I had the best day I’ve had in a long time yesterday. But to understand why, you need to know that of all the commandments in the bible, the one I’m the most guilty of breaking is the one about taking a day of rest. Especially these days on account of the new record releasing. So much to do… a lot of plates to keep spinning… I could tell that I was feeling the burn from the schedule I’d been keeping because my crankiness had a hair trigger and it didn’t take much to send my attitude off the deep end. I’d like to think that I’m usually very pleasant under normal circumstances 🙂 (smiley face employed to depict my generally pleasant demeanor). But by the end of this last weekend, my mood took a darker turn.
For starters, we did two outdoor festivals. Now, I’m often asked why I don’t play more outdoor festivals, and while I know they are a lot of fun for concert-goers, I try to avoid them since they tend to be challenging for a guy who does what I do. Festivals have kind of a social gathering/party kind of atmosphere, and it’s hard for a guy with an acoustic guitar and penchant for earnest storytelling to achieve the desired kind of intimacy that gives my work the best chance at connecting. I need four walls and a hushed low-lit room to coax people’s hearts out of their myriad hiding places. Maybe I take myself too seriously by expecting such a level of attention, but this is the kind of environment that I seem best suited for. Deep connections are always the goal. Without that, I’m always suspicious that I’m wasting the time of everyone involved.
Both events were youth-centered outreaches, which is totally cool, and which Sanctus Real and even Phil Wickham are well suited for. But get a guy with an acoustic guitar up there trying to talk about the virtues of weakness, God making sad things come untrue, and serving the poor, etc. and watch me flounder. It’s especially hard when there’s a group of kids in the back hollering “you suck!” about 30 seconds into my first song (Taya took care of them). Or when someone throws beach balls into the crowd for people to bounce around in front of me when I’m singing lyrics like:
“In Rwanda’s killing fields
Forgiveness blooms and heals
As the power of love reveals
The Kingdom come today…”
“The Son of God woke in the ground
The angels laid the soldiers down
To bring the King His crown
POW! – a beach ball bounces off the end of my mic stand and all of a sudden I’m back in the eighth grade wearing ill-fitting gym shorts and playing dodge ball.
The truth is, I just can’t compete with a beach ball. I mean, I try to be funny and tell jokes and stuff, but in the end the beach ball will always win.
So… I got a little grumpy about it. On stage. It didn’t help that I’d had a video chat the day before with my boys that left me feeling homesick and wondering if this work I do is worth the price we pay for it. Most times the answer is yes, but I start to doubt when I’m being heckled by teenagers in the back row or the beach balls start flying…
Taya was back at the sound-board shaking her head at me, with a look that was pleading with me to not say something awkward and grumpy from the stage. I managed to restrain myself for the most part and just snuck in a snarky little comment before my last song that went something like this: “hey, how would you like it if I came to your workplace or classroom and bounced a beach ball around while you’re trying to work?”
Kind of funny, but kind of grumpy and miserly too, I know. The supplier of the beach balls didn’t mean any harm, I’m sure. Everyone’s just trying to have a good time, I should lighten up, I know. And I know it sounds like I’m feeling sorry for myself when I play the “missing my kids at home” card. But all this to say that though these things are normally not that big of a deal – par for the course kinds of things, really – on this particular weekend they put me in a bit of a funk. The beach balls became larger than life – looming, symbolic rabid scapegoats for everything that is difficult and disappointing; giant beach balls of doom like the one that nearly mashed Indiana Jones in the opening sequence of Raiders Of The Lost Ark… Nipping at my heels, threatening to crush me at any moment…
I grumped about it afterwards on the bus for a bit, and seriously began considering a change in vocation. Again. But then I recognized that I might be a little burnt out and shouldn’t make any rash decisions.
Phil Wickham is a pretty positive guy and hanging out with him is good for me. He’s always helping me look on the bright side and count my blessings. I used to be very much like that, but lately feel more like that 70 year old guy who yells at people for walking on his lawn. Clearly I needed some rest.
So when the bus pulled in to Toledo, OH at 4:00am and we drove to our friend’s house 3 hours away in Clare, MI, our heads hit the pillow at 7:30am and we slept til 1:00pm on Sunday. With a mixture of panic and relief I discovered that I left my phone on the bus and, cut off from the rest of the world, I took a day off with my favorite person in the world: Taya. Our friends were away on a trip so we had the place all to ourselves.
Taya and I anonymously went shopping at the local grocery store to get the fixin’s for tacos. When we got back I played guitar for pleasure – wow, how long has it been since I’d done that? Years? – for a couple of hours on the couch while Taya made some fresh guacomole. Then, with our tacos, guac, and pineapple salsa we sat down and watched TV for like three hours. We watched three episodes of Flight Of The Conchords followed by one of my favorite movies of all time: Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, an artful film that to me always feels like a good dose of marriage counseling – to know the worst that you could feel about a person and then choose to love them anyway… isn’t that the most challenging and beautiful part of marriage?
And then, off to bed early. I even got to read some. What a great day. I didn’t do a thing. I didn’t have to be anybody. I got to be a bump on a log, vegging in front of the TV. I’m not sure this was entirely what was meant by the commandment to observe the Sabbath, but I think I was in the ballpark because it felt like exactly what the Doctor ordered.
This morning I got back to work, but my head was clearer. The weekend of shows became less about beach balls and a small group of disruptive kids in the back and more about the kindness with which I was received by those who attended, those who talked with me after the shows sharing their stories with me and generous words of encouragement. I found several kind remarks on my facebook page and in my inbox from new friends who attended the events. Maybe, by God’s grace (again!), my songs connected after all. I thought of the kids who were sponsored through World Vision who might not have been otherwise. I counted my blessings for the friendships I get to have with cool guys like Phil and Matt, Pete, Chris, Dan & Mark from Sanctus Real. I smiled thinking about Phil teaching me some new chords…
And I called my kids who were doing pretty good, too. I get to see them next week when we fly home for Gus’ birthday. I can’t wait. Maybe things aren’t as bad as I thought. And maybe those beach balls aren’t as big as I imagined, either. For all the ways they burdened me and felt like they carried the weight of the world in them, maybe they were only full of hot-air after all.
Dare I say it? I’m even looking forward to getting back out on the tour this week. And what’s more it looks like there aren’t any more festivals on this leg. See, I’m already counting my blessings again.
I’m also already looking forward to my next day of rest…
Jason Gray is a recording artist with Centricity Records. His latest single, out now, is "When I Say Yes".