Wonderlost: Story Under the Song
Updated: May 3
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"Story Under the Song" for “Wonderlost”
track 6 from Child Coming Home (album, 2019)
WHERE DID THE SONG COME FROM?
Back in 2016, after the birth of my son, my father-in-law Kelly encouraged me to apply to become a 3rd grade teacher at the small Christian school where he was headmaster. That's because he saw in me a spirit of wonder about the world and an approach to befriending children that would suit the position.
After getting the job, I met weekly with Kelly to discuss the challenges and victories of serving the kids under my care. In those conversations, he'd often remind me of the importance of using my position to be like Jesus in His Incarnation: namely, to serve the kids by identifying with them in my heart.
But Jesus said, “Allow the little children, and don’t forbid them to come to me; for the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to ones like these.” - Matthew 19:14, WEB
Taken from the perspective of being a child, the essence of the Gospel that my father-in-law preached to me each week is this: that though humankind has rejected God's fatherly authority, Jesus, as God's obedient Son and humanity's new leader, can make us God's children as we submit to and follow Him.
But in 2019, after three years in the profession, I was weary. Not only had I realized that my interests and gifts lay in other areas than teaching, but I'd also started to believe and live a different story than the one Kelly often reminded me of in all of our meetings.
It's not that I disbelieved the Gospel -- at least not intellectually. But day-to-day, as I taught my students and raised my son, I'd come to think of myself as the one in charge. I didn't often feel that I needed God to help me, only that I needed to get better and to work harder. This pride in my heart was dressed up as good behavior, but it grew out of a small estimation of God and a big view of me. I had, in a phrase, "grown up." I'd lost my wonder.
"Jesus called a little child to himself, and set him in the middle of them and said, 'Most certainly I tell you, unless you turn and become as little children, you will in no way enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.'" - Matthew 18:2-3, WEB
Mid-way through the school year, Kelly recognized that I was living this way, and he gently asked me questions and used the Scriptures to point out my error. Though I knew he had my best interest in mind, it still hurt to hear how wrong I'd been. I remember crying as I walked home from the school.
When I got home, I went to my room and prayed about the tender rebuke Kelly had given me. I knew his correction had substance and that it required my response. Even assuming that success with my work was the most important thing-- and Jesus emphasized a different set of underlying values-- job performance flows from heart health, and my heart was in a bad place.
Partway through praying to the Father, something changed in my heart. The vision of a life of purposeful joy through trusting Jesus that Kelly had held out for me started to feel real. As the lyrics that would became "Wonderlost" started to come to me, I went to sing my heart out at the piano. Soon afterwards, I recorded what I'd created on my laptop.
HOW DID THE SONG GROW?
When my wife came home, she loved the song. She told me that it captured the essence of the joy and humility and faith she'd seen her father exhibit as she'd been growing up. She was also grateful to hear how God had her answered her prayers about my pride, about the ways that I'd become obsessed with my own competence. She often asked me to play the song for her.
I can report now with some humor that her appreciation went to my head. When I started to record the album version of the song in summer 2019, I set out be impressive with the arrangement by adding many instruments and correcting the vocals. I went through multiple drafts and showed each one to my wife.
With both grace and firmness, she told me each time that I hadn't improved on the original. Finally, after lots of exasperation and a little prayer, I realized why. That first "bedroom demo" version of "Wonderlost" had been recorded in a state of spiritual weakness and childlike dependence. "Wonderlost" could only be a gift for others if those qualities were retained. So, with the exception of a guitar track that my friend Seth recorded, my "bedroom demo" version of "Wonderlost" was what ended up on the album.
WHAT'S THE BIGGER STORY?
Back in "New Apartment," the Singer knew there were things that he wanted, even needed, but didn't have-- a family and children, a home, a relationship. The pain of those unmet needs -- expressed in "Aching to Be Had"-- prepared his heart to recognize and to respond to the call of Jesus in "Come to Me."
As the Singer sets off on his journey, he learns to follow Jesus in different ways. First, in "New Dawn," he learns to follow Jesus through hardship and loss toward a sure hope. Then, in "My Hiding Place (Psalm 32)," he learns to trust God for safety and forgiveness as his spiritual home.
By this point, the Singer has learned to view his journey and his destination from the perspective of a protected and beloved child of God, but he's lost some of that perspective in transit. In "Wonderlost," the Singer is invited to renew his commitment to this God, the Father of his spirit.
When the Singer accepts this invitation, he'll begin to know God as the ultimate source and target of his desires for family, home, and relationship. In the next song, "Lilac Orchestra," the Singer will have the chance to reflect on what he's learned about these desires, and may even receive some physical fulfillments of them. But for now, that's the story of "Wonderlost."