Earlier this week I sat down at the piano with a goal of writing a new piece for the upcoming Easter weekend — a piece that would not only lend itself to the resurrection message of the religious holiday, but one that would also play on the current state of our world amid COVID-19 — a world in desperate need of hope, trust, encouragement, faith, courage, confidence and new life. And in one of those surreal, hard-to-explain moments, it just hit me:
I had already written the song.
Ever since I wrote “Be With Me,” in 2003, it has stood apart from my others songs as “the one.” It appears on every playlist and it’s the song most cited by those who have written me over the years. The impact of its melody and words on the lives of others has humbled me on hundreds of occasions. I may be listed as the song writer, but those who know me or have heard me perform can attest to my authentic and adamant belief that the song wasn’t written by me as much as it was given to me in a song-writing session during my college years. More so than any other song I’ve written, “Be With Me” has always felt as if I had a divine co-writer – and that belief has only grown stronger over the years.
The song opens with a request inspired by Psalm 91 that’s appropriate for anyone who finds themselves in an uncertain time:
Be with me when I am in trouble.
Be with me when I am afraid.
Be with me when I am alone.
Be with me, Lord, I pray.
As the song progresses through its seven verses (which begin and end with “Be with me”), the message slowly morphs from one of loneliness, sadness and fear, to one of comfort, strength and determination.
Stand beside me …
Walk beside me …
Give me comfort …
Make me stronger …
Raise me higher …
The final two verses modulate up a key to bring an added sense of upward momentum. And by the time we’re singing “raise me higher,” there’s a feeling of re-birth and new life — an “I can do this” mentality that strives to transform the listener (or singer) to an entirely different place from where they were when the song began. This song is at once both a song about grief and about joy. It’s about being lost and about being found. It’s about being afraid of what’s to come and about embracing what’s to come.
The final days of Jesus’s life have a similar arc. We move from the pain and sorrow of Jesus’s trial, sentence and death, to the joy of his resurrection and the beautifully hopeful implication his resurrection has for all of us.
And so it can be with our global pandemic. Most of us still find ourselves caught in the storyline somewhere between Palm Sunday and Good Friday. Things are bad and, for most of the world, it appears they’re going to continue to get worse before they get better. We’re scared. We’re anxious. We feel betrayed. We feel skeptical. We don’t know who to believe and we certainly don’t know how or when it will all end.
But it will end.
And regardless of our personal theories or our political preferences, I would argue that we all share a common longing for good news. We could really use a message of hope to rally around. For me personally, finding that kind of hope usually starts with a return to this simple song with its equally simple yet undeniably powerful message — a message that asks for God to be with us, walk with us, keep us strong and raise us to better days ahead.
Because better days are ahead.
This Easter season, I offer up “Be With Me” to all of us around the world who find ourselves in trouble, afraid or alone, and longing for comfort and hope.
[NOTE: While I’ve performed the song many times and have many recordings to choose from, I’ve always been fond of this version that came out of the 2007 “Concert for Life” in Gurnee, Ill.]