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9/06/2005

DISCONTENTMENT

On September 4th I cracked. I drove six hours to Boone, North Carolina, walked into an arena where 700 kids and their youth ministers sat waiting for me to play and I thought to myself, "I'm thirty-one. There has to be more for me. This feels hollow. It doesn't matter."

A couple weeks ago I was in El Salvador visiting impoverished children and their families. I heard about molestation and rape, about child labor on coffee plantations, about the rich oppressing the poor. I also saw the Church in El Salvador, with support from the Church in the U.S., fighting against these heinous forces and winning. I thought to myself, "I'm thirty-one. I've never felt more alive. This feels substantive. This matters."

In the months before that trip I'd grown restless in my role as a Christian musician. I made myself learn how this industry works: How radio stations operate, how labels operate, how mainstream music operates. I read about art and faith and how they "should" combine. I prayed. I talked to other artists. I digested everything I could about this work I do in search of a purpose, an ethic or direction with spiritual substance at it's center - something that would matter to me. I wasn't looking for God in this business. I know He's here. I wasn't looking for the godly. I've met them as well. I was looking for what God wanted ME to be about in this business. I was looking for direction, a purpose, a point to my career. And, honestly, I was looking for a way to crack the system, play the game, as a way of doing something bigger for God - as if God sees what I've done and am doing as worthless and small right now. I'm an idiot sometimes.

This trip to El Salvador didn't create this struggle in me. If I hadn't gone to El Salvador this would have been a phase. It would have passed. El Salvador wove it into me. It made magnified my questions and made finding an answer imperative and not elective.

I've counseled and encouraged and provoked to righteousness countless people over the last five years. God's done that through me and in spite of me. I've felt useful. It's felt substantive, like every day mattered. But it doesn't any more. Now I feel discontent. As my best friend, who is going through this same thing in his life, said tonight - I feel "antsy". I feel small. Less than I was made to be. I feel ready for more or different. I feel uninspired by music making and industry and money and so much else that once held my attention.

I don't think my life before this period of discontent was shallow though, or off course in any way. I don't think my once caring about music and my work and all the rest of it was disobedient or less spiritually mature of me. I just think something's changed in me. The part in me that allowed me to fully engage in those things is worn out or gone altogether. The part that made me want to be PRIMARILY about those things is out of order. I'm broken.

Most of the time these days this discontent drives me to reading and researching poverty, theologies and theologians and ethicists who've written about these things that seem to be fueling my brokeness. I told Becky I feel like the main character in Close Encounters of the Third Kind - the guy unexplainably urged from within to make mountains of mashed potatoes and mud, not knowing what this new fascination of his means or if it means anything at all. And Becky feels the same way. Odd.

And this discontent is usually these days driving me to prepare for the answer to the questions "What CAN I be inspired to be or do now? What's next? Why this interest in other things suddenly?" I'm preparing for this answer by selling my house, simplifying my life, eliminating the money factor in my obedience. If God says "go" or "do" or "be" someday I want to be obedient without hesitation or friction financially or in relationships with label, friends or family. I'm preparing them all for the phone call I hope to get from God eventually that could demand something from me and will surely dislodge me from this discontent I'm in.

Most of the time this discontent fills me with nervous energy, anticipation of what's next. It usually invigorates while irritating, fills me with longing for something I've yet to find and makes me content to wait for that something while enjoying life here and now. It makes me silent for hours and then suddenly explodes into a commaless rant or passionate unwieldy blog posting or essay. This discontent makes me "antsy" but it's usually good. It has been good - very good and positive.

Until September 4th. I still don't know why but it changed direction. I got angry. (I sort of know why: ONE trivial complaint seemed extra trivial that night in light of the serious issues faced backed in El Salvador for starters.) I'm ashamed that I did but I did. Really angry. Makes no sense. Great promoter. Great audience. Great food. Great travel with friends. Great show. I'm still not sure all of what or who I was angry about. Every attempt to put it in writing or conversation has failed. All I know for sure is that I felt like I didn't belong, I wasn't what was needed and the crowd wasn't what I needed. I didn't appreciate them and they didn't appreciate me but it was deeper than that. Like I said I can't explain it with words. It's a sense that can't fit in my mouth at all. I didn't fit. And not just for that night but it struck me that maybe for always now I won't fit. That scared/scares me. And that for some bizarre reason made me mad at everything including myself.

So tonight I got honest with God and a good friend. I shot straight with both. If I could quit music, if I had no contract today, I would. (Though I have no idea where I'd go or what I'd do.) I'd leave. Not because I hate it or anyone in it, but because I don't feel like I fit here right now. This isn't me right now. There's something else that needs me. Maybe for a month and maybe for the rest of my life. Something needs me. This job, these people, this industry, this country maybe, doesn't anymore. But I'm staying - for now. And I'll stay joyfully. I haven't been told what's next. And I look forward to counseling and provoking with my music every chance I get until God breaks this silence and explains to me in small words where I'm needed. In the meantime I'm not angry anymore. It left me as quickly as it hit me. And thankfully no real damage was done.

I say all this here on a blog - which is very uncomfortable and unconventional - because some of what I've written here lately has been under the influence of this stuff I'm sorting through. Some of the angry, as fleeting as it was, seeped into my words here. I regret that. But I'm also thankful for it. It was honest. If there's one thing I know God wants me to keep being it's that - honest. He uses that. There are scores of Christians content right now with arriving at death safely and filling the time between now and then with religion and routine. They believe - as I once did - that believing is enough and that after a sinner's prayer we're to take a seat, blend in and enjoy the scenery. I've been against that from the beginning of my career. I've been against that since a car accident in high school disrupted MY scenery, filled me with discontent, made me thirsty for more and taught me how too write songs in the process. My reason for doing this job in the first place was to infiltrate an industry feeding this kind of placid piousness with a loud unrelenting dose of jagged costly discipleship - substance. Now some of those religious people thankfully come here. They're my fans. They're my friends. And I want them to see me crack and break and struggle and fight God right now. I want them to see what a faith that is in flux and maliable and sometimes ugly looks like in the fire, on the anvil, under the abuse of the Hammer. And I want them to see what happens when the flames cool, to see what can be made of a mess like me. I want them to see that it's worth it to be discontent and miserable and angry so that one day we can be content and inspired and humbled and more useful than before.

So I'm going to bed to toss and turn once again, dreaming of what's ahead. And I feel better just letting you know what's going on. I haven't lost my mind. I'm just enjoying an extra large portion of discontentment. Mmmm good. Ask for some.

13 Comments:

Blogger Toby said...

Shaun,

All I can say is Wow! I pray God will let you in on His plan for you.

9/07/2005  
Anonymous Jess :) said...

I know what you mean about feeling antsy. Sometimes I feel like I'm wasting my time being a student when I could be out there making a difference and doing something, somehow. But then I remind myself that by sticking to being an Occupational Therapy student I will be able to help people more effectively one day than I can now.

I also understand the feeling like you don't fit even though everything seems like it does, and that making you feel angry. Not at anything in particular, but it's like frustration builds into anger, comes out and then subsides. Then you can't even remember exactly why the feeling hit, or exactly when it started building up. It can even happen when you're surrounded by a group of friends, it can be random.

It's hard to be joyful when you feel like something's not quite right and you don't know what's coming next. It's wierd how anticipation if so frustrating and yet generates so much hope.

I hope that the plan unfolds soon, and that you can sleep soundly.

9/07/2005  
Blogger Drew said...

Shaun, thanks for posting this. Your honesty is refreshing. Though I am not quite in the same place in life as you are, I too have experience this discontent, and still am experiencing it. I'm glad you're willing to do something about it. I am encouraged knowing that until you change directions you are ready to serve where you are with a joyful spirit. Don't let go of that.

9/07/2005  
Anonymous Elizabeth said...

I've felt the discontent, not the kind that everyone else my age (16) understands, but the longing to be more, to do more. I'm itching to just run out into the unknown that God has prepared for me while I sit here dreaming my own dreams and preparing myself for them. Maybe there's still something I'm missing; I think I'll be missing something until I'm in the presence of God.

9/07/2005  
Blogger Mustard Packet Pelter said...

Discontentment, *sigh* I understand entirely what you mean Shaun. I know how you feel. I feel discontent every single day I wake up and go through the same old routine. When we're searching so hard to figure out what's suppoes to come next sometimes the hardest words to hear from God are "Wait". Of course with us we'll never be content within this world. We're not made for here. We're made for direct communication with God. Going back to the garden of when God walked in the cool of the day with Adam and Eve that's what we're made for. And the spirit can get restless and anxious and ready to do more to please the God we love. When trying to delight God it's hard to just wait even when God commands it. And don't worry about wrestling with God. Remember Shaun, when Jacob left from wrestling with God he never walked the same again. So wrestle with Him, you're not alone in your discontentment. Sometimes you can't always figure everything out Shaun. What would be the fun in life if we had a syllabus given to us by God to track what was gonna happen next in our lives? It's a journey and it's hard. In your EPK for White Flag you said that Jesus does not promise us a road that is wide and easy. He says it begins hard and it ends hard. You inspire me with all you do even the smallest of things. The road is long and it's hard but I'm here for you. May your joy be full. May your spirit find strength. And may God grant you peace to still your heart to hear His voice telling you what to do next. Try and get some rest.

9/07/2005  
Blogger GrovesFan said...

Shaun,
Thanks once again for your honesty and the openness in which you share your struggles. You are so open to God's leading and that's what's paramount. I for one would be extremely dissapointed if you left music, because I think God is using you mightily through it. Much more than you are willing to admit sometimes because you are humble. I'll be praying.

Beth

9/07/2005  
Anonymous wade said...

Shaun, thanks for posting this. I, too, long for the freedom you write about. I've slowly come to understand that this type of thinking should be the norm among followers of Jesus; unfortunately it isn't. shlog.com is one of the first sites I vist in the morning. I'm looking forward to hearing more from you.

9/07/2005  
Blogger Kathryn said...

i'm in the same boat at the moment in my life. I'm not going to write all about it here. . but i do that on my blog.

sounds like you're feeling a bit 'square peg' at times. . I know the feeling. i also know what its like to feel restless and expectant and broken and longing and much more. discontentment -- possibly God's way of moving us out of ruts/grooves/routines?

9/07/2005  
Anonymous lc said...

Shaun i totally agree with you that, at times you feel discontent or left out or not fitting in but i dont think its about fitting in. i think its about being happy with who you are and what God wants you to be.because if you "fitted in" with the other singers/songwriters, we wouldnt have this honest man whose willing to breakdown infront of others showing he is human too. i think your the kind of christian everyone wants to be: an inspiration to all even in your hardest times. I think its okay to be scared as long as your not being afraid b/c being scared passes but being afraid lasts forever. so in the meantime were all rooting and praying.and dont stress yourself out too much.:)

9/07/2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Therefore since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin which so easily entangles and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us." Hebrews 12:1

Love you man. Chad.

9/07/2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

For what it's worth, the group I took to Boone Sunday really enjoyed your music. They are still singing the songs today. But I have to wonder why you would share these feelings on your blog. I realize that sharing feelings can be theraputic but I wonder what sort of response did you expect to receive? A pat on the back? A validation? A "run for your life" edict? The web being what it is, anyone can be anything on here and say anything. Shallow responses or mean things. At Boone, I did see people who just seemed to be there. They were not there to worship, they were not there to have fun. They were just there milling around. The group I took were afraid to go to the bathroom for fear of missing something. At most of these festival events I find the same thing. It's just that the percentages are different. These events have different meanings to different people. You just didn't have people on the same page as you on this day. And this triggers something inside of you to chuck the whole thing? I noticed after 9/11 that many people had this "perspective check" that tugged at their souls. Now we have the aftermath of this storm to get people into this same thinking. But life goes on and the same reason we do the things we do has not changed because people who were living well are all of a sudden suffering. Zillions of people have been suffering for a long time and it will continue. I'm not saying that we (you) should keep the status quo. I just think sometimes we need a break to refresh ourselves and then get back to using our God given talents the way He would have them used. Sorry..............this is your blog. Take care.

9/08/2005  
Blogger Shaun Groves said...

"And this triggers something inside of you to chuck the whole thing? I noticed after 9/11 that many people had this "perspective check" that tugged at their souls. Now we have the aftermath of this storm to get people into this same thinking. "

Huh? I never said I wanted to "chuck the whole thing" and maybe you infer that because I didn't communicate well. That's possible certainly. Sorry for the confusion.

I'm not chucking all of anything. I'm open to chucking anything though. ANd that's a good place to be. But I didn't get to that place because of one night. I thought I explained that. Maybe bad communication again. Sorry again.

As for why I would post these thoughts on a blog...Well, I KNOW I covered that clearly.

And this thinking and felling has nothing to do with a tragedy or people who were doing well now suffering. It's not motivated by that. This is where I am right now but where we are today is the culmination of everywhere we've been. How I think today is linked to the last four years of music making and before.

Thanks for questioning me. It gives me the chance to clarify and correct bad communication of my own. Thanks.

SG

9/08/2005  
Blogger jennyonthespot said...

I came here via my friend Julie. She wrote about her own struggles when she referenced how your piece here was helpful to her. My husband and I are both struggling similarly. In my blog I often share what I can of my struggles, though not everything CAN be shared. I have learned that when we open-up encouragement happens (which gives life within such struggles), ideas are generated, and, apparently - criticism occurs. More importantly though, we are able to touch others - encourage others through our own struggles and even pain. Often, people feel they are the only one. When we are able to open up, we are able to stretch out and reach. I apppreciate that you were open here... reaching. It takes courage and strength, especially since you are more of a public figure. I pray you are able to clearly see what the Lord opens before you.

A note on anger... God created that emotion, it is not the ulitmate "bad guy". We can do many things with it - good or bad. Anger shows us that something needs to be fixed or tended to. It's up to us how we deal with it. In my opinion here you have used it to begin a new thing... something working toward good... for the Lord...

Blessings on your journey, and thanks for your open heart...

9/18/2005  

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