A Bad Reaction to Praise Songs

I realized something disheartening about myself today through the ministrations of my spiritual director, my wife, and, of course, the Holy Spirit.  It’s not bad, just disheartening.  The heartening part of it is that now that I know, I can more easily cooperate with how God is trying to use it and work me beyond it.

Find a list of worship songs. How many of them feel like they were written either by someone happy or for someone happy? I can virtually guarantee that it’s going to be a very high percentage. Now, this isn’t entirely a bad thing. The Christian life isn’t supposed to lead to suffering or drudgery, at least in the long run. But there are certainly places of drudgery, suffering, grief, sorrow, etc. along the way. Jesus was titled in Isaiah 53 the Man of Sorrows, acquainted with grief. That’s not the setup for a peppy song. Or even a heartfelt “I love you so much” song. But peppy and heartfelt “I love you” are about all that the praise and worship industry seems to produce.

Again, neither peppy nor heartfelt is bad. They’re integral to the full experience of life and that means the Christian life. However, I spent about 11 years in and out of depression. When I showed up at church and was told to get excited about Jesus, I tried. Sometimes, though, I just couldn’t do it. I didn’t have it in me to get excited when all I really wanted to do was crawl into a hole and disappear or curl up into a ball and cry my eyes out or maybe just sit and do nothing at all. But there I was, being told that I was supposed to be happy and excited about Jesus. So what I heard from that was that there was something wrong with me (and there was), and the solution was just to try harder – to be different – to change myself. And I tried. And I never could.

And somewhere deep down, I began to resent it. I started to grow more and more angry about this demand on me that I be happy when I wasn’t and couldn’t make myself that way. Of course, I also was too scared to actually let myself be angry, so I didn’t even feel the fact that I was angry; it just simmered as resentment in the deep someplace where I couldn’t notice.

Now, when I hear praise and worship music, I hate it. I get frustrated almost instantly. I pick it apart and find all the faults in it (and I think there are some, but that’s another issue) and get away from it as soon as I can. Needless to say, I don’t attend a typical contemporary worship service very often.

This doesn’t always happen. Sometimes I feel frustrated and God seems to tell me that I need to stay and deal with it because as frustrated as I am with the music, there is some truth to it. And other times, I just seem relatively okay with it. Perhaps in those cases, my soul is particularly clean of other junk in that moment. But most of the time, I just feel frustrated and have to get away.

I have come to associate praise and worship music with being told to feel something that I don’t and just plain can’t feel. There’s more, deeper, and younger issues that led up to this in the first place, but isn’t it tragic that I ended up there with praise songs in the end? I wish I hadn’t been put in a situation where I was told to feel something that I didn’t and that it was my fault if I couldn’t.  The saddest part of all of this is that today I realized that when I’m reading Psalms or other Psalm-like passages in scripture, I sometimes react the same way.  I have ended up getting frustrated and cringing at the Bible.  The Baptist, sola scriptura part of me is almost guilted into oblivion.

This is a place of growth for me.  I need to learn how to forgive those from the past and to trust the Spirit to somehow pull apart this association between praise songs and demands to feel the way the song says to and participate with Him in however He’s doing that.  I need to learn to be okay with being told to feel that which I don’t and not responding in anger, repressed or not.

But in the meantime, could I please request:

  • Praise and worship bands recognize that sometimes we need songs that reflect the harder times along the journey
  • People acknowledge that we can’t change how we feel by sheer force of will
  • People empathize with others’ hurt before, and even instead of, telling them to fix it or trying to fix it
  • The Christian community acknowledge that it’s okay to not be happy, that that’s part of the Christian life, too

Just a request.  Thanks.


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