I recorded this song on Inheritance (and then, released a new version on Inheritance Deluxe) because, as long as I’ve known it, as long as I’ve sung it, and even having recorded it twice, I’ve not yet reached the depths of its balm for what has proven to be my very broken heart.
About two years ago I became aware of the fact that my heart was far more broken than I understood. I had some breaking and broken relationships. I was starting to suffer greatly from some of my own behaviors; years of on-and-off talk therapy with my wonderful counselor had not led me to the realization until I started to admit, *really* admit, a few big things. I am afflicted with several addictions and obsessions, one being religious OCD, or scrupulosity. I wasn’t sure how far back the roots of it went, but I started to see how it had taken over my interior world like a pernicious clinging vine. No application of the Gospel of freedom or charismatic worship or even Sacramental Christianity had been able to kill it, apparently. And so I began to ask myself, to really ask myself—have I ever really believed in God? Have I ever known God? Have I ever really had a choice? Or have I just been medicating my obsession my whole life long, meticulously and desperately applying a blistering salve of legalism that cures absolutely nothing?
I started having anxiety attacks at church in those days, and would have to walk out every time. Every time I would travel to sing or speak, my thumbs would start twitching maniacally while my heart rumbled and shook like a tectonic plate colliding with the rest of me. My whole body was revolting. I would practically run off stage when I was done, and spend many minutes doing breathing exercises and trying to calm down. It felt like my whole foundation had been swallowed into a sinkhole and I didn’t even know who I was anymore, much less who or what God was.
These questions were not fleeting and they were not satisfied by a quick Scripture study or reading apologetics books, or even by the 24 months I spent obsessing over figuring them out. All I found was that my questions really had no answers. Pat answers, sure—stuff that used to work—but no answers that satisfied me now. It frustrated the hell out of me. Between my scrupulosity, my broken heart, and my investigative temperament, all that I wanted was for God to speak up, to show up, to reveal Godself to me. Are you real? I just need to know. I need to know. I really really need to know. I’m freaking out. Show me, I begged, but there was only silence. There was only the quiet void. It proved to be just what I needed for a scrupulosity and obsessiveness that needed to die. The supply of food (answers, certainty, safety in correctness) was cut off, and I was experiencing the death rattle of my need to be right. What I had to become at peace with was the reality that, faith or no faith, there are just things I cannot entirely grasp with my intellect. There are no boxes that I can fit God into, or other people into, or myself into. That’s not how mercy works. And no matter how hard I try, I just cannot fit God into my head. And that blistering salve of legalism had only served to wound me and others around me, even though it offered me answers.
I made Inheritance in the midst of that weird and blurry and disorienting time. I have said this before, but in case you missed it, one of the reasons I even decided to make a hymns album was that, in addition to how much I love the songs, I couldn’t write a worship song to save my life back then. I was just too shaken up. I didn’t have a clue what to say, really. Songs like Be Thou My Vision were like a hospital to me then. I didn’t have any idea about what to do, so I sang what I knew—I lifted up the melodies that had walked with me since childhood. Even when I didn’t know if I believed the words, I found refuge in the sounds. They seemed like Medicine—an antidote, a tonic.
The way forward is no clearer than London fog in some ways, but I am settling in to not knowing things. It doesn’t torture me in the night much anymore that I don’t understand. I don’t lie awake weeping because I don’t know if God is real (not often, anyway) or if I believe all the correct things. Most importantly I am realizing that my obsession with right belief was me trying to earn God’s love just like any other “works-based” religious behavior—it was my way of trying to feel safe. And if there was going to be any hope of a healthy relationship between me and God, that awful cancer had to go. So I am just lying here as best I can, in my incertitude, looking up at the heavens and re-connecting with my awe and wonder and questions—questions that no longer send me into a spiral of fear and depression as much as they once did—questions that just have no immediate answers. I am learning to love my questions, and feel loved in them.
Hymns like this one have come alive for me with fresh and thrilling meaning in this time of my life. Lines like “Thou my best thought, by day or by night” have a new breathtaking significance—the fact that I spend so much of my time dreaming about what God might be like is the best thing I can be doing. It doesn’t matter, really, that I don’t *know* what God is like exactly, or that I don’t comprehend the metaphysics of this whole God with us thing. I’m thinking about God. I’m dreaming about God. That is beautiful. It’s my best thought, by day or by night. If that’s the only way I pray right now, then okay. I’m all right with it most days. I’m still healing from this and many other things in my past, but at the moment I am more at peace than I have been in a long time.
I love listening to this version of Be Thou My Vision, because as incapable as I was of formulating my own thoughts about God when I made it, I hear my feeble and broken, but bound and determined heart in this recording. I took the title of the record from this song very much on purpose—it was a prayer in itself, a plea for adoption. Thou mine Inheritance, now and always.
If you have never heard this song, or if you have heard it a million times, I hope the lyrics come alive for you today in just the way that you might need them. Listen with the broken parts of you. Allow true Medicine to seep in the cracks. And if you are blind, like me, I pray that you and I might see a little more clearly today.
Be Thou my vision, O Lord of my heart. Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art. Thou my best thought, by day or by night Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.
Be Thou my wisdom and Thou my true Word I ever with Thee, and Thou with me, Lord Thou my great Father, I Thy true son Thou in me dwelling and I with Thee one.
Riches I heed not nor man’s empty praise Thou mine inheritance, now and always. Thou and thou only, first in my heart; High king of heaven, my treasure Thou art.
High king of heaven, my victory won May I reach heaven’s joys, o bright heaven’s Sun! Heart of my own heart, whatever befall, Still be my vision, o Ruler of all.
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall, Still be my vision, o Ruler of all.