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"Story Under the Song" for "(Reprise) Aching to Be Had"
track 9 from Child Coming Home (album, 2019)
WHERE DID THE SONG COME FROM?
In summer of 2019, I was spending all my time recording and mixing the album Child Coming Home. Ask my wife: making the music had been my whole world. But as I was finishing the album, I noticed a big, empty space in my heart. My wife noticed too.
"Let's go swim at the creek near my parents house," she said. "It'll do you good to get out."
Swimming was fun, but that heart-hole remained. I remember sitting on a rock near the creek and looking around at all the beauty-- at the rushing waters, spotted butterflies, and my family's faces-- and feeling a melancholy tinged almost with despair.
That's when I wrote the first lines of "Aching to Be Had,"
I want to know who named the water
I want to know who gave the butterfly its spots
In writing those words, I was admitting something to myself: that while I'd been pouring my heart into making the most beautiful art that I could, I'd been neglecting a deeper part of myself. Simply put, I felt how deeply I wanted to be known and loved, and also how empty my pursuit to fill that need with art-making had been. No matter how much of myself I put into Child Coming Home, there was no way for a listener to know or love me as a person. My creation was not all there was to me.
And while I was sitting there at the creek, I started to wonder: if that's true for me as a little person who makes art, what does that say about Creation as a whole? Is there a personality behind all the beauty of the world? In other words, does the beauty that surrounds me point beyond itself to a Creator? If so, could I know that Creator? Does that Creator know me? Most of all, if that Creator knows me, could He possibly love me?
"I have seen the burden which God has given to the sons of men to be afflicted with.He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in their hearts, yet so that man can’t find out the work that God has done from the beginning even to the end." - Ecclesiastes 3:10-11 (WEB)
I wrote the rest of the lyrics for "Aching to Be Had" from the perspective of a Singer who only knows the angst of these questions. He has not yet learned the assurance that their answer-- following Jesus-- provides. That being the case, those lyrics I wrote at the creek weren't true to what happened next for me personally.
HOW DID THE SONG GROW?
After swimming at the creek and writing the first "Aching to Be Had," I went with my family back to our house. Once there, I went to my room and prayed. As a Jesus follower myself, I knew I had the liberty to bring this deep feeling of restlessness to God.
"My soul, you have said to Yahweh, 'You are my Lord. Apart from you I have no good thing...' Their sorrows shall be multiplied who give gifts to another god." - Psalm 16:2, 4a (WEB)
In prayer, it became obvious what the problem was. Though, as a believer in Jesus, the basic questions about how to know the Creator of this beautiful world were answered for me, that didn't mean I still cared more about that Creator than about the things He (or I, with His stuff) had made.
In a word, idolatry was my problem. Making Child Coming Home was a good task, no doubt-- storytelling through music is part of my role as a sub-creator-- but it had become all-important to me. What's more, my motivations for making the album had shifted from good ones (like wanting to love God and people) to bad ones (like wanting to be rich and famous). However, in part because the project was about spiritual things, I hadn't noticed what my heart really wanted.
"You adulterers and adulteresses, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God... Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners. Purify your hearts, you double-minded." - James 4:4, 8 (WEB)
"If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us the sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." - 1 John 1:8-9 (WEB)
In Scriptures like James 4:8 and 1 John 1:8-9, I found a direction to move in prayer: away my desire for worldly things for their own sake and towards God, who promised to cleanse me and restore me. In essence, this meant surrendering Child Coming Home to Him. I had to say, "Lord, forgive me for loving this work more than I've loved you. It belongs to you, and you are the one in charge of it. Let your kingdom come and your will be done, not mine. Help me to know how to go forward from here."
By the time I'd finished praying, I noticed that I felt very different. Before I'd felt empty and adrift in the world, but now I felt satisfied and settled in its Creator. To say "thank you" to God, I wrote the first few lines of "(Reprise) Aching to Be Had":
You made me rest beside the waters
You gave me who was blind a new kind of sight
WHY DOES THIS STORY MATTER?
The biggest surprise to me as I wrote these lyrics for God was not that the big, empty space in my heart had been filled by Him, nor was it that I felt He wanted me to put "Aching to Be Had" on the album. The biggest surprise after all of this wrestling was that the feeling of melancholy returned even more strongly. This time, though, it was tinged with sweetness, not despair.
"(Reprise) Aching to Be Had" marks the end of the Singer's story arc in Child Coming Home. By this point, he's gotten everything he wanted back in "New Apartment." He wanted a family and children, and now he has a son. He wanted a home, and now he has a house. He wanted a relationship, and now he's married.
But the Singer's apprehension of the beauty of these gifts from the Father comes with the same sweet melancholy I felt. The goodness of those gifts points the Singer on to the goodness of a greater gift-- an ultimately homecoming-- that he has yet to receive. To quote from the Reprise's lyrics, he's feeling a longing that he's been taught to name: it's a longing for God as his true home.
The Singer will be able to express the nature of that great gift and that sweet longing more fully in the final song of Child Coming Home, which is "Passing Through (Psalm 84)." But for now, that's the story of "(Reprise) Aching to Be Had."