My friends and I have this monthly tradition called Drink & Discuss (D&D). It’s almost exactly what you would expect it to be. Once a month, a group of men gather with beer and bourbon to enjoy fellowship, brotherhood, and discussion of the higher things. Last year, one of the most important nights of D&D was when we discussed this song titled Honest Wage by the indie duo known as “Penny and Sparrow” (see a beginner’s guide to Penny and Sparrow). This single song has impacted me more than any other spiritual reading I’ve done in the last five years, and it’s taught me how to be a better husband, father, son, and friend. Let me explain why...
The first time I heard that song, I was at my desk at Lighthouse Catholic Media and my buddy Elliot leaned over and told me I needed to listen to this song Honest Wage by Penny and Sparrow. I immediately shut him down with, “Dude. I'm not interested in your flute playing indie band music.” He assured me this wasn't a banjo playing sensation from Portland, and told me that these two bros wrote a powerful and gritty song about the anger that the elder son felt in the story of the Prodigal Son. At that point I was intrigued because the story of the prodigal son returning home to the father is one of my favorite moments in Scripture, so I decided to give it a listen. Little did I know that my entire relationship with the Lord was about to be cut wide open with my deepest wounds exposed.
I put on my noise cancelling headphones, and I allowed the lyrics to sink in a bit. The lead singer Andy Baxter started off by singing in hushed tones, and I immediately recognized that he was painting the scene of a deeply angry man who feels dejected, lonely, and woeful. This pain he’s feeling is almost certainly due to the fact that his father has called him over to join in the party being thrown for his disgraced younger brother who has just returned home. Andy is speaking from the point of view of the elder son who's shaking with anger when he considers that his father never threw him a party in all the years that he’s been working alongside his father. A couple verses later, his rage for his father turns into heartbreak as Andy Baxter starts singing in full voice, almost straining, "I wish it were easier to kiss you on the mouth, like it is to work hard and earn an honest wage."
Immediately, I got this pit in my stomach, and I'm like oh no. That's me. I’m the elder son in the parable. I recognize that most of my life has been this labor of service where I’ve kept myself close to the Lord, but I’ve never actually let him penetrate the deepest recesses of my heart. Subconsciously, I began to recognize that most of my spiritual journey had been an attempt to earn an “honest wage” with the Father, unable to receive His love, because in my mind it had to be earned. I began to recognize that even my prayer had been transactional. If I put in enough prayer, then I’d be rewarded with eternal life. Catholicism for me up to this point had been a well-paying job. In my mind, the more I loved God, the more of His love I received in return, and I had been working at this job for over two decades laboring in the “spiritual fields” just like the elder son.
The worst part is that I’m tired. I’m tired of working in the fields hoping that my spiritual effort will somehow make me worthy of being loved. That is an unsustainable way to live, and I simply can’t do that anymore. I refuse to remain in this place of proving my worth to the one who loves me with reckless abandon and asks me to love Him the same.
As the song ended, I opened my eyes and took off my headphones to see that Elliot was still watching me for my reaction. Oh, I gave him my reaction, and it was something along the lines of, “I’m pissed at this Andy Baxter guy for singing this song and bringing down the walls of my heart that I had set up emotionally and spiritually for nearly all my life.” Seriously though, what gives him the right to point out the very wound that has inhibited me from living a life truly alive in Christ?
I don’t think that my initial understanding of the Father’s mercy and love is that unique. I’m convinced that many people struggle to receive, understand, and enter into the Father’s love. In my case, I’m a product of Catholic education from grade school through college, and I certainly struggle with this understanding. For most of my life, I’ve stayed as close as possible to the Lord, but I was unable to let Him into my heart because I was so busy trying to serve Him or even make Him proud. Seems harmless, right? It’s far from harmless. It's actually quite insidious when you really break it down. It places this layer between yourself and the divine love that leaves little to no room for vulnerability and laying your heart bare to the Lord to allow Him to love you in all of your weakness and brokenness.
In truth, I still have a ton of work to do in the realm of recognizing my value as a beloved son of the Father. I do know this though... if I ever want to love my wife Jill and our daughter Lucy with abandon, then I have to give myself entirely to the Father and learn how to kiss Him on the mouth.