Is Emotional Pain Keeping You from Becoming a Great Songwriter?

I don’t know if you’ve noticed this in your songwriting or in the lyrics of others, but has it ever occurred to you that your need to express your emotional pain may be keeping you from becoming a songwriter people actually want to hear? While Paul said in Romans 12:15, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn,” could it be that you’ve spent enough time “mourning” over your brokenness, sin, and awful circumstances and it’s time to move on? Here’s a test for you. When you ask someone how they are and launch into a lengthy diatribe about how sinful they are and how they’re such a horrible person and seem to be begging over and over for forgiveness from you or someone else, don’t you get just a little tired of hearing it and wish they would get healed and happy again? The psalmist wrote, “… weeping may endure for the night, but joy comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5). What if you’ve just forgotten it’s morning and joy has come? What if the recent popularity of hanging all of our negative feelings, self doubts, fears, and brokenness out for all to see has actually weakened the effectiveness of the Gospel and the effectiveness of your songs overall? Yes, there IS a time for lament. Believe me, I’ve lamented my own sins and shortcomings to the extreme, even to despair. But what has it gotten me? Depression, sadness, anxiety, more fear, more unworthiness, more destructive behaviors and nothing good, really. Seems to me there’s a right way to lament and a wrong way, just like with guilt. The right kind of guilt moves us towards repentance and reparation. The wrong kind moves us to self-degradation and psychological illnesses. So, Biblical lament and mourning aside for now, let me ask you. Are you trying to use your songs to get people to notice your neediness more than proclaim the truth of total forgiveness and the promise of healing in Christ that all believers share? What’s motivating your desire to “share your pain” over and over again in your songs? Are you using your songwriting as therapy or a personal journal of your troubles and oblivious to the fact that few people really care and want to hear it? The 13th Century Persian poet Rumi wrote, “People want you to be happy/Don’t keep serving them your pain…” I believe one of the central truths he was tapping into in this couplet is that emotions are contagious. That’s why you usually find a bunch of sad drunk people huddled in bars listening to sad music. Like attracts like. If you need to deal with emotional pain, get a journal and hire a therapist. If there’s a real reason to use your pain in a song that points people’s minds higher than your pain, so be it. But I challenge you to look through your lyrics and your heart to uncover the real motivations you have for covering the “brokenness” angle over and over again. There’s so much more to write about considering the illimitable God we serve. I’m thinking that we, as Gospel communicators, need to focus more on the larger themes of Christianity and lose a lot of the self-focused “broken” themes for a while. Maybe it’s time to put a little more faith in the finished work of Christ and move on. Selah.  

Don’t miss the NCS Weekend Intensive happening in Nashville June 21-23 with amazing clinicians and coaches like Krissy Nordhoff (Integrity Music songwriter), Tom Jackson (Live Music Producer for Taylor Swift and hundreds more), John Mays (Centricity Music), Mike Harland (LifeWay Worship), and all the NCS Staff! Space is limited – reserve your spot now HERE

John Chisum

John Chisum is a pioneer in the Christian music business, serving alongside people such as Bill & Gloria Gaither, Twila Paris, Paul Baloche, Don Moen, and many more. As Managing Partner of Nashville Christian Songwriters, John seeks to empower Christian songwriters worldwide to discover and fulfill their call to write.

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