“Surrounded by Your glory, what will my heart feel? Will I dance for you Jesus, or in awe of You be still? Will I stand in your presence, or to my knees will I fall? Will I sing hallelujah, will I be able to speak at all? I can only imagine…..” (Bart Millard of MercyMe…..”I Can Only Imagine”)
There are songs that come along in our lifetimes, whether secular, or Christian, touching our hearts in ways difficult to express in mere words. “I Can Only Imagine” for me, is one of those rare songs. From the first time I heard it I connected, I don’t know why, and I have learned not to question those moments. In any case, I doubt there are many who have not heard this powerful song by the Christian band MercyMe. It is played on the radio, at church events, funerals, and I am sure during other events I am not aware. It was played at my former father-in-law’s funeral a few years after the song hit the charts. For that reason, my kids have a difficult time appreciating the song, but I do understand where they are coming from. And now the story behind the song has hit the silver screen.
Bart’s story is about triumph over childhood abuse at the hands of his dad, and his dad’s subsequent redemption later in life. My husband and I went to see it with our best friends a couple of weeks ago. I knew what the story was about, and I expected an emotional roller coaster ride. Several reports from others who had seen it was to bring tissue, and lots of it. I didn’t shed a tear, which was interesting. My friend started tearing almost immediately. She shares with me an abusive background with the father of her children. There are so many of us out there. And, she too, is a very intelligent, loving, capable, strong woman, who at one point in her life was held at gunpoint by her abuser.
For me, the story hit far too close to home. The actor who plays Bart looked and acted so much like my son it was uncanny. My husband leaned over a few minutes in and commented on how much the actor looked like my son; his mannerisms too. My son is a talented musician, as well, and Bart’s story mirrors much of my son’s abusive past with his father. One would think I would have had a strong emotional reaction, but I didn’t. I just sat there taking it all in, keeping it together. For a moment, a fleeting thought tripped across my brain cells that if a tear escaped my eye there would be no holding back the floodgates. For several days following, I thought about the movie, over and over, sorting through feelings, and sometimes the lack of them. It is strange watching the essence of your story unfolding before your eyes, and yet it’s not your story, it belongs to someone else. Other than my son not pursuing music to the extent Bart did, one other dissimilarity was the mom decided to leave, and Bart was left alone with his dad. Did I judge her decision? Certainly not. Perhaps in her mind leaving was the way she could best protect her son. (In reality, Bart had a brother, too. Some slight liberties were taken with the story)
Since “I Can Only Imagine”, the movie, is about Bart’s dad’s redemption, obviously his dad finds “Jesus” and does a one-eighty. Not so, in our case. For a few years I was angry with my ex-husband, more so because he refused to admit he had done anything wrong, or take responsibility for any of it. I have since released any residual bitterness and anger, mainly because neither serve any purpose other than impeding my spiritual growth. My kids have each said at one time or another they don’t want an apology, they just want to hear him take responsibility for his actions; in other words admit he had abused the kids he said he loved, yet told on a regular basis, “you are going to wish you had never been born.” Not long after divorce papers were served, he called and asked what he had done that was so bad, and why I seemed to hate him so much? Righteous anger and proximity empowered me and he got an earful. I say proximity because he was several hundred miles away, broke as far as I knew, and still considered himself “disabled”.
Following a heart attack a few years previous, he decided (not the cardiologist) he was unable to go back to work, filed, and was granted disability. I saw it as milking the system, as they say, but then reasoned perhaps the “disability” those granting him federal monies saw was more of a psychiatric nature, rather than physical. It also proved beneficial for him when it came time to sort out the tangled tapestry that had been our life during the divorce. No matter, I wanted nothing from him, and that is exactly what we got; nothing. We were on our own, and I can truthfully say God, or the Universe provided, whomever one is comfortable with crediting.
Issues I have with organized religion are numerous, and from my perspective the church is a large part of the problem with domestic abuse, especially for those who attend. My relationship with Yeshua (Jesus), or the Divine, has nothing to do with church. I firmly believe we are more than capable of intimate relationship with Spirit apart from any religious doctrines or rituals. Abusers within the church walls feel justified, and well within their rights and responsibilities as the “priest or head” of the family. Many pastors and church leaders support the position of abusers in their congregations because they themselves are frequently involved in abusive situations in their own homes. I have spoken to pastors wives in abusive marriages over the years who choose not to leave their husbands because of misplaced loyalty to scripture and to the negative impact they believe leaving would have on the congregation. I believe the opposite. If more women stood up for one another in the church setting we could affect change. As it stands, there is silence. How often have sermons and messages been taught from the pulpit and in Sunday School classes about the responsibility of the wife to yield to the will of her husband? Is it not taught “spare the rod, spoil the child”? Perhaps one can argue these are the will of God, however, how many people take these very same scriptures and interpret them as free reign to abuse? Many more than one would assume. The church often turns a blind eye to abuse in their midst deferring to scriptures giving man authority over his family. Leaving organized religion is likely one of the better decisions I have made in my life.
In the movie Bart struggled with the transition his dad had made. I certainly understood his struggle. Redemption found at the foot of the cross, or in honestly facing our decisions and actions, is cleansing. So is owning our responsibility when we have hurt others, whether in an abusive relationship, or in any other way. God is good and loves all equally and without judgment. It is not for God to judge, or even others of like mind, as the church teaches. Rather, it is for us alone to judge ourselves, facing the hurt others have suffered at our hand. God provides the mirror through which we see ourselves clearly, and unless we look into the mirror redemption will not be ours. My ex-husband has not found redemption to my knowledge. My son, and my stepson the ex brought into our marriage, keep in touch with their dad. I admire them for their decision, but don’t believe it necessary. They stay in contact because they don’t want their dad to live out the remainder of his years alone, nor do they want him to die alone. He has no true friends, according to them, a sad, aging drifter who believes he will “make it” in the music industry one day, despite lack of any real talent. Abusers lie most to themselves, as I have said. My girls choose not to have any contact with their dad. Understandable.
I admire Bart, respect his talent, and more importantly respect his tenacity in the music industry. The music industry is brutal and cutthroat, Christian or otherwise. It is difficult for anyone, but given his background, even more difficult. Like my children and me, Bart was told he was worthless in myriad ways. Rising up and embracing one’s worth through the eyes of God is no easy task. “I Can Only Imagine” is about heaven, yet we are surrounded by His Glory each and every moment. My vision is for all who have, or are experiencing abuse, to rise up, to dance, to sing, and to fully experience the unique creation each one of us is through the Divine love of the Creator…..