Sara Groves: I grew up in Church. My dad is a pastor. He was a teaching pastor for a while, he traveled and spoke. Then we moved to Springfield, Missouri where he is a Bible teacher and teaches Old and New Testament at a Christian liberal arts College. So, I grew up in a Christian home. Both my Mom and Dad are great people. Their goal is to be “mere Christians”, in the sense of C. S. Lewis’ book, Mere Christianity. Even though our family was part of a denomination, the goal was always to “know Jesus.” Like Paul says, “I want to know Him more and His death and resurrection, that I might achieve resurrection from death.”
So, I feel very fortunate. I grew up in a close family. I came to the LORD when I was four. I grew up in Church. I was very committed. I got saved every Sunday, and every opportunity to press in, or to do something for the LORD, I did it. I think that was a reflection of my heart as a little girl. I was really close to my folks during high school and college.
I had a surprising faith crisis in my late twenties, when I had my first son. You know when life starts to happen, especially in ways that are difficult, bad things happen to good people – people you love. You have children and they are very vulnerable, and you are trying to introduce them to this very scary world. You are trying to figure out how to do that. What does it mean to be in the world, but not of it? What does it mean to be a city on a hill?
I felt ill-equipped to do those things. I think that some of the constructs that I built, that were my faith, they were sub-stories to a bigger story that was being told. Now that’s not to negate all my passions growing up and all that – the Word being in my heart and all those things. So, I came to a place of realizing that I was not believing God. The behaviors – all of that was right. My offerings – they were all right in my eyes. You know, David was one of the first to recognize that the offering is not the primary thing – you are to have a heart of sacrifice. There is a circumcision of the heart to be done in the people of God. I think that my offerings were good. I was bringing the best of the lamb, and these things, but I think I was missing something about faith and what it means. To really have the fruits of the Spirit in my life. It is even hard to talk about because the language on this side of my experience is the same as it was before, but it has different meaning to me now!
Here are some real life examples. I think before this experience I did things because I was supposed to. I had to do things right. I wrote a song during this time that said: “Show me the contract. Show me the line. Give me a pen and I will sign. Just make the requirements easier than Trust and Obey.” Because Trust and Obey gave me such a vague, walking-in-the-dark feeling. To actually trust God in that sense, like Abraham. I remember reading about Abraham and thinking “What did you know?” I knew that something had happened in Abraham’s life after all those years of interaction with God. So impacting that when God told him “Sacrifice your son,” Scripture says that he got up the next morning, packed his bags, and went out. At that time I began wondering, “What does Abraham know?” “What does Job know to sit in this horrible place of pain and suffering and to say, ‘I know my Redeemer lives’?” “What do they know to be able to say, ‘I know I will see Him walk on the face of the earth’?”
So it was sort of a time of reckoning, a time of being hard-hearted. It was a dark time. I felt like I was fighting with my best friend. My music reflects all of it. The Other Side of Something and the new album, Add to the Beauty are very much my fighting and my resolution. I feel like this album (Add to the Beauty) is the most secular in language, I guess. I don’t like the terms secular and Christian, but it is the album with the least Church language that I have ever made. But it is also my clearest declaration of faith. That is the way I want my faith to be and appear. I want the Kingdom of God to intersect my life in such a real life way that my faith is my life.
When I get in my car and turn on the ignition, I don’t doubt that it is going to take me somewhere, and I want to believe in the Kingdom of God like that. I haven’t always done that. In being afraid for my kids; in being separate from the world. Those ambitions were motivated by fear and not trust in God. So that is where I have been recently, and that’s a long answer to your very simple question. I guess I tried to tackle the question:What is the meaning of life?
Mercy Hope: I know that was a loaded question.
Sara Groves: I hope you don’t mind long answers :)
Sara Groves: It was between All Right Here and The Other Side of Something. All Right Here was sort of the beginning place. Less Like Scars, and a lot of the other songs were about grieving and strife in families, and just the stuff that happens. Everyone that is alive knows what I am talking about. Everybody that lives knows that the humans heart – left to our own devices, we are writing a tragedy. We are bent on ourselves. We are bent on evil without Divine help. So, I think that my albums have always had an element of question and a sense of asking, “How does this really work?” What does this really look like?” Because you said that there was a Kingdom. I keep hearing this whisper. I believe that this fairytale is true, but how does it intersect my family?
My conversations with a lot of believers were very frustrating for me because I feel right now in the American Church, a lot of people are holing up in their own homes. My mom always says, “You can’t create a world for your children. You have to introduce your children to the world that we are in.” We are given a very clear commandment to be salt and light. I had felt like a lot of the conversations I was having with my friends was a lot of finger-pointing about what was going wrong out there. I think a lot of Christians are feeling embattled right now. I was feeling embattled. But then in this time of rediscovery. I took a year off of the road and I just did devotions and tried to find my way back to a better place. I think during that time I just felt like, “Wait a minute. I just can’t believe this is what God intended for us – for His Church.” I just started getting fired up. The pilot light was lit. I started thinking, “I don’t want my kids to watch me be afraid. I want them to watch me be passionate and dangerous about the gospel of Jesus Christ the way that Paul was, the way different people – these great leaders – were. I want them to watch me believe. I want them to see me take God at His Word. I want my children to watch me find that grace in my own life, and not always see that striving.”
It has been good. I feel in a way – again, not to negate all my growing up, because it is rich. I look back and I really value my upbringing, and the fact that I was very much inundated with Church and the Word of God – but I feel, in a way that some kind of disconnect just connected for me. I feel like where I am just now reaping the benefits of my Christian faith – joy and peace and to really rest and say, “Lord, I know You are in control.”
Mercy Hope:Before you did your first album, whatever inspired you to get into music? What was the message you wanted to bring forth?
Sara Groves: I have been doing music since I was a five years old. Just venting and working out my salvation at the piano. I was a public high school teacher and I had never done a concert or anything like that. My husband is an enormous part of why I am doing this today. I would never have been able to do it. I had no confidence in my abilities to do something like this. He was – sort of like it says in the Love chapter – hoping all things for me; he was trusting in something that I didn’t even recognize. He’s got an artist that fights him. Most managers don’t have that! I am, like, dragging my feet, but he had a vision. He believed in me and was prompting me by saying, “You know these songs are not just for you and your piano room. I think that they have a larger audience.” So, I put together my very first performance, and it was a fundraiser for Fellowship of Christian Athletes at our public high school. I was one of the huddle leaders for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes group. We did a fundraiser pizza night with a concert. I put together five songs with a band. It was the first time I ever played with a band and I was 25 years old. So I did not have any vision of this success for sure. Most of the artists that you know – the new artists – are like 18 or younger. So, it wasn’t like, I’m going to be a rock star, I’m going to go out and be CCM!
At the end of that night a girl came up to me. I knew she was involved in witchcraft. She spoke very openly with me about what was going on at home. Her brother was selling drugs. She and her mom were wiccans, involved in WICCA. So, she came up to me and said, “Do you have a CD or anything I could take home? I really want my mom to hear these songs.”
I got in the car that night, just so excited. For the first time, I was really feeling myself compelled to do something with my music. I kept thinking I wish there was a way for her to know I love her. I wish that I could give her something. Sunday night we did a CD release concert for the album All Right Here. We had people from Teen Challenge which is a drug rehabilitation program. We gave Teen Challenge 100 tickets to come, and I got a letter passed to me at the end of the night. Tonelle (the girl that had inspired me earlier) has been addicted to meth for the past 8 years and just came to Christ and was there that night. So, I can’t wait to go home and tell her that she was a huge part of me getting involved in music the way I am. She wrote me a letter saying she was still having some doubts, but after the concert – all night long, I just talked about Jesus, and the realness of Jesus – so after the concert she said, “I have no more doubts about Jesus now, and I just want you to know that I am in Teen Challenge now.” So, she has come full circle. I thought that was just an incredible letter to receive. Just to know that she was really one of the major reasons why I made the first album!
Mercy Hope: How has your message evolved with time and experience?
Sara Groves: Well, I can’t do anything but write about where I am right then. So, every album has been that. Sometimes I will hear people say, “I really liked Conversations. Conversations was a more vertical album.” It is a lot of conversations with God. All Right Here was more about faith and families. I can’t think of a more Kingdom-application album than an album about marriage and family. Because to me that is where your Christianity is at its hardest and at the most flesh-and-blood reality. You know, I can worship all day long, but then if I turn and speak disrespectfully to my husband, then what have I done? Paul tries to get this through to us in the Love chapter (I Corinthians 13). He is saying, you can do all kinds of things for God, but if you are not loving your neighbor and kids and your husband, then what does that mean?
So, I am getting off on a tangent again… :)
I think even at the beginning, I have always written right from where I am. Even during the time of questioning. I always feel very compelled to do what God has me to do. I am not going to look to the left or the right. I have looked to the left or the right and when I do that I have just been frustrated and overwhelmed. God wants to define normal for my life, and He has done that. He has really given me this space where I am really looking over my eight years of music. I am really grateful that God is giving me a space that fits me, with an audience that fits me.
My purpose has changed in that Conversations was more Conversations with God. All my songs are conversations with God. I could not eliminate that from my music. That would be like cutting off my arm. I think that aspect is in every song. Even as I talk about my marriage, that is a Christian Worldview song. All the songs are Christian Worldview.
Mercy Hope: What is really neat to me is that you are able to do this ministry, and your family is right with you. How do you balance all of that? I am sure it is a lot, and yet you seem to have it down to a science. How has that process been?
Sara Groves: Well, we are not perfect by any stretch. Troy and I are constantly re-tweaking and figuring out what is best. Because we have found that what works for one season does not work for the next.
Even good, Christian advice can sometimes not fit what God is telling us. I grew up in a Church where there was a lot of “Thus saith the Lord’s”, and so I kind of got the point where I was a little leery of that, just because that had been somewhat abused at times, I had thought. So, I was a little bit gun shy of prophecy. But when I was pregnant I was at a Church in Florida, and this man came up to me and the Lord just said, “Listen. Don’t shut down.” Because, normally I would just shut down. This man said, “I don’t know who you are, but I just was so compelled to write this note while we were praying.” I had been asking the Lord, do I stop doing the music. Now that I am pregnant, do I quit? We had been doing the music for about 3 years. We are independent artists still. Troy loves doing this. I was saying, “Lord, find Troy a new career, or something.” Because he so fits this job. (Managing Sara’s schedule, and playing drums for her concerts). He works extremely hard on all the millions of details. All I do is sing. That is all I do. And I am Momma. That is it. I just would never be able to handle all the details of this.
So, this man walked up to us and had written this note – and I thought I had been hearing this in my quiet time, but I thought, ‘Maybe this is just me, my ego, and I want to keep singing.’ But I had been feeling like God was saying, “Let me define normal for you.” This man crossed the room and slipped me this piece of paper, and it said, “Your family will not look like other families. There will be times when you question normal, but let God define normal for your family.”
Troy and I just wept and wept. It was such a confirmation to us. From there we have tried to do that. We try to involve the kids in what we are doing and make them a part of our ministry. I don’t want them on the bus playing Nintendo while we are doing what we are doing. So Kirby now introduces us, and he loves that. I don’t push him – if he doesn’t want to do it, I don’t make a big deal. It is nothing like child acting or anything like that I hope. I do want them to be in the concert at times. They don’t come to every concert, but they do sit in a lot and seem to enjoy it. They love being on the road. They are goofballs. J They love their little bunks on the bus!
In some ways the road has more of a rhythm and set space than we have at home. Especially this tour because we are doing 25 minutes each night so the space is pretty wide open.
Mercy Hope: In closing, is there any message the LORD has been speaking to you that could share as an encouragement to the women reading this?
Sara Groves: Definitely the message that is on my heart is this new album, Add To The Beauty. It is very raw, and very fresh for me. I think because of our nature, we, as women, tend to be protective of our homes and of our families. We are built that way. But I think that it lends itself to fear sometimes. I know that a lot of my girlfriends and different moms that I know are feeling overwhelmed these days because the world feels like it is falling apart. It is hard to know how to respond. I think that I have been in a foxhole for a while, feeling pretty embattled and pretty shell shocked. You know because of 9/11, or having new babies, or things happen in your life. I guess lately I have felt like this album for me is me running out on the field. It is me leading a charge, just calling out to my fellow believers, saying, “This is not what we were made to do. We were not made to sit here and be afraid.” Not to ramp up our political language, or our argumentative skills – not those things. The way to defend marriage is to have a strong marriage. The way to defend family is to have these families that shine. To me families are God’s masterpiece. They are His art. When you see a good family, when you see a good marriage, it takes your breath away like a masterpiece, like some beautiful work of art. I want to have that kind of marriage. I want to have that kind of life.
Then, I want to work on behalf of the poor, the way God has asked me to. That is something that has been neglected in my own life. I think in the American Church, a lot of us have been so self-nurturing in our self-grooming. You know we have the ultimate worship experience, we have all the tools we need for a great devotional life, and all these resources. Now what? “Here am I, send me.” I want to go, and I don’t want to be afraid. I want to take all those “what ifs” women have, I want to take those to their end conclusion. Every single time you will find that God is sovereign. So I feel like I want to ignite that pilot light in other women. Get excited! This is an exciting time to be alive. It is an exciting time to be raising kids. To be, like Paul said, “Follow me as I follow Christ.”
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