I was six when I wrote my first song and I’ve written over a hundred more since then. Although I like most of what I’ve written, a couple of the songs are extra special to me because they were carved from deep places of vulnerability and pain. Like A Blanket is one of those songs. Not only does it speak from my own struggle, it has also connected with thousands of people walking their own paths of pain.
A few years after I wrote the song it was recorded by a group who has appeared with Bill Gaither and is well known in Southern Gospel circles. I was honored when they said they wanted to record it and especially excited to know that the instrumentation for the song would be provided by a live orchestra in Prague!
So. The song was recorded, got some radio play, and was even turned into an accompaniment track that people can buy and sing themselves which is pretty cool.
That all happened about eight years ago. Let’s fast forward now to a couple Sundays ago when Steve was away in Pennsylvania picking up his newly repaired car. Sarah and I were hanging out at home together where I was reading the blog of a columnist/music reviewer who just happened to mention the group that had recorded my song. In the course of his remarks, he referred back to one of their earlier CD’s that he had reviewed which immediately made me curious as to whether he had ever reviewed the CD that Like A Blanket was on.
I did a little search and it turned out that he had, indeed, reviewed that project. I eagerly scrolled down to see what he had to say about “my baby” and was pretty much knocked senseless as soon as I saw his first sentence. He basically ripped the song to shreds, leaving no verbal stone unturned as he communicated its utter awfulness and its utter unworthiness to be included on any high caliber CD.
A few of his prime quotes were: 1) Instead of being a masterpiece, the song was a disaster-piece 2) The song exemplified “loopy tautology” 3) My writing trivialized the voices of the group who had recorded the song 4) The song exhibited marshy spiritual logic of genuine but undisciplined imaginations.
I’ll spare you the rest.
Now let me just say that I am all about constructive criticism. In fact, when we were doing music full time, I went to great effort and expense to hire professional songwriting coaches to listen to the songs I was working on and tell me what wasn’t working. And while those sessions weren’t always the most pleasant (in fact, they were often downright painful) I gladly took my medicine because I knew it made me a better writer.
But in this particular case, what really hurt my heart was the over-the-top snide and sarcastic tone of the review. There was never an attempt to point out any positives, it was just a slash and burn romp through words that are precious to me—words that I had rewritten countless times, words that I had agonized over, words that I had cried over and prayed over.
It was like I was saying, “This is the best I have to offer” and his response was saying, “Well, guess what? Your best stinks.”
After I finished the review I pushed aside my feelings of discouragement and said sternly to myself, “Becky, you’re a big girl. When you choose to allow your words to be ‘out there,’ you open yourself up to all sorts of opinions from all sorts of people. You’ve had your songs critiqued before so this is nothing new. Pull yourself together and get over it, girlfriend!”
And so I did.
For a while.
I went downstairs and ate dinner with Sarah and we spent a peaceful, pleasant evening together. I kept quiet about the review and I was so proud of myself for not shedding even one tear over that guy’s ugly words.
But the next day?
There were tears.
All of my attempts to stuff the hurt down and tell myself not to care were for naught. Because I really did care and it really did bother me that a song that was so valuable to my heart had been so thoroughly shredded by the scissors of sarcasm. In addition to the song issue, I was also dealing with an unrelated challenge and as a result of those two tough things, I ended up fighting back tears for most of the day. When Steve got home from Pennsylvania that evening, he could tell something was wrong; however, he didn’t push me when I said, “I’m fine.”
Tuesday came and I was still struggling, still trying to decide whether or not I should even tell Steve and Sarah about the whole scenario because, really, it just wasn’t that big of a deal. I just needed to grow up and move on.
But then I thought, “Well, for crying out loud. What is a family for if not to share my burdens with? Why am I insisting on carrying this alone?
And so while we were sitting around the table after dinner Tuesday night, I pulled out two copies I had made of the review. Explaining briefly where it had come from, I asked Steve and Sarah to read it.
Well, Sarah bless her tender heart, was almost immediately in tears. The more she read, the more her eyes filled up. She would read a few words, glance worriedly at me, cry a little, read some more, glance at me again, and cry some more. Steve didn’t cry but he snorted in disbelief a few times at the overall tone of the writer and cast many loving glances at me as he read.
As the three of us started discussing the review, I started crying all over again; however, it felt wonderfully therapeutic to share tears with my family instead of shedding the tears alone. After a few minutes had gone by, Sarah suddenly sat up straight in her chair and made a startling declaration. “Mom! We need to go outside right now and we need to burn these words!”
I stared at her for a moment and then I said, “You know what? That sounds like a good idea to me!”
And so the three of us grabbed a lighter and went out to the back deck. Sarah held on to her copy of the review while Steve handed his copy over to me. As we gathered around the grill, I took that lighter in my hand and with a wonderful sense of release, lit the page on fire. Then Sarah (my beloved fellow writer) took her copy and set it ablaze, too.
For a few quiet moments, the three of us watched as the hurtfulness disintegrated into ashes. Then Steve made a little quip into the ensuing silence and all three of us burst into giggles—tears to laughter in a matter of moments.
And do you know what?
That was a week ago and over these past seven days, I have barely given that review another thought. It was so wonderful to be able to share my struggle with people who loved me, people who were indignant on my behalf, people who affirmed to me that I am still a good songwriter. The act of burning the words brought a wonderful closure and provided me with a way of saying,“I am not affected by what this one guy thinks. His words don’t have power over me and his words do not define my gift.”
The bottom line? You and I will never be perpetually admired and affirmed by all the people in our lives. However, when hurtful words enter your life, just remember—you are not defined by those words.
And remember this, too. If you ever feel like writing those words down and taking ‘em out back and burning them, well, join the club. The Word Burner Club.
You’ll feel better.