I’m a one guitar man. Have been from the beginning. And I’ve secretly been suspicious of those who have numerous guitars as one would have steeds in a stable. I’m faithful to one woman, and I’m faithful to one guitar. At least that’s what I’ve always told myself since I couldn’t really afford a second guitar.
But lately I’ve been hoping and praying to add at least one more steed to my stable. I’ve written a lot of new material in alternate tunings and have resorted to borrowing spare guitars from the worship leader at whatever church I’d be playing so that I wouldn’t have to take as much time tuning during my performance.
Such was the case for my first performance of 2009 with my good friends at His Place Community Church in Washington. His Place is one of my favorite places to play because the people there are crazy enough to have adopted me for some reason and it’s one of the few places where the people make me feel kind of like a rock star (which is good since it’s in the same city as my in-laws and it casts me in a pretty good light). His Place is full of good people led by an exceptionally sharp staff.
My friend Ken Beane is the worship leader there and he kindly obliged me by loaning me his black Martin acoustic guitar for the morning that I took the services. It looks like something that Johnny Cash would have played and has a deep, rich tone, and when I made a percussion loop with it, something about the placement of the internal mic gave it a really cool and unique sound – very vibey. It was my favorite loaner guitar that I’ve played and was a perfect compliment to my Taylor 714CE.
That morning was tricky because I decided that my friends at His Place deserved something special, so I decided to only play my brand new material that I’ve been working on for my next record (coming soon, by the way :-). I played songs that I had never played for people before and spent the whole weekend agonizing over whether these songs were ready to be unveiled yet and whether I was ready to play them! It was like cramming for finals, but when the first service started I began to share the stories and songs that will shape the next season of my ministry and had one of the funnest times I’ve had playing music in a long time. It was a gift to me to have a place where I could risk something like this and the people graciously allowed me to fumble through these baby songs that still hadn’t learned how to walk yet, let alone crawl.
At the end of the service as I was packing up to hit the road for a concert in Renton, WA that night, Ken asked me if I would like to use his guitar for the next show. I said that would be great, but unfortunately I wouldn’t be coming back this way and therefore wouldn’t be able to return it to him. He simply said, “I know, that’s okay” and then just asked me if I wanted the guitar. I can’t really recall the specifics of what was said after that since everything kind of went white for awhile as he told me that he wanted me to have this guitar. For keeps.
I was speechless! Ken is one of the most affable and kind men I’ve met, but I also know he’s not necessarily wealthy, and though this is exactly the kind of thing you might expect Ken to do, a part of me was concerned about how he would replace this guitar that he was parting with. I lamely protested for lack of knowing what else to do, but in the end accepted his offer with a mixture of shock and profound gratitude.
I packed up the rest of my gear, my guitar, and then packed up his guitar that was now mine. Still uncomfortable with the whole thing, I told him that I would be the keeper of the guitar for as long as he liked, but that if he ever needed it back, I would be happy to get it back to him. In retrospect I think I said this because I couldn’t bear this kindness and it was some strange kind of self-defense. Then I loaded it in my car and tried to clear out of the church as fast as I could. I noted my discomfort with the whole thing and my increased urgency to vacate the premises. I just had to hurry up and get out of there.
From WA I met up with Taya in Nashville where we participated in a writer’s retreat and marriage conference. Every day was packed with the kind of insight and wisdom that opens up the world to you and puts you back in touch with your own life, and frankly by the end of day two our heads and hearts were full to the rafters. The best part of the week was the marriage conference with Dan Allander – an incredibly wise, and gentle man with a forceful intellect and deep reservoirs of insight. I could write pages and pages of what we experienced and learned from this man, but for now I just want to share one thought he shared which was this: in relationships it isn’t really rejection that we are afraid of, but rather love.
Taya and I talked afterward about how rejection is much easier for us to manage. We know how to deal with rejection and have a thousand different modes we go into when we encounter it: anger, depression, self-righteousness, retreat, tears, the martyr complex, etc. Rejection sets into motion an emotional machine we keep well oiled to counter it. So though rejection isn’t any fun, it’s relatively safe and predictable. We know what to do to defend ourselves.
Extravagant love, however, is another matter altogether and is a force so upsetting and unpredictable that it renders us defenseless against it. We have no idea what to do, it’s chaos to us and it leaves us disarmed and feeling naked. When it comes to us we feel awkward, uncomfortable, self-conscious, and we don’t know what to do with ourselves. The well-oiled machine we use to protect ourselves breaks down before extravagant love.
It’s why most of us prefer God’s rejection over his love. It’s why we choose legalism over grace. Obeying God’s law puts us back in the driver’s seat where we can imagine that we’re in control. We have our list of obligations to check off, and though we know we can’t meet all of the Law’s demands, we still like to feel like the ball is in our court. When we fail, we know what to do: pay our penance by feeling the requisite amount of shame and then vow to try harder the next time. Grace is terrifying because it is completely beyond our control and our efforts to manage it.
I’ve always had a hard time receiving gifts from people, and I always thought it had to do with my fear of feeling indebted – if someone helps I feel like I owe them something. But as Taya and I talked about all this, I thought of Ken’s kindness to me and realized that I didn’t feel one bit of indebtedness to him. In fact he eased the blow when he said “it feels weird, doesn’t it? I know,” implying that someone had given him a guitar (maybe this very one) and he was now paying it forward. Whatever I was feeling when I felt like I had to hurry up and get away from the church and Ken’s presence, it had nothing to do with indebtedness.
I think it was extravagant love that I was fleeing from. As usual. And it occurs to me that this is the human story and has been for as long as memory. Starving for love, we seek it out – more often than not in all the wrong places – and then when we find it (or rather it finds us), we are terrified at how naked it makes us feel, how vulnerable – disarmed of our best self-preservation mechanisms. And so we flee.
But it keeps finding us. Thank God.
Jason Gray is a recording artist with Centricity Records. His latest single, out now, is "When I Say Yes".