comprehended as an adult had already been woven into my heart as a child. And secondly, what was so reassuring in this song was the reminder that, even though I didn’t know why I was going through what I was going through, and even though I was hurting and confused, all God wanted me to be concerned about was being who I was, and who He made me to be. And the fact was, I wasn’t going to know all of it yet, and all I had to do was what I could find. The end result is in God’s hands. It is our calling to live the life that makes us into who we already are before God.

Deep stuff for a 12 year old. Deep stuff for anyone, really.

3 Comments

  1. I found your post as I am writing a letter to my high school graduate and this song just rang in my ears so I included it. For almost 40 years God has repeatedly brought this song to my head when I need a reminder of who I am. Thank you for sharing.

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