Text: Psalm 86:15; Matthew 20:16; Isaiah 53:5-6; Ephesians 3:14-19
I once claimed a Dixie Chicks’ song as my “anthem.” If you haven’t heard of this pop-country group from the 90’s, you’re likely more qualified to write about hymns than yours truly.
But since you’re stuck with me today, I get to tell you just exactly why a beloved hymn of the Church reminds me of “Wide Open Spaces”— my teenage theme song, go-to karaoke choice, and lyrical inspiration for more than one boyfriend break-up.
The chorus goes like this:
She needs wide open spaces
Room to make her big mistakes
She needs new faces
She knows the high stakes
The truth is, I’d be hard-pressed to find another song with the same stride as my own steps. My sneakers practically lace themselves at the sound of wide open spaces, brand new faces, and room for big mistakes. Without question, I’d leave for a getaway to spacious ground with strangers who tip their hats in silence, leaving my story unchartered. I will always choose flight over fight, passport stamps over picket fences, and a fresh start over familiarity.
In the height of my Dixie Chicks days, I was afraid of what it might mean to slow down and stay. Suitcase in hand, I believed whatever I was facing was too big for the space I’d been given. My pride was too tall, my fear too deep, my anger too heavy, my grief too cumbersome, my questions too complicated. I hoped that free-falling into my next spontaneous choice would reverse the gravity of my own reality. And it did, but only because I bumped into the territory of Christ.
At that time in my life, God was the vaguely-loving being I sang songs about at summer camp. If He were to find me running away, I was sure He’d reprimand me and tell me to go home. But that’s not what He did at all. He was there, extending His mercy into the wide open and filling the spaces with His love. David knew the feeling:
Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
In fact, there was more space than before: space for God’s grace, space to be found, space to be known, space to be welcomed, space to be home. Christ Himself was the spacious refuge I’d been looking for all along.
Had I been born a century sooner, I’m convinced I would have been best friends with Lizzie S. Tourjee in high school. Lizzie, lacking the companionship of the Dixie Chicks, wrote the tune to the hymn “There’s A Wideness in God’s Mercy” for her school’s graduation ceremony. The lyrics for the hymn were taken from a poem written by Frederick W. Faber in 1854, titled “Come to Jesus.”
The thirteen-verse poem begins with words for a weary traveler:
Souls of men, why will ye scatter
like a crowd of frightened sheep?
Foolish hearts, why will ye wander
from a love so true and deep?
Being rooted and established in Christ’s love fills us with all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:17-19), extinguishing our need to run. Christ’s own arms, spread open on the cross, placed us within infinite mercy. Friends, there is room for us!
Father, as we continue trusting You, may the size of Your mercy continue to surprise us. Keep us in the fullness Your love and presence. Amen.
“He brought me out to a spacious place; He rescued me because He delighted in me.”
There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy
by Frederick W. Faber, 1854
There’s a wideness in God’s mercy,
Like the wideness of the sea;
There’s a kindness in His justice,
Which is more than liberty.
There is welcome for the sinner,
And more graces for the good;
There is mercy with the Savior;
There is healing in His blood.
There is no place where earth’s sorrows
Are more felt than up in Heaven;
There is no place where earth’s failings
Have such kindly judgment given.
There is plentiful redemption
In the blood that has been shed;
There is joy for all the members
In the sorrows of the Head.
For the love of God is broader
Than the measure of our mind;
And the heart of the Eternal
Is most wonderfully kind.
If our love were but more simple,
We should take Him at His word;
And our lives would be all sunshine
In the sweetness of our Lord.