When I listened through The Beautiful Letdown by Switchfoot in 8th grade for the first time, I was absolutely amazed. Here was a band that sounded good to non-Christians, and they had powerful lyrical themes that resonated with my soul. I remember going to christianguitar.org (I just looked it up, and it’s still around, though it has tons of ads now) and trying to learn how to play just about every song on guitar.
I also remember a few years later reading Jon Foreman’s explanation for his song “24” (give it a listen if you are unfamiliar), and then re-listening to the song and being blown away. He wrote,
I wrote this song near the end of my 24th year on this planet. Wherever we run, wherever the sun finds us when it rises, we remain stuck with ourselves. That can be overwhelming. Sometimes I feel like my soul is polluted with politicians, each with a different point of view. With all 24 of them in disagreement, each voice is yelling to be heard. And so I am divided against myself. I feel that I am a hypocrite until I am one, when all of the yelling inside of me dies down. I’ve heard that the truth will set you free. That’s what I’m living for: freedom of spirit. I find unity and peace in none of the diversions that this world offers. But I’ve seen glimpses of truth and that’s where I want to run.
I just thought of this song because yesterday was my 24th birthday. And it’s fascinating, because I’ve listened to “24” hundreds of times throughout my life, but I don’t think the lyrics ever rang more true than it did this past year. Recently, I’ve been discovering more and more just how self-dividing and hypocritical I can be. I don’t think I would’ve really understood that back in high school, but I am experiencing it now. I’m talking about trying to get what I know to be true to be what I feel to be true. I’m talking about moments when I know the good I ought to do but I reject it for the bad I know I ought not to do. I’m talking about getting my thoughts and my actions to line up with each other. I’m talking about this powerful rift that stands between my public and private lives, one plagued by self-boasting and the other plagued by self-loathing.
Twenty-four voices with twenty-four hearts,
and all of my symphonies with twenty-four parts.
But I wanna be one today, centered and true.
I’m singing, “Spirit take me up in arms with you.
You’re raising the dead in me.”
It reminds me of this quote from a book that I’ve never read. Anne Morrow Lindbergh, the wife of Charles, the famous aviator, wrote in The Gift from the Sea,
I want first of all…to be at peace with myself. I want a singleness of eye, a purity of intention, a central core to my life that will enable me to carry out these obligations and activities as well as I can. I want, in fact—to borrow from the language of the saints—to live “in grace” as much of the time as possible. I am not using this term in a strictly theological sense. By grace I mean an inner harmony, essentially spiritual, which can be translated into outward harmony. I am seeking perhaps what Socrates asked for in the prayer from the Phaedrus when he said, “May the outward and inward man be one.” I would like to achieve a state of inner spiritual grace from which I could function and give as I was meant to in the eye of God.
Now I don’t know anything about Lindbergh’s spiritual background, but I think I can learn a lot from what she is saying here. What it does it mean to achieve a state of inner spiritual grace, through which I could behave as I was meant to in the eye of God? Of course, the theological answer is to believe in Jesus, so that I would be in righteous standing before God. But what does it look like to fully live that out, practically? What if my outward behavior was not determined primarily by what I want people to think of me, but it is determined by an inner peace that comes from me resting in God?
Throughout this past spring, I was in this small group at church, and as we were reading through the book of Genesis, I became very personally attracted to this guy in the Bible named Jacob. He’s part of the Abraham-to-Jesus lineage, and he’s the father of Israel, so you would expect this guy to be legit. But he’s usually not.
I won’t explain his life story, but there are chapters where it seems like he is growing and maturing, and there are chapters where it seems like he’s being passive or reckless. And I would want to root for him, but my expectations for him wouldn’t be too high. He’s like a basketball team that’s struggling to make the 8th seed of the playoffs. And it’s very clear that he is not the James Bond or the Harry Potter of the story.
In Genesis 32, there is this powerful moment when Jacob wrestles with somebody (an angel, God, Jesus?), and in the midst of it, he says, “I will not let you go until you bless me.” All his life, he has been undercutting and deceiving people behind their backs, but now he is wrestling face-to-face with God himself. And he is saying, “Bless me! I won’t stop until you bless me.” And interestingly, God in return asks Jacob what his name was. Of course, God already knows his name. But several chapters earlier, Jacob had lied to his father when his father asked him who he was. In fact, all his life, Jacob had lived a life of deception and lies. And here God has given Jacob an opportunity to be honest with himself. And Jacob steps up to the challenge and tells God his real name. And then and there, God changes his name and gives him a new identity.
Life definitely wasn’t perfect after that incident. Jacob still blew it a few times (just look at how he parents his kids in Genesis 34). But for a brief moment, Jacob had a genuine desire to be right with God. For a brief moment, he was transparent and honest about who he was, and his twenty-four voices became one, centered and true.
Foreman wrote in “24”,
I want to see miracles
To see the world change
I wrestled the angel
For more than a name
Yesterday, VK asked me what I wanted to accomplish during my 24th year. I immediately corrected her and said that I actually finished my 24th year and now was in my 25th year (in the same way that a baby who has turned 1 has just finished his 1st year and is now in his 2nd). She just got annoyed at me.
But I think the cry of “24” is what I want. The cry of Jacob is what I want. I want the blessing that comes only from seeing the face of God. I want to be centered and true. I want for my outward and inward man to be one. I want to wrestle an angel (metaphorically, of course) for more than a name.