Jars of Clay - Much Afraid

Sometimes I can become frustrated with myself when it seems like I’m not making progress in my life, or not “growing up” the way I expected.  But other times I am reminded that I really have grown in a lot of ways over time.

I recently bought an old Jars of Clay album, Much Afraid (released in 1997), and I’ve really been enjoying listening to the songs I remember from years ago.  I’ve been playing the album in the car, on headphones as I work around the house– I’m listening to it right now, in fact!

I’m not that great at reviewing music, so I’m not sure if I can come up with the right words to describe what I like about the album– it’s mostly the sound of the music.  I think a lot of the songs in this album have some relatively creative chord progressions, which makes it fun to try playing them on the guitar.  (Eventually, I did get tired of playing 3- and 4-chord songs!)

In some of the songs, the guitar is accompanied by soothing strings; in others, by jazzy keyboard riffs.  Several of them make excellent use of vocal harmony.  Then you have the pensive lyrics.  A lot of them I haven’t figured out the meaning of, but it’s as if the music and the words together give me a very blurry image of what the song is about.  Does that happen for anyone else with their favorite music?  These are some of my favorite songs on the album:

  • “Fade To Grey” — I think this song could describe the moment just before God reaches in and saves someone; the voice in the song is a person who can see that they are trapped and alone, and they want to be free– maybe– they’re still scared and wavering, and they aren’t even sure if God will or can help them.  The wonderful truth is that Jesus answers prayers from people in that situation.
  • “Crazy Times” — This is one I haven’t figured out, except that it’s about someone whose life is crazy, and they don’t like it, but they’re not willing to do what it will take to address the problem.  And it has a solo in the middle that would be fun to be good enough to play.  : )
  • “Frail” — A meditation on the singer’s human frailty.  I love how this song is carried by a haunting chord progression that goes for at least a minute before the singer comes in with almost a whisper.
  • “Portrait Of An Apology” — This has to be my favorite song on the album– I only have the faintest idea of it being about someone revealing their heart to a close friend using the metaphor of a painting, and finding that the picture of their heart is shriveled and dry.  “But I remember it much redder, and I remember it much brighter,” he says.  But he still hopes that his friend will stay with him.
  • “Truce” — OK; I’m afraid I don’t understand this one at all; I just like it.  I made a custom Guitar Hero chart for it.

Let me try to get back to the original point of my post.  : )  I bought the album and am enjoying it for a couple of reasons.  One is that it is nostalgic for me to hear these songs I remember from about the time I graduated from high school; it’s like returning to a comfortable room.  Another is that I enjoy the music (though I’m not all that good at explaining why.)  I think the fact that I am enjoying the album shows a way that I have changed since it first came out– I would go so far as to say that I have grown.

Years ago, I was too uncomfortable to enjoy this album for any of the reasons I described above.  The first time I heard the whole thing was when I visited Geneva College in Pennsylvania as a possible place to go to school.  I got to spend some time in a dorm with some friendly guys during my visit, and one of them was playing Much Afraid on his stereo– I got to listen to the whole thing while I was in the room with them.

So at that time, the music reminded me of things I was scared of– living on my own, keeping a college schedule, meeting new people, having a roommate.  But more than that, I was uncomfortable with the idea of enjoying music for how it sounded rather than what the lyrics said.  And I read through the lyrics as the album played, and I couldn’t figure out what any of the songs meant!  And why was there a picture of a man and woman in bathing suits on the album cover?  What did that have to do with anything?

Yes, it was another case of legalistic thinking.  I want to try to see if I can represent my past self’s thoughts accurately.  It isn’t that I thought certain styles of music were inherently “spiritual” while others were inherently “sinful,” even though I had at times heard that argument.  And I didn’t think more or less of others based on what music they liked.

It’s just that my rule-based mind could not construct a logical argument giving myself “permission” to enjoy unfamiliar music simply because I liked how it sounded.  The fact that I was going to be exposed to all sorts of music as I came into contact with others was a scary thing to me rather than a joyful thing.  I was also partly afraid that was a “selfish” reason to like music and that God wouldn’t be pleased with me or would see listening to music for pure enjoyment as frivolous.

The one who came off looking the worst in my thinking was God.  This is the God who created music, who created beauty, and who communicated through the Bible many times by inspiring his people to sing!  And I was thinking and behaving as if he didn’t care about beauty, as though he were not God in the realm of art.

I am really thankful for how patiently God has taught me and continues to teach me to enjoy his good gifts.  I have been blessed by things that used to scare me.  (I have even come to enjoy *gasp* secular music!)  I still often fall back into old patterns of thinking, and I have a lot more to learn, but I am still encouraged that God has brought me a long way.

“Much Afraid” by Jars of Clay

So happy to love, yet so far to go.

You lead me on to where I’ve never been before.


All of these things I’ve held up in vain,

No reason nor rhyme, just the scars that remain.

Of all of these things I’m so much afraid,

Scared out of my mind by the demons I’ve made.

Sweet Jesus, you never ever let me go.

Oh, sweet Jesus, never ever let me go.