Singer Matthew West on Forgiveness
CBN.com - Christian music artist Matthew West has a way with words. Before 2011, his music fans knew only of his songwriting talent—crafting lyrical stories that touch our hearts, in songs such as “The Motions”, “My Own Little World” and “Forgiveness”. West first tested the waters in the realm of the written word with the release of his first book, The Story of Your Life, continuing the discussion he started when 10,000 personal stories were emailed to him before his first fan-inspired album of the same title released in 2010.
This week, West’s second printed volume, Forgiveness: Overcoming the Impossible, which expounds on the inspiring songs from his latest album, Into the Light, hits virtual bookshelves and Christian stores.
The Dove Award winner recently sat down with CBN.com to chat about the story behind his song, “Forgiveness”, why it brings tears to his eyes, as well as, the other submitted stories that speak to how and why we are called to forgive one another.
Hannah Goodwyn: You’re a proper author now with two books in two years. How was it sitting down to write this second book, Forgiveness: Overcoming the Impossible?
Matthew West: It’s freeing to sit down with a laptop and know that the words I’m going to put down don’t all have to rhyme or fit a melody. But, in all seriousness, it’s been exciting because I get the chance to dig deeper in the message.
A lot of times, I would write a song about a certain topic and feel like I’d only been allowed the opportunity to scratch the surface of all that I’ve felt like the Lord was showing me on that certain life issue or topic. And so specifically with forgiveness, this was an area where, thanks to Thomas Nelson, I’ve been given the chance to dig deeper, even in my own spiritual journey, and write more about forgiveness and the different aspects of forgiveness. Hopefully, it will be a book that will challenge and touch some people’s lives, as well.
HG: One of the first lines of the book reads, “I need this book.” How so?
MW: I felt the way that I do when I write a lot of songs is I feel unqualified. It’s almost like when you’re writing a song about a certain topic or a book, it’s almost as if you’re saying, I’m an expert on the topic. So, I guess I’m always quick to dispel that attitude right off the bat, to make sure people know that, man, and I say this from the stage all the time, I’m a mess. I’m writing these songs because the Lord knows I need to hear these messages as well.
This book and the song really came out of a story of forgiveness. When I read the story of a woman and how she was able to forgive someone who I would see as unforgivable, my first response was, there ain’t no way I could do what she did. That in many ways is why the first line of this book said, “I need this book,” because I thought, I wonder how many people are out there and they feel like me, where there’s someone who’s wronged them, and it’s just beyond them to find the ability to forgive them. This book has provided a good road map for me as I was writing it.
HG: ‘Forgiveness isn’t easy, but it’s a necessity.’ How have you found that to be true in your own life?
MW: Well, what I think is interesting as I began to dissect the one word “forgiveness,” and just how many different ways into that one word there are, the book really covers those different dimensions of forgiveness, and really four main questions: Is there someone I need to forgive? Is there someone I need to ask forgiveness from? Is there something in my life that I have a hard time forgiving myself for? And then finally, and the most significant question… How we answer this question really affects all the other questions… Have I acknowledged my need for forgiveness and what’s offered to me by a God who loves me?
Personally, it’s that aspect of forgiving myself that has resonated with me the deepest. These stories that people have shared with me, they’ve helped me. And my hope is that as I share these stories with everyone else, they can be encouraged to go, ‘Hey, I’m not alone. I’m not the only one who beats myself up sometimes when I make a mistake. I’m not the only one who’s having a hard time dealing with this grudge I’m holding towards someone. I’m not the only one who has a hard time believing that God really does forgive me.’ There’s strength in that, in knowing that you’re not the only one.
HG: You reference Nelson Mandela, and his quote, “As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d be in prison still.” Have you ever felt that kind of imprisonment?
MW: I have. I don’t think I can compare to what a man like Nelson Mandela dealt with in terms of physical prison, but I think for all of us in our lives… like the image of that prison is something that ran throughout the book. So many people described bitterness that they harbored, or grudges that they couldn’t let go of as a prison. Even Renee, who lost her daughter, she described it as [though] she was in prison. Even though the guy [who killed her daughter] was behind bars, she was in a different kind of prison.
One of the reasons why I wrote this book is because I’ve also experienced the opposite side of that, of that release from prison. I felt the freedom and the victory, and the joy that comes with handing something completely over to God, surrendering completely to God. I can think of specific examples in my life where, you know, we all have that one person, whether it’s a business person, a family member, where it’s just like you’re teeth kind of grit and you’re like—maybe you lost a little sleep over how they’ve wronged you, you know what I mean?
For me, I had a business dealing where somebody took advantage of me. To this day, I see that person at church all the time. And I was like, Lord, I can’t keep going to church and every time I see this one person, my mind is completely off of why I need to be at church. All I’m thinking is, how can he go to church? ‘Lord, forgive me for that judgment, and help me be free from that prison. That person is owning me right now, and I’m not going to let it happen anymore.’
HG: Something you also say is, “Sin levels the playing field”, which is really good to keep in mind when you have to forgive someone.
MW: The Bible does a fantastic job of leveling all of us, right? “For all have sinned and fallen short.” But just as inclusive the scriptures are towards letting us know that we’re all messed up, they’re just as inclusive about the forgiveness that every single one of us has offered. It’s not by class or by status; it’s if anyone is in Christ. It can really shift our perspective on just how in need of grace and forgiveness we all are.
HG: How do you start to forgive?
MW: The very first thing is the acknowledgment that in our human nature, there is an end. There’s a point where we reach the end of our strength and we find that we need a strength greater than our own. There’s a point where I reach the end of my patience and I need God to give me a patience greater than my own. There’s a point where I reach the end of me on all of these different aspects of life, and they humble me and help me look up and remember that God’s the true source of strength. In where I end, his love, his patience, his kindness, his forgiveness extends. So, the first step is going, ‘God, I’m not capable of forgiving right now. I need you.’
Forgiveness is not unlike any other aspect in our lives where we’re the control freaks. We try to be the ones who take it all into our own hands. We try to will ourselves to success in life or to strength through a trial or to make our dreams come true when all the doors are closing. The same is true when it comes to forgiveness.
We need the touch of a savior. We need the guidance of a God who is our wonderful counselor, who knows how to carry us through to do the possible and see forgiveness bring about healing.
HG: In your book, we also read Renee’s story from the perspective of the drunk driver who killed her daughter and how it inspired your song, “Forgiveness”. Tell us about hearing the story from Eric’s side.
MW: I got to sit and just talk with him. I got to look in his eyes and see what forgiveness means to him. It changed my life to see both sides of a forgiveness story right in front of me.
I’ll never forget one moment, before Eric was released from prison; they agreed to allow him to attend a few of my concerts in the state of Florida, where he was incarcerated. At the end of the night, we showed a video of them telling their story and then we played “Forgiveness”. Then I introduced to the crowd, who had no idea what was about to happen, to Renee, who came out on stage. Then Renee took the microphone, and she invited Eric on stage, and right there on stage, you saw a woman arm in arm with this young man.
If you didn’t know their story, you might just look at that picture and say, oh, that’s a mother and her son. But to know their story and realize, no, that’s a mother giving a hug to the young man who took the life of her daughter. I couldn’t sing. I was crying because I’m thinking, that’s the beauty of what happens when forgiveness is real and takes place, and takes root in our hearts. When the roots of bitterness have been ripped up, as ferociously as your grandma in the garden, just yanking those out, and we’re allowing seeds of forgiveness to be planted. They begin to take root and you see the fruits of it. I saw that in front of me when I saw Renee and when I saw Eric.
Now, is Renee done forgiving? No. She says there’s days she wakes up, and she’s just spitting mad that she’s never going to see her daughter again. She has to re-surrender. Is Eric done forgiving? Man, Eric told me that he struggles every day. He wakes up and he thinks about what he did and he struggles to forgive himself.
So, these are the journeys that remind us, again, we have to reach our end and acknowledge that we end, our ability to forgive ourselves and forgive others ends. We need a strength and a forgiveness greater than our own, and that’s the only way we’re going to try and find the true freedom that Eric and Renee have.
Hannah Goodwyn serves as the Family and Entertainment producer for CBN.com. For more articles and information, visit Hannah's bio page.
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