It’s not always easy to wrap our heads or hearts around the concept of God’s unconditional love, His willingness to help us carry our burdens, and His call for us to live lives grounded in faith and joy. But sometimes music can help us better absorb those truths.
That’s the kind of music Grammy nominated singer-songwriter Sarah Hart creates on a regular basis, writing songs for artists like Amy Grant, Matt Maher and Audrey Assad. But she also does the same thing on her own albums, including her latest “Til the Song is Sung.”
Sarah was recently a guest on “Christopher Closeup,” and we chatted about those aforementioned topics. And we also touched on Sarah’s greatest role in life: that of being a wife and mom to two daughters. Sarah even revealed something that she and her husband do with their girls to make sure their lines of communication as a family always stay open.
Here are excerpts from our interview. (For the whole interview, listen to the podcasts at the end of this post.)
Tony Rossi: The song we heard at the top of the show is “Joy in these Bones.” It was an empowering song about this message of Christianity that we’re supposed to be joyful people. So what inspired this particular track? Because even in Christian circles, the message of joy in Christianity can get lost pretty easily.
Sarah Hart: We all have a lot of human brokenness. There is not one of us that is an unbroken being. And I think that we forget sometimes that the joy of Christ and the joy of the resurrection is something that once we believe, once we adhere our soul to it, it is something that cannot be taken away from us. We act like it can, we act like joy is a circumstantial thing. But really, joy is so much deeper than that. Happiness maybe, contentment maybe, is a circumstantial thing. But joy itself is not circumstantial.
Joy is born of the knowledge that God has sacrificed everything for us, even Himself for us, to prove His love for us, and we are that love. That is really the essence of Christian joy.
TR: A lot of times, that joy can seem to dissipate in someone’s life because of the burdens they carry, and you address that topic in the song “Carry.” And you cite both Mary and Jesus’s challenges and burdens. How do you think a song like “Carry” can help people approach their burdens in a new way?
Sarah Hart: “Carry” is an interesting song because the idea of it is that there are some things only love can “carry.” I think that we have to constantly be turning over our burdens and struggles to a loving God, to put them in His hands and say, “I trust You with this. I trust You with this burden. I trust You with this brokenness, and I trust that Your love will help me be carried through these times, these struggles, these pains that I feel.”
TR: Since we’re talking about love, that’s also another theme in the song “Come Away.” And there’s a line in there I want to touch on. You wrote: “You rose up a lantern of light to my face. I cowered in fear and I clung to my shame.” And I think that’s an issue that easily overlooked. Because there are some people so mired in guilt from their past that they don’t believe they can move forward. What do you want to convey with this song “Come Away?”
Sarah Hart: Actually, the song “Come Away” is sort of a take on the way that marriages happened in the Old Testament, where the groom would show up at the bride’s door and he would come with himself and a group of men who were sort of his best men. And he would hold up the lantern and say, “Come away with me and be my bride.” And they would go away together and he would marry her.
I think that’s very much Christ’s call to us. He comes to the door, He knocks like a bridegroom and He holds up the lantern and He says, “Come away with me. Be my bride. I’ve paid your debt.” Because also in the Old Testament, the man could not marry the woman until her debt was paid. And I think that’s Christ’s call to us: lay down your shame. Forget that stuff, forget the place that you come from and look only to the place that you’re going to. See the light, follow the light. Come away and let me show you how beloved you are. That’s probably my favorite song on the record.
TR: Do you like incorporating these themes from the Old Testament into [your work]? Because it sounds like you are also a student, at least to a certain degree, of Biblical history and interpretation.
Sarah Hart: I definitely would never profess to be a great theologian, but I just love Scripture and Scripture stories. On the road, I teach a lot from Scripture because there’s so much rich history. And oftentimes, I think the Old Testament gets a little overlooked, and so I really wanted to have at least one song on there that really related to the Old Testament very well. But I’m kind of a geek for all that stuff. I don’t know why, I just am!
TR: Let’s touch on the song “Good.” It was a wake-up call about how long humanity has kept messing up, and [our good] God just keeps giving us another chance!…And it’s interesting looking at ideas from a different perspective, because a lot of atheists’ arguments against God hinge on the idea that He’s a vengeful bully in the Bible. And you’re talking about how great God is throughout the Bible. So there are two groups, reading the exact same book, but coming out with diametrically opposed conclusions. Why do you think yours is the more accurate conclusion?
Sarah Hart: I guess I think so because in all those circumstances where there may have been punishment and you saw God’s wrath in the Old Testament – which, let’s be honest, it’s there – but you also see a God who over and over again, loves. He makes clothes for Adam and Eve. It’s the first thing He does ever after He says, “Okay, you’re punished forever. Get out of My garden. But here, let Me make you some clothes.”
After the people are wandering in the desert, God says, “Okay, I love you and you’re starving. Let Me give you some manna, and I’ll lead you to the Promised Land.” It seems like over and over, God shows that He loves…I always equate the Old Testament God with a father who puts his kids in timeout. And just because He puts His kids in timeout, doesn’t mean He’s banished them forever. He puts them in timeout to learn a lesson and then goes into their room, puts them on His lap, and gives them a hug and says, “I really love you so much.”
That, to me, is the image of God that I have. His goodness always shines for us, even when we are dorks and make big mistakes!
TR: You co-wrote the song “Constant” with Audrey Assad, and it reminded me of the Francis Thompson poem, “The Hound of Heaven,” about God pursuing us, even though we’re running away from him. Even though you’re working in Catholic circles and you’re very grounded in God, do you still find yourself running away from God at times?
Sarah Hart: Oh! Maybe only about once a day! (Laughs) I am so comforted by the knowledge that all of the saints that we know and uphold in the Catholic Church have all been runners, and have all found themselves at times reluctant. And that’s such a gift to us as Catholic Christians; I think we need to rest in the fact that we are reluctant. We need to rest in the fact that we doubt.
I think the worst thing to be on the planet for me personally, would be to be a completely 100 % blissful Christian and to never doubt God. Because I think God would be so bored with me! I think He wants me to have questions and He appreciates my humanity. He created me in my humanity. And so for me, the ongoing doubt and ongoing running, it only means that I have a relationship with Him.If I stopped doubting and I stopped making mistakes and then coming back and asking forgiveness, it means I’m no longer in a relationship. And so I bless the doubting and I bless the stumbling because it’s all part of it, it’s all part of working on my salvation.
TR: The song “Hallowed Ground” seems to me like it’s both a song and a call to action to yourself, to leave this world better than you found it. What’s behind “Hallowed Ground?”
Sarah Hart: I actually wrote “Hallowed Ground” the night of the church shooting in South Carolina [in 2015]. A man walked into a prayer group and shot nine people in a church. I was crushed and felt so strongly that this man who committed this act, he’s my brother and what must I do? Not ‘what must I give my opinion about or what soapbox must I stand on?’ I don’t want to stand on a soapbox, I want to do something.
So for me, the commitment is to be gentle, to be loving, to be kind, to embody as best as I can, these gifts of the Spirit, to carry the Holy Spirit and to try to embody these gifts to the world of being love and joy and peace, and being patient with people, and kind to people, and to tread this world softly and lightly, with love. And that really was my prayer, truly. I wept as I wrote that song because that’s my prayer: to walk humbly on this planet with God and try to give that example so that others may do the same thing.
TR: Talking about the church shooting in South Carolina, there was a lot of darkness in that. Since The Christophers are all about lighting a candle rather than cursing the darkness, I have to say I sensed that theme throughout the album as well. You mentioned that search for light in a number of the songs. How do you think “Til the Song is Sung” ties into that idea of choosing light amidst the darkness?
Sarah Hart: Well, I have to say two things about it. Number one, my mother was visiting this week and I drove her to the airport this morning, and I told her, “Oh yeah, I’ve got an interview today with The Christophers.” And she goes, “The Christophers!” And then, she sang me your song!
TR: Oh, “One Little Candle?” Wow, she’s a longtime fan then!
Sarah Hart: Yes, she is a longtime fan! It was so sweet so I’m like, “Oh my Gosh, I have to really, really learn that song, maybe I’ll redo it someday Tony.”
TR: Well, that would be good! We have the sheet music so…
Sarah Hart: But “Til the Song is Sung,” the idea behind it is actually something very personal to me. This is my ninth record, and I thought to myself, “How long am I gonna do this?” I was sitting in the studio and thinking about this in my head and the quiet of my heart, and I very much felt like God said to me, “Sarah, you will do this till your song is sung.” And I was like, “Oh! I will, Lord. Like if You come and say it’s time, you’re done, I’ll be like, ‘Great, thank you, wonderful. What a gift!’” But the song’s not sung yet, and so I’ll continue to press on, and continue to do music and ministry and traveling until God says otherwise.
And I think that’s the point of sharing the Gospel. Even when music stops for me, I will still be sharing the song because I’ll be doing what you guys do: one little candle and carrying the light of God as long as I live, until my song is completely sung.
TR: I want to deviate to your personal life just a little, because as much as you love being a singer-songwriter, I know from Facebook that you cherish being a mother to your daughters even more. How does seeing them grow up add to your own joy and your faith life?
Sarah Hart: Anybody who’s out there who’s a parent who’s listening knows that your children are your greatest joy. They’re your greatest gift, and every day I’m astounded by the love of God because of my children. I don’t say this lightly: I think our children are not our children, they are prophets. They’re little prophets among us who, I think, walk in our midst to remind us constantly of the love of God, and constantly of the care of God, and that’s what my girls have been to me.
They’re just such witnesses to my life and such examples, and just besides that, they’re such cool people. I have teenagers, and they are the two best girls. They’re loving and kind and artsy and just a joy to be with. They make my world go around. It’s a direct gift from God for no reason. I did nothing to deserve them, but there they are.
TR: You wrote a Facebook post recently saying that you and your husband do something with your kids called “10 minutes with Mom and Dad,” and that it’s a boon to your family life, so I want to ask about that. Because a lot of people around the country would benefit from doing this kind of thing with their kids.
Sarah Hart: We have this thing we do before bed. We call them downstairs and say, “It’s time for 10 minutes with Mom and Dad.” Then we have this little theme song that we sing. I won’t sing it for you because it’s a family thing. Then we sit down – with no devices, no electronics – and we each get to pick a different topic. We talk. We call it “10 minutes with Mom and Dad,” but honestly, it usually turns into 30 minutes or 40 minutes. We carve out time to make sure that we are speaking to one another as a family, looking in each others’ faces, laughing, sometimes crying, but just connecting.
We’re a household where my husband is an IT person, so we have eight computers in our house and four people. It’s ridiculous. We are a plugged-in world, and I think that most families [have to] be very intentional about carving out family time. It’s a way that we show our children and ourselves and our family, “I love you. I love you to the point that I will put down that stupid computer and spend time with you, and focus on you.” It’s been a huge boon in our family life.
One night, my daughter said this great thing: “Mom, I wish it were as easy to talk to my friends at school as it is to talk to you and Dad.” That meant everything to me, because I always want to be that as a parent. Please, talk to us about everything. Don’t hide from us. Keep those lines of communication open with your kids, because your kids want you to be parents. They need your guidance. They need direction.
They need friends too, but they’ve got friends. And just because you’re being a good parent doesn’t mean you’re not being their friend. But I think we’re in a world where we focus too much on, “Let’s be our kid’s friend.” I want to be my kids’ friend, but I also want to be their parent when they need that, and that’s really an open door for us to make sure our kids know, “We hear you. We are listening to you. We want to know what’s going on in your life. We are interested in you, and that is the way we tell our kids we love them.”
TR: Sarah, in our final minute, what are your hopes for people who listen to this album, “Til the Song is Sung?”
Sarah Hart: My hope is that people will find themselves in a little bit deeper communication with God, and enjoying the beauty that I’m trying to put forth in the world. But I always hope that, especially lyrically, people will gain some insight into the love God has for them. I think that’s what all of us who are musicians and artists kind of hope for.
(To listen to my full interview with Sarah Hart, click on the podcast links):