I remember my first introduction to contemporary Christian music and CCM radio. I don’t remember where I was or who I listened to, but I remember my mind being blown. Having until then only heard hymns or southern gospel in the church, I had no idea that Christian music could sound like what I listened to on the radio. This was music I could relate to, play on repeat, and reflect on in a way that brought me to a deeper knowledge of Christ. The hymns and southern gospel was for the older crowd; this music was for me. I could make a playlist of early to mid- 2000s CCM that has touched me. But none quite like “Worn.”
In 2012, the band Tenth Avenue North released “Worn,” one of the first singles from their 2013 album, “The Struggle.” A high school sophomore that year, I was crumbling under the weight of losing my first relationship. Anxiety had morphed into depression; I was crying so often that the skin under my eyes began to dry out, crack, and bleed. My existence didn’t agree with me and I wanted it to be over. So, as you might imagine, the upbeat, joy-for-Jesus songs on Christian radio didn’t resonate with me. They felt like the smile I wore to church: inauthentic and largely for everyone else’s benefit.
Then I heard “Worn.”
“I’m tired, I’m worn/my heart is heavy/from the work it takes/to keep on breathing.”
Finally. Someone knew how I felt. Someone saw me where I was. And maybe it was okay that I felt this way. Maybe it was okay that I hadn’t yet seen the light at the end of the tunnel.
Recently I heard Mike Donahey, the band’s lead singer, talking about the song on TikTok. He recalled a conversation with a radio station manager. “I can’t play this song,” he had said. Not unless the band was willing to change the last chorus from “Let me see redemption win,” to “NOW I see redemption win.”
This story confirms what I have been sensing in CCM for awhile now. We want our songs to be like sitcoms: lighthearted and wrapped up at the end with a nice little bow and a tag that reads “but God.” We want the hear stories where God intervened in exactly the way we want and expect.
Sure, sometimes God does. There’s a place for those stories. But what about when He doesn’t? Isn’t He still good? Isn’t He still worth singing about?
Scripture is full of laments and tragedies: the psalms, Job, and (shocker) even a book titled Lamentations. I fear that both in our churches and in our music, we’ve lost the art of the lament. We’ve forgotten how to be honest and vulnerable before God.
We’ve baptized our discomfort with sadness, grief, and trials, hiding behind verses like “be anxious for nothing” and “rejoice in the Lord always.” Yet, if we studied what the peace of God or joy in the Lord in scripture, we would get a picture more raw and gritty than most of our songs. We would see Paul “grieving, yet rejoicing.” We would a Savior sometimes in distress. We would see the full gamut of hard emotions, brought about by a fallen world, redeemed by the knowledge that this world is not our home and our God will be victorious.
We need more songs like “Worn.” We need to remember how to cry to God, how to ask Him why. It’s not like He doesn’t know when we’re anxious, hopeless, numb, or somehow all of the above. We need to remember, and remind newer believers, that walking with God isn’t just a state of constant bliss, and that that’s okay. He is faithful when I am Worn.
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