“This just isn’t working.”
“I’m never going to make it.”
“I should just give up.”
Have you ever said those words to yourself?
Whether it’s the 13-year old who’s been cut from his middle school basketball team or it’s the 43-year old machine operator who just lost his job to a robot, each one of us knows what its like for our dreams to collide with reality.
For some, that collision is enough to stop them in their tracks. For others, it becomes a catalyst for success.
As a songwriter and the frontman for MercyMe, Bart Millard has experienced his fair share of acclaim: 8 Dove Awards, 2 Grammys, Christianity Today’s Best Male Vocalist (2005), and ASCAP’s Christian Songwriter of the Year (2003).
What you could never deduce from that long list of accolades, however, is the long story of abandonment, rejection, and abuse that stands behind Bart’s success.
5 Reasons Bart Millard Should’ve Given up on His Dreams
There’s something to be learned from Bart’s story—a lesson about God’s unending faithfulness, even in the midst of pain and suffering. Let’s look at five elements of that story and then ask what we can learn about persevering in the face of life’s obstacles.
Bart Was Constantly told to “Get Real”
Bart’s father, Arthur, lived in the “real world.” Whenever his son drew pictures, wrote poetry, or talked about singing for a living, Arthur would launch into his typical tirade: “Dreams don’t pay the bills, Bart… All they do is keep you from knowing what’s real. You understand that?”
Bart coped with his troubled childhood, in large part, by using his imagination to dream of a better life far from his abusive father. But, every time Arthur scolded him about reality, that dream world grew that much smaller.
Bart’s Mother Abandoned Him
Before Bart was born, Arthur was struck by a diesel truck. The resulting brain damage severely affected his behavior. In short, it turned him into an abusive monster.
Although Arthur never laid a finger on Bart’s mom, Adele, she could only take so much verbal abuse before she had to leave. In 1975, the two separated and later divorced.
Still, Adele was a frequent source of encouragement to Bart. A talented musician in her own right, she inspired Bart to dream about a career in music.
Eventually, Adele remarried a good man named Lawrence. In 1981, a job transfer required the two to relocate to San Antonio—a 6-hour drive from Bart’s hometown.
Bart had to stay behind.
Words can’t describe the devastation Bart felt. His mother, once a source of inspiration and hope, had left him to fend for himself.
Bart’s Dad Abandoned Him, Too
Even after she and Arthur had separated, Adele’s presence in Bart’s life helped to reign in Arthur’s rage. With her gone, however, there was nobody there to keep Arthur from turning violent. As Bart grew, his father gradually transitioned from anger to apathy. The physical abuse eventually diminished, while the verbal abuse continued. Finally, even that began to drop out as Arthur seemed to lose all interest in what his boy was up to.
You’d expect this development to bring a sigh of relief, but not in Bart’s story. In fact, his father’s distance became its own form of abuse. He longed for the old days when his Dad cared enough to acknowledge that he was there.
Nashville Rejected Him
Early in MercyMe’s career, their manager, Steve Brickell, set up a pivotal showcase for the band in Nashville. With a slew of record executives in the crowd, this was supposed to be their big break. Except, that it wasn’t.
Nashville wasn’t ready for a band who sang songs to God rather than about Him. “There’s no market for you,” they heard. We can’t sell “the whole worship music thing.”
In his memoir, Bart explains how this devastating event triggered all the alienation and rejection he felt as a child. Crushed by the experience, he came perilously close to giving up altogether
He Lost His Best Friend and Strongest Supporter
In 1987, Arthur received the devastating news that he had pancreatic cancer. In a mind-blowing display of grace, God used that diagnosis to completely change Arthur’s heart and bring Him into an intimate relationship with Himself. Two years later, it fell to Bart to care for his dying father in the evenings. Every night, the two would spend hours together, talking about life as they waited for Arthur’s meds to work through his system.
During that time, Bart and his father grew closer than he ever thought possible. He always looked forward to those late night sessions. There, he learned what forgiveness was. He came to trust his father, even to call him his “best friend.”
Arthur was a new man. Instead of telling Bart to get real, he made him promise to get unreal—to drop everything and use the musical gift God had so clearly given him.
Still, Bart couldn’t avoid the painful reality of his father’s impending death. The feature film version of his story captures this struggle poignantly in a scene where Bart opens up his journal to these heartbreaking words:
“The dad I always wanted is about to leave me. How is that fair?”
It’s not fair. And, that loss very well could’ve driven Bart to give up. But, it didn’t.
Seeking Out Truth In Our Circumstances
Your story may not agree with Bart’s in all the particulars, but I’m willing to bet you can relate. I know I can; there’ve been times in my life when reality’s cruel hammer reduced my dreams to nothing more than a pile of broken shards.
Bart’s reality—the world as it presented itself to him—offered him plenty of reason to give up his dream and retreat. But, he didn’t. And neither should we.
Who’s to say what’s real, anyway?
Max Weber, in his Science as a Vocation (1917) characterized the modern era by its “disenchantment of the world.” In such a world, ghosts and fairies, gods and devils are mere figments of our imagination. If you want to know what’s real, open your mouth, focus your eyes, perk up your ears, reach out with your hands, and wrinkle your nose.
If all you see around you are obstacles to your success; if all you smell is the stench of failure; if all you hear are negative words of discouragement, then you better pay close attention. There’s no hope for you beyond your circumstances.
Give Up And Try Something Else
But, we believe in a God who made the visible world out of the invisible (Heb. 11:3). We trust in a God who calls us to set our hope on a future restoration that we cannot see, even in the midst of our current groaning. “For who hopes for what he sees (Rom 8:24)?”
We believe in a God who calls us sons and daughters, who pours the spirit of adoption into our hearts and invites us to call Him Daddy (Rom 8:15). His Fatherly promise rings in our ears: “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Heb 13:5).
For the vast majority of us, the plans God has for us don’t include a trip to the Grammys. Even so, He does have plans for us (Rom 8:28; cf. Jer. 29:11), divine dreams for blessings that far exceed anything we could ever imagine for ourselves.
So, when the “reality” of your present circumstances presses you to give up, push it right back. There is an abiding reality that is yours in Christ, a reality that transcends the limited scope of our present experience. Trust in that, and continue to press forward.
If you want to learn what it looks like to walk in the light of that truth, we can help.
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