The High Calling of Bending Low

By

I just finished Roald Dahl’s short autobiography Boy: Tales of Childhood, which was a fine gift from Russ Ramsey last time I saw him. I closed the book with a greater belief than ever in the work God has given me. In the last chapter, after Dahl tells the story of his funny, delightful, and often painful childhood, he says that he worked for a few years as a businessman.

I enjoyed it, I really did. I began to realize how simple life could be if one had a regular routine to follow with fixed hours and a fixed salary and very little original thinking to do.  The life of a writer is absolute hell compared with the life of a businessman.  The writer has to force himself to work. He has to make his own hours and if he doesn’t go to his desk at all there is nobody to scold him. If he is a writer of fiction he lives in a world of fear. Each new day demands new ideas and he can never be sure whether he is going to come up with them or not. Two hours of writing fiction leaves this particular writer absolutely drained. For those two hours he has been miles away, he has been somewhere else, in a different place with totally different people, and the effort of swimming back into normal surroundings is very great. It is almost a shock. The writer walks out of his workroom in a daze. He wants a drink. He needs it. It happens to be a fact that nearly every writer of fiction in the world drinks more whisky than is good for him. He does it to give himself faith, hope and courage. A person is a fool to become a writer.

I wasn’t expecting to read a paragraph that encouraging when I started this book. I suspect a businessman would read that paragraph and wonder what all the fuss is about. It might sound awfully like complaining. But it isn’t. I sighed a weary, happy sigh because Dahl assured me I’m not as crazy or as wimpy as I’m afraid I am. The same can be said for songwriting too. God has arranged the process (for me, at least) in such a way that after every song is complete, I get amnesia. I think, in the fast-fading thrill of having written a song, that I’ve finally unlocked the secret formula, discovered the missing number, solved the timeless mystery of how to write a song. I have answered for myself the question of whether the music or the lyrics come first! And the answer is–er, wait, I had it a second ago. What was it again? And it’s gone. Even as the last note fades to silence, amnesia sets in. I can’t remember how it works. So the next time I pick up the guitar or open the notebook, I do so with fear and trembling, unsure how to proceed. It’s a wonder anything ever gets written.

It made me wonder, why did he write at all? Dahl confesses a disbelief in God based mostly on his abuse at the hands of several wicked men of the Church–and it’s hard to blame him. It’s struggle enough to believe, even without a priest beating you with a cane. Then why did he suffer the long toil of the written word? Where did that urge come from? That he wrote books for children makes me think that the suffering of his own youth softened his heart toward the young. Perhaps he hoped to give them some light, some escape, some comfort in their own fear. He was beaten by wretched men at boarding schools, made to bleed, made to grab his ankles and weep while they hit him, sometimes while the Headmaster quoted Scripture. It’s fascinating that this poor boy grew into a tough man who would work to spin fantastical stories for children. I’ve never been a big fan of his stories, though I do appreciate his whimsy.

But in this book especially his descriptions of people and of the beauties and horrors of his childhood were vivid. Dahl remembered what it was like to be a little boy. And he remembered that it is terrifying. It reminded me how vital it is that Christians bend low and speak tenderly to the children in our lives. These boys and girls at our churches, in our schools, down the street, are living a harrowing adventure. Every one of them falls into one of two categories: wounded, or soon-to-be-wounded. The depth and nature of those wounds will vary, but they’re all malleable souls in a world clanging with hammer blows. The bigger they get, the easier the target. I get a lump in my throat every night I sing “After the Last Tear Falls” (which I co-wrote with Andrew Osenga), when I get to his line, “After the last young girl’s innocence is stolen…there is love.” It’s because I’m certain there are people in the audience for whom that line must bring a terrible memory. I sing the final chorus with all the ache I can muster because I want them to believe that love outlives all the pain that ever was.

Those of us who write, who sing, who paint, must remember that to a child a song may glow like a nightlight in a scary bedroom. It may be the only thing holding back the monsters. That story may be the only beautiful, true thing that makes it through all the ugliness of a little girl’s world to rest in her secret heart. May we take that seriously. It is our job, it is our ministry, it is the sword we swing in the Kingdom, to remind children that the good guys win, that the stories are true, and that a fool’s hope may be the best kind.

As a singer-songwriter and recording artist, Andrew has released more than ten records over the past fifteen years. His music has earned him a reputation for writing songs that connect with his listeners in ways equally powerful, poetic, and intimate. He has also followed his gifts into the realm of publishing. His books include the four volumes of the award-winning Wingfeather Saga.


39 Comments

  1. Dieta

    The monsters are WHY your words are always like a balm to me. I may look 40, but inside there is still, sometimes, that scared child. Thanks for not giving in to the fear and remembering how to do it again one song at a time. They are a gift.

  2. Dieta

    And also, because I know you appreciate humor, you must know that before I proofread that, it said you words were like a blam to me. I guess they both fit-in their own way.

  3. Julie

    Thank you for continuing to work, despite the difficulty. You are making a difference & God is still using you.

  4. kelli

    I was just listening again to “After the Last Tear Falls” last night. Though I cannot personally relate to that line you mentioned, it pierces my heart every time I hear it.

    Thank you for sharing your view of Dahl’s paragraph. You bring such hope in your writings…this post, your songs, “Dark Sea.” Thank you for reaching through the darkness, pulling out that hope and making it shine, Andrew!

    Also…this really inspired me! I have been toying with an idea for a children’s novel for quite awhile now. It may go nowhere, but I haven’t had the motivation to even sit down and just start. As soon as I read this post, I jumped over to Microsoft Word and just jotted down a few lines. Sometimes crossing that doorway to the other world is the hardest part. Thanks for the invitation to take that first step!

    Off now to bend down to my girls…and any other beautiful hearts that cross my path!

  5. Aaron Alford

    Hey, Andrew.

    Recently at a little church concert in California, I came up to you after to thank you. I work with YWAM in Modesto, reaching out to the poor, the homeless and the forgotten. We seek to become friends with prostitutes and drug addicts; people who have been robbed of hope, and swindled out of friendship. I thanked you then for the hope which is infused into each song you write. You seemed a bit abashed and said something to the effect that we were the ones doing the harder work, that you’re just a songwriter. But when you write a song, or tell a story, that breaks me open and pours in living water, you are putting your hands to our work, too. You have eased my load. We have borne one another’s burdens. We have made his Kingdom come.

    So thank-you, and keep writing.

  6. amy

    “It reminded me how vital it is that Christians bend low and speak tenderly to the children in our lives.”

    thank you for your post, andrew! i remember regularly as a child “looking” for the “good guys.” now as a teacher and mother, i don’t want to lose heart, but, like you said, take it seriously to “swing my sword” to defend The Way, remembering that children today are doing just as i did. thank you for your work!

  7. kevin

    I LIVED in Narnia for several years as a kid while some painful stuff was going on in the Real, and remember walking through the woods hoping a talking badger would jump out and take me away. In many ways, Lewis walked me through the hurt of that time, and I will always be grateful.

    That’s one of the beautiful things about books and songs, you just never know who and what and when and where. Lewis never once thought of me when writing those books, but he was a strong, steady hand on a hurting boys shoulder, and I’m sure that somewhere The Dark Sea is steadying some little rugrat going through some crap.

    Thanks for fighting, AP, keep it up.

  8. Steve K

    Is it any wonder that Christ called kids into his lap while the self-important looked on disapprovingly? As a career middle school teacher, I’ve seen how kids have related to Dahl’s writing in ways they truly can’t express. They are kindred spirits, many of them. A teacher friend always said she believes every kid is doing his or her very best every day, even when we adults don’t believe it. Just as God speaks to so many adults through your songs, Andrew, He is speaking to many kids through your books. It’s surely worth the work. Thanks for doing it.
    spk
    >

  9. Leigh McLeroy

    I wonder, those of you who write, if you experience this same malaise of fear or uncertainty that Dahl and Andrew speak of -and if you do, why do you choose to write? Why not the “simple life” with “fixed hours and a fixed salary, and very little original thinking to do”? And, was writing (or reading) a shelter for you in childhood, or did your love of it/need for it “click in” later in life?

  10. Chris Slaten

    Thank you. That’s really good for a teacher/writer to hear. There have been many times since I began teaching that I have thought about writing specifically for middle school kids, so it is always encouraging to hear someone else say that it is worth it.

  11. Brian

    I have to admit, it’s hard to muster up sympathy for you writers and songwriters. I was filled with envy for your lifestyle as I read your blog about your lifestyle and the making of the Resurrection Letters v. II a couple years back. I mean, I’m sure it’s hard and that I couldn’t make money doing it, but it sounds like a dream.

    Anyway, I am a teacher of barely literate or illiterate disabled students in Chicago. I read Roald Dahl aloud to my students daily as he gives kids who cannot read a love for stories and escape from their often profound pain. I’m surprised that you (AP) don’t enjoy his books as he does a masterful job of creating absolutely insurmountable problems to be overcome by his protagonists, and I know from OTEOTDSOD that this is important to you, too. For problem-creating at its best, see especially Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The Buckets have to cut back from cabbage for every meal to cabbage soup once a day when Mr. Bucket gets sacked from his toothpaste factory job. And the song the Oompa Loompas sing after Mike Teavee is gotten rid of should be read by all parents. Danny, the Champion of the World, creates an example of what good fatherhood looks like for many of my fatherless students. You can hear a pin drop amongst the unruliest of boys as Danny and his dad walk through the forest marveling at creation, content in one another. Also, you make up words like he does. I sort of assumed as I read about Thwaps, Zibzy Ball and Totatoes that you had been influenced by Dahl’s whopsy whiffling word creating. Every students favorite book for this and other reasons is The BFG.

    I’m deeply grateful for your and for Mr. Dahl’s dedication to wordsmanship and stories. My world is shot through with light by you both.

  12. sd smith

    Thanks Andrew. This rings true. “A person is a fool to become a writer.”

    And thanks for thinking of the little ones, and helping us all to.

  13. Peter B

    “Every one of them falls into one of two categories: wounded, or soon-to-be-wounded.”

    The hardest part is that this applies to my own precious little ones as well. It lends a sense of urgency to my own desire to know and live in God’s truth and love, for their benefit as well as for my own.

    After the Last Tear Falls still brings me profound heartbreak and hope. Thank you for suffering the slings and arrows of writers’ fortune for the glory of the Lord and the life of his church.

  14. Aaron Roughton

    Peter B, that’s what resonated with me as well. I woke up this morning praying for gentleness with my kids, particularly my girls. I would prefer not to be the one inflicting the wounds. I’d rather “bend low and speak tenderly to the children” in my life as a source of light. By the grace of God.

  15. E

    Andrew,

    Thanks for sharing.

    My little girl is about to be 6 months old and I’ll protect her as best I can (at least until she starts ninja training). But knowing the that world is what is… she’ll eventually be hurt beyond being hungry and quickly fed, or being frustrated at being tired for a few minutes before falling asleep.

    I don’t like that thought at all. I think of my own woundings as a child and while some of them seem trivial now and others still haunt me, they all filled up my world at the time. I don’t want her to feel like I felt in those times. That probably isn’t up to me, but still.

    Thank you for reminding us again that the stories and music and laughter and good things that fill places like the Rabbit Room and the hearts of the ones who visit are weapons of light in the dark night of the soul. They are good and right and true and powerful in the grace filled hands of a loving God.

    Evangeline will thank you too, but you’ll have to wait a little bit.

  16. Tony Heringer

    Barliman,

    Wow that one really shifted gears. It went from the mechanics of writing to a rallying cry for artists and those who appreciate their art. Awesome!

    Bending low reminded me of this picture of Jesus in Matthew 19:

    Then little children were brought to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked those who brought them. Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

  17. Rene Bohn

    Dahl’s childhood trauma explains the premise for most of his books. Andrew, have you read Anne Lamott’s book on writing, Bird By Bird? She honestly writes about writer’s struggles. And she’s funny.

  18. Chris Whitler

    Thanks so much for this…I’m Aaron’s (up above) co-worker and also came down to the concert in Fresno with my kids. This week, I’m with a little team of friends in a forgotten Native community on Vancouver Island and we are running a day camp with the faithful workers here. This post really helped me today. Can’t wait for North…!

  19. Eric (Not EP)

    I thought that I would post a link to a video that I found while searching for the lyrics to the song mentioned in the post.

    Great song…great lyric…great post.

    Great video

  20. Chris Yokel

    Thanks Andrew, for reminding me again why I practice my own artistry. Sometimes it seems like I’m carrying such a feeble fire in my hands, but perhaps that will be the only glow of hope someone catches in their darkness.

  21. Tony Heringer

    Eric,

    Great video! Thanks, I looked briefly for the song yesterday, but didn’t find a good version.

    Barliman,

    I’m curious about your response to Brian’s post. I’ve never read Dahl’s writing. I know my kids have read Charlie… and BFG. The latest Charlie.. film didn’t resonate with me at first, but in later viewings I’ve enjoyed it and always enjoyed Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka.

  22. Robert Treskillard

    My childhood was, sadly, mostly songless. But I held onto a little cross during those harrowing nights, even though I did not understand its meaning.

    If I had not had a cross, God certainly could have used a song, a true song, to pull me into his kingdom.

    Thanks Andrew–there are a lot of children out there without crosses. Keep it up.

  23. Mike P

    That last thought on songs and stories being a nighlight in a scary bedroom is true even for us adults. This world and even the church for some has scary monsters for all of us.

  24. JC

    I’ll just throw this out there into the etherworld… (is it real if I have no one to tell, or no one who can hear? Is it communication if I just post it on a blog?)

    AP, you did it again; I don’t know how or why God uses your writings and music to reach us… but God is pleased to allow them to penetrate the numbness caused by the hurt and despair. And I know it’s not you; it’s the real transcendent loving God coming through.

    My husband, so emotionally unheard and wounded as a boy, and so mentally warped by life in this world without Christ, can spew out only more of the same. I am dying inside. I have no idea why he allows no thing of the Lord to touch and redeem him. How cruel he is, while feeling justified by calling it his own depression. Why am I so bonkers? Or maybe everyone is just plain bonkers. Why isn’t there anyone I can tell this to? I was not disobedient in marrying a non-Christian. I was not a Christian and I did not know about Christ. Everyone has their pain and suffering.

    I believe it is part of what God is allowing to break me open to love and rely on Him more deeply. I don’t know what else to say.

    So why am I writing this. Maybe to give you more reality, more grist that God will allow you or somebody to use for the Kingdom. Maybe to just try to tell someone. I might post this quickly before I read it later and discount it as melodrama – because I know it’s not.

  25. sally lloyd-Jones

    Love what you said and particularly: “May we take that seriously. It is our job, it is our ministry, it is the sword we swing in the Kingdom, to remind children that the good guys win, that the stories are true, and that a fool’s hope may be the best kind.”
    WOW! Andy thank you for this post. And the rallying cry.
    What an honor, a privilege and awesome responsibility to serve children in the stories and the songs we write!

  26. Peter B

    JC,

    Another reason, perhaps: so that brothers and sisters that you have not yet seen can pray alongside you and (perhaps) offer some encouragement. Be assured that it’s happening even now.
    As you are being broken and made new through this trial that I can only mildly comprehend (having been a child rather than a spouse in a similar situation), so your unbelieving husband is being sanctified through you.
    Among other things, I will pray for mature Christian women whom you can trust to come alongside, listen, and remind you of the prize.

  27. Dan White

    Great Post! I love VBS. I love Church Camp. And, I love Sunday School. Yes, I know they’re tired old traditions of the church. But I value the opportunities to get down on my hands and knees to act out the amazing stories from God’s word and show children that they’re valued–not b/c we want to reach their parents, but b/c they belong to Christ in-and-of-themselves.
    My son may become a great servant for Christ one day, b/c Mrs. Jill did this for him. And, Sergio Comrie may do the same, b/c I “walked through the Red Sea” with him, at VBS last week.
    The Kingdom of Heaven belongs to “such as these.”

  28. Sharmaine

    That was a beautiful post. Thank you so much foe the inspiring words. My books were a “nightlight” for me, even now when life gets difficult, I turn to the written word. My aunt told me one night (when I was an 8 year old) when I was having difficulty sleeping that I should pray until I fell asleep whenever the night terrors kept me up. Hasn’t failed me since.

  29. Connie Solomon

    I read this before I facilitated a VBS in a Residential Treatment Center for Teens this last week and with the enemy chomping at my heels I was encouraged to keep at it, doing the extra stuff so the volunteers could concentrate on their message & loving up on these teens, What a blessing to see those students open up to the beauty of Scripture. What they had hoped was true in this world but had very little evidence of, they found in the beauty of His Story told night after night after night by loving voices.
    Thank-you

  30. Quote of the Week « Image of Truth

    […] Quote of the Week “Those of us who write, who sing, who paint, must remember that to a child a song may glow like a nightlight in a scary bedroom. It may be the only thing holding back the monsters. That story may be the only beautiful, true thing that makes it through all the ugliness of a little girl’s world to rest in her secret heart. May we take that seriously. It is our job, it is our ministry, it is the sword we swing in the Kingdom, to remind children that the good guys win, that the stories are true, and that a fool’s hope may be the best kind.” – Andrew Peterson, “The High Calling of Bending Low” […]

  31. Quote of the Week | Image of Truth

    […] “Those of us who write, who sing, who paint, must remember that to a child a song may glow like a nightlight in a scary bedroom. It may be the only thing holding back the monsters. That story may be the only beautiful, true thing that makes it through all the ugliness of a little girl’s world to rest in her secret heart. May we take that seriously. It is our job, it is our ministry, it is the sword we swing in the Kingdom, to remind children that the good guys win, that the stories are true, and that a fool’s hope may be the best kind.” – Andrew Peterson, “The High Calling of Bending Low” […]

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