March 3, 2014
So Satan went forth from the presence of the LORD, and afflicted Job with loathsome sores from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head. And he took a potsherd with which to scrape himself, and sat among the ashes. Then his wife said to him, "Do you still hold fast your integrity?” Job 2:7-9
Just sit with me in the ashes heap
Together we can pray for peace to the one acquainted with our grief
Among the ashes…for centuries, the ash heap has been a place of mourning, repentance and waiting. It is where grief finds company, if not solace. It is where uncertainty waits for absolution and, in this mound that remains after the burning, it is where the faithful retain their integrity as they wait for clarity.
Job waited there.
Jason Gray waits there still.
But just as Job did thousands of years ago, Jason is not wasting in the waiting. Rather, in this land of in between, this land that offers shelter to those journeying to peace, Jason is watching, growing and learning how to love, and even more, how to be loved. And he’s putting it all to song.
His latest album, Love Will Have the Final Word, is a penetrating reflection of pain, joy, disappointment and hope. It is a reflection of life. Of love…
“I hope people walk away from this record with a sense they are loved very, very deeply,” says Jason.
When asked if he too feels loved, Jason pauses. Then, after several seconds, he answers, “I think I do. I talk like I do. Yes, I think I do. I think I’m a grace guy. My mentor has helped me to see ways in which I’m very legalistic in my thinking and the demands I’ve put on myself and the shame I so often feel. For years and years, I’d get to the church where I was playing and would park in the furthest parking spot In a way, it was a way for me to act out not being entitled, and for a season it was a significant and good thing for me to do. Now it’s jut not practical, but if I don’t do it there’s a part of me that feels pretty bad. It’s a kind of legalism. It takes what was a humble, worshipful offering and makes it legalistic. It has to mean that I struggle with believing it [that I am loved]; but I think I do.”
Love is the subject of deep exploration on this album, not unlike Jason’s previous work. But here, there’s something more raw and even painful about the revelations of what loving someone else really looks like.
“’If You Wanna Love Someone’ is [a song] inspired by a Keith Miller quote: ‘The way to love someone is to gently run your finger across the surface of their soul and when you find a crack, pour love into it.’
“I haven’t loved that well in my life,” Jason continues. “I’ve been better at pointing out the cracks than pouring love into them. I believe God is changing that in me. The most transformational thing is to simply allow ourselves to be loved. That’s the goal of everything I do in this next year. I know that if I can participate in helping people open up their hearts to the possibility of being loved, so many things will happen.”
Jason’s own journey has been one of discovering the cracks in his heart and soul, along with the help of his mentor, George.
“One of the things George told me three years ago was that I needed to get acquainted with my failure,” Jason says. “In everything I’ve done I’ve tried so hard not to fail, clinging to a hope that I could justify myself. The problem with that is that everyone else is going to get measured the same way. A man acquainted with his failure is acquainted with Jesus and acquainted with grace. That man is able to give grace and love to others.”
Through his own journey towards grace, Jason discovered all the ways he had attempted to cover or hide his inadequacies.
“I didn’t even know I had all these hiding places. I didn’t know I was hiding from the Lord in ways that I was trying to honor him. In a way I was hiding from the intimacy of the Lord by being unwilling to fail and to need Him.
“I’m having to learn how to forgive in ways I haven’t had to learn before,” Jason continues. “I’ve had tricks to help me forgive. Usually if I could make myself understand why a person is doing something, I could get there. But right now, I’m having to understand how to forgive situations where I have no idea why someone would forgive.”
But as life often does, it didn’t bestow upon Jason rationale or explanation for the pain in his life. Rather, pain was pain and it left it’s mark.
“That’s good for me,” Jason says. “I want to protect and preserve myself, but the only way you can protect yourself is being guarded and hardening your heart.”
As this record reflects, this was most definitely not a season of protecting and numbing; this has been a season of mining for the pain, the truth, and trusting God to deal with what rose to the surface.
“A lot of these songs are very painful,” Jason affirms. ”Pain is a very holy place in our lives, because it is pain that drives our deepest wounds to the surface. The Lord sees and understands the pain that drives us to be the people we don’t want to be and He has great compassion. I hope the painful songs will help people feel their feelings and begin to heal.”
The healing has begun in Jason’s life, but it is not a finished process. With tremendous restraint and respect, Jason has refrained from spilling details of this difficult season of his own. Prompted by words he once heard, he has chosen to allow this chapter to close before sharing the details with the world.
“If you’re talking about it in the midst of it, it’s as if you’re asking your audience for something—support you or feel bad for you… I didn’t feel at liberty to write from that place yet, so I wrote around it.”
In so doing, Jason has preserved the integrity of the work God is doing in his own heart and allowed the authenticity of pain, healing, love and sorrow to shape his words and guide his steps.
“I believe now I’m becoming the man I’ve always wanted to be,” he says. “It’s costly.”
Much like Job paid a steep price to retain his own integrity and faith, so too is Jason. But with each lesson learned, each chapter begun, undone and begun again, among the ashes or among kings, the lessons of righteousness, the burden of integrity and the cleansing power of pain burn away the chaff, revealing the masterwork of a soul God has been refining all along.
Caroline Lusk is editor of CCM Magazine.