Loss, Pain and the Healing Power of Music | World Challenge

Loss, Pain and the Healing Power of Music

When we go through heartache and crisis, God has many different ways to reach us. He may use loving relationships, the beauty of nature or even our work. Whatever that unique space is, he can use it to show us his goodness and glory in the darkest places of our lives. Music is how he reached our guest this week, long-time Christian musician Matthew Ward, after he tragically lost two of the closest people in his life. Life can be incredibly painful at times, but God is always near to his children, and he wants to show us how he will heal and transform our grief into something glorious. As we grapple with pain, we must always know that we can go to God and he will never turn us away.

When we go through heartache and crisis, God has many different ways to reach us. He may use loving relationships, the beauty of nature or even our work. Whatever that unique space is, he can use it to show us his goodness and glory in the darkest places of our lives. Music is how he reached our guest this week, long-time Christian musician Matthew Ward, after he tragically lost two of the closest people in his life. Life can be incredibly painful at times, but God is always near to his children, and he wants to show us how he will heal and transform our grief into something glorious. As we grapple with pain, we must always know that we can go to God and he will never turn us away.

Gary: Hey, it's good to be with you here. My name is Gary Wilkerson. This is Gary Wilkerson podcast. I'm here with Matt and Deanne Ward. Thank you guys for coming in and spending some time with us today.

Matt: You betcha!

Gary: Let me tell our friends that are listening a little bit about you guys. Matt and Deanne have been involved in ministry and in missions for many, many years. We met each other when we were teenagers, really in a little town called Lindale, Texas where there’s a whole bunch of ministries going on. My father David Wilkerson was there. You guys 2nd Chapter of Acts had your own headquarters, ministry headquarters, there. Keith Green, Leonard Ravenhill, Youth with a Mission, another group called Agape Force. Do you remember Agape Force?

Matt: Dallas Holm and Praise.

Gary: Dallas Holm and Praise. Matt, you were the voice of the ages. Incredible musician and singer. Deanne, you come from a-- Some people know Matt and maybe not as familiar, but you come from a ministry family as well. Weren't your family involved in missions.

Deanne: They served our community for years. I learned a lot about serving which is why I went into ministry by watching my parents. My dad would go down to the inner city and play basketball and take donuts and take milk and then do a Bible study, and just kind of hung out. Fourth generation charismaniac.

Gary: Fourth Generation, wow.

Deanne: I have pictures of my great grandparents, black and whites, hands in the air.

Matt: Yes, in the '50s [crosstalk]

Deanne: Bible study at their house.

Gary: Oh, cool.

Matt: Very cool.

Deanne: Same as you, Assembly of God. Summer camp. Awana’s. Christian schools.

Gary: Yes, we have a lot in common.

Gary: Let's go back then. Tell us a little bit about your upbringing. You come from several generations of charismatic Christians. Your family, not so much.

Matt: We were charismatic, all right, but we weren't necessarily Christians. Oh boy!

My dad’s side of the family very Norwegian. He said, screen door, thousands of years. He had a bad. His side of the family, they were not-- They didn't go to church. My mom, she was Irish, German. She was Catholic and very devout. Of course, if mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy, so he went to church because it was the thing to do but my dad, we went to church-- We were not Christian. Our background was not. I'm the youngest of nine kids. Five boys, four girls.

Gary: Baby of nine.

Matt: Baby of nine.

Deanne: Explains a lot.

Matt: It does explain a lot.

Gary: And the oldest, how many years older is your oldest sibling?

Matt: She turned 80 this year?

Gary: Okay. 20 years older [crosstalk] Some of them were already gone by the time you were born. Some of the kids were already outside.

Matt: Married. Not like gone, like rest in peace. Gone, like Holy Matrimony. My mom was pregnant with me at my oldest sister's wedding. She said, "You tell anybody I'll kill you." She was not too excited about that. I thought that was kind of cool.

Gary: Gives new meaning to a shotgun wedding. It's like instead of the bride being pregnant, the mother

[crosstalk]

[laughter]

All right. Just take a minute to describe what that was like.

Matt: Well, from the time I could remember, my mom was sick. She was misdiagnosed, they thought she had epilepsy. Actually, it was a brain tumor. She was sick from the time I literally could remember. She passed away when I was 10. Then my dad died, two years later, when I was 12. There were still four of us kids living at home. Me and my sister Nelly, who's right above me, and then the two kids right above her, Tony and Jack. Tony and Jack stayed in Sacramento, which is where I was living and where I was being raised until my parents passed away. Then Nelly and I went to live in Los Angeles with Buck and Annie. That's where the group of the 2nd Chapter of Acts started. It was really through just tragedy. Nelly and I pulling up a piano, chairs around the around the piano. Annie taught herself to play. Buck bought her this piece of junk upright piano. She taught herself how to play. We'd come home from school. We just listened to her like, "I got a new song." We go, "Okay, you got a new song." I didn't know what that meant. We just sat down. We just started to sing with her just, it was kind of a time of healing for us after our parents passing. I didn't realize that until looking back years later what that was all about. I think that's what God was up to. He was mending us and in an odd but powerful way.

Gary: Music is quite healing, isn't it?

Matt: Yes, it can be. It's almost daunting in its ability to sustain and create and patch.

Gary: I don't want to get too far off your story. I do want to ask you to speak to that issue a little bit. Do you have any, in your history in music, do you have any why’s as to why music is healing, as opposed to maybe the written word or the spoken word like a sermon? Do you have any idea why music seems to touch people in wounded areas than other--

Matt: I think it's one of the first things God used in creation. If you look back, even at our arch enemy, who was the choir director, if you will. Music has always had a place. The Lord would send out the musicians before the warriors before battle. Well, why'd He do that? Who knows? I bet He has some good reason because it would mess them up. Like, "Why that guy's playing a harp? I got to get out of here." Don't blame him. I’d get out of there too if somebody was playing a harp, but I don't know music's just got-- You can look at it historically. I think it has a way-- I think it processes in a different place in your brain than the spoken word does.

Gary: I've heard of those kind of end around. If you're hurting and I speak to you directly like, "Don't get hurt, don't--"

Matt: Don't do this.

Gary: That's one thing, but you can put your defenses up where music gets into parts of our brain and our mind and our soul that the written or spoken word doesn't do so.

Matt: I think it can, I think it has a way of-- I think that's why King David wrote so many psalms, and sang so much because it was a way for him to navigate, I think, some of the things that were going on in his life that he couldn't just confront. He did it through music and I think that's powerful.

Gary: That would be, so going back to your story, then that became healing for you, just you and your sister singing.

Matt: Like I said, I had no idea at the time that that's really what that was, but looking back, that's what I would equate it to, is that the Lord was patching up our hearts in some ways and binding us together in a way that I don't think could have happened any other way than through music. Like I say, it has a way of getting in your heart and changing things in your spirit a little bit.

Gary: That suffering that type of because I wanted to ask you on about ministry, and mission and marriage, all these great things that you guys have experienced but part of the story I wanted to have you guys tell a little bit is that you've been through so much hardship, your many, many years of ministry and marriage and impact around the world and we can talk about that later too. It's not been an all easy, so for you started at 10--

Matt: 10. Well, really before that watching my mom get sick, and sicker and sicker and watching her die, so really, it started from like I can remember having pain and--

Gary: Looking back now, how did that affect you? What kind of person did you become because of that loss?

Matt: I think it affected me some ways real negatively because I think it just threw up big, big, big defenses. I'm not going to get hurt that way again, period. I have to put these walls up and hold people at arm's length and I think that's why I developed a sense of humor. I think that was part of my defense mechanism and just to hold people off. That's just-- I don't know that was the thing for me was just deflection was one of the main things that I think that was not good that I got from it was to deflect pain instead of learning how to, not necessarily embrace it, but recognize it and let it do what it needed to do. It was incredibly huge and I think from the time my mom died to the time my dad died those two years I was a zoo animal. I mean, I was off the charts. I would disappear and some of the people wouldn't know where I was. I spent days down at the American River, just camping and hanging out with friends. My dad would be like, "Where have you been, you are okay, here's a hot dog." He was a hard worker, he didn't have time to worry about me man, he had bills to pay.

Deanne: And he was suffering.

Matt: He was suffering terribly, and then he died two years later, he died of leukemia got him.

Gary: You saw him go through sickness as well.

Matt: I saw him go through even more physical-- It was harder for him physically than the stuff I saw my mom go through. Because that affected her balance and her ability to do this, that and the other. My dad, it just totally jacked him up. I mean, he'd come home from the hospital with-- All they could do was infusions, they didn't have treatments back then and so his legs… he looked like he had elephantiasis, his legs just would just be all totally swollen. I remember the day he literally died, he was sitting on the edge of his bed, and he needed help getting his shoes on. I remember helping him get his-- and his lungs were filling up with blood. He couldn't breathe. He was like (panting) That was the last time I saw him, helped him to put his shoes on.

Gary: He died that day?

Matt: Yes. One of my brothers or somebody took him to the hospital, and he worked up until just about the day he died. The doctor's like, "You should not even be conscious." Because he was a brute, I wish I had half his work ethic.

Gary: You do.

Deanne: You do.

Matt: I guess I do.

[crosstalk]

Gary: Two people who know you quite well. You do. You're a hardworking man. When you were 10 to 12, you didn't know how to process this so your grieving was to run away a bit or to--

Matt: My grieving process was to internalize and at the same time, to not just to-- I would internalize the things I didn't understand. Like, I never got to the place where I said like, "I hate you God." I never felt like God did this to me.

Gary: At that time did your family have any kind of a different relationship with God in the sense of still not … up to this point you’re still going to mass.

Matt: Not yet.

Gary: You were filtering through the lens of somebody who's like, I'm really close to Jesus and I can pray about this. It's more like, what the heck's going on?

Matt: Exactly, I didn't know what was going on. I couldn't really, as a kid I didn't have the tools to embrace that kind of pain. There wasn't anybody around that I could pour into to get those things out of my own heart. I couldn't offload it. I was walking around with these bricks inside of me that I didn't know what to do so I just would throw them at people. That's a good way of putting it. In some ways, it was incredibly detrimental, In some ways it helped me grow up a bit, even though it's kind of all sort of warped my perspective on some things.

The way I looked at the father heart of God was completely twisted up and I didn't see him as-- I saw him as someone who loved me absolutely conditionally, I had to meet all these requirements. I had to be so righteous or so good. I didn't know what righteous was when I was a kid. Not a bad kid. I just didn't think God would hear me, he didn't hear my parents. Why would he hear me I'm just a kid, and so I walked through a lot of that a lot of those a lot of that hurt. I didn't really know how to process this.

Gary: I can't imagine a kid losing both parents, then having a little bit of knowledge of God through some Catholic mass, and then trying to talk to him some way, like do you love me, do you care about me, that had to be. Then how did you actually come into a relationship with God?

Matt: Well, even though I say I wasn't, I was raised in a church that I didn't understand the lingo. I always had this deep appreciation for what I sensed as was the Lord even in those services that I didn't understand. I hear these hymns, and I ended up in a deep love for music because of the hymns I first heard in church. Even though I didn't know what I didn't know what a mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark. Really? Okay. Hmm…a cow that goes 9-5. I had no idea.

I remember right before my mom died, my dad got mad at me because I drew on a wall that he painted inside our garage that he made into bedrooms. We needed to make the most out of our 900 square feet. I remember painting this scene and in my mind from what I remember it was like an altar inside of a church. It was very elaborate. I'm sure it was, I was probably eight years old, it was probably a couple of years before my mom died. She thought it was stunning, she thought it was beautiful and I felt the presence of God when I drew this thing. I'd like to see it now. It probably like, “That’s hilarious! It looks like a Sonic.” But then my dad was just totally torqued. "I can't believe you drew on the wall. He just painted over it. I was like, "My masterpiece."

The reason I say that is because that was my first inkling of seeing God as someone that was real and not just some somebody I heard about in Catechism, or in classes, but somebody that was real, I felt his presence that was early on and then I just didn't sense him at all for a long time. After my dad died, Nelly and I moved to LA with my sister Annie and her husband Buck. We started doing music together with no-- I had no ambitions, no ideas, no preconceived like, "Oh we're going to start a group and then we'll sing and we'll become famous."

It was really funny because we're all a bunch of introverts. Most of my family, not all of them, but most of them are. I'm a severe introvert. I've just learned how to channel that. Because I've been in front of people since I was 13 years old. I've had to do it. It's been part of my makeup. I can pull that off. I don't care for it. I can do it. I'm not a schmoozer man. Because whatever, Ill go to a party, hang out with the three guys I know, there's 40 people there all like, "So what do your kids do?" I'm just like, "Whatever, man." That's more me but I really watched for a while when we first moved into LA, and Nellie and I were just like watching Buck and Annie, and we started going to this Assemblies of God church, first AG of North Hollywood. Pastor Sanders was the pastor back in the day, and I didn't understand it because I was always taught if you leave the Catholic Church, you're going to burn in hell. It's the church and you can't, right? So I was like do I want to burn in hell or… hell, church, hell, they're pretty much on an even keel for me. Anyway, so I just started watching these people at this church. I wanted to see okay, well, what makes them different? What are they laying claim to that is different than what I have already? I watched, watched, watched for a couple of months and I started seeing people that just seemed to have a real spirit of joy in them that it didn't seem to match up with their outward circumstances. How can you be at such peace when things around you wouldn't qualify those feelings? I thought, well, maybe there's something to this and so I accepted the Lord into my heart, said the magic words, repented and did all the stuff that we do but I felt like the Lord really showed up and forgave me of sin. I felt a weight come off of me. I really believed that that was some moment that as we refer to it as being born again, I felt like my spirit was renewed. Everything in me had changed in an instant.

Of course, there's things you walk through. There's emotional, mental things that you still process. It doesn't mean you have a new brain but it is renewed eventually, but my spirit was clean. I came to life in Him.

Gary: Thank you guys for coming today.

Matt: Absolutely.

Gary: Good to talk with you. I love you guys.

Deanne: Thanks for having us, we love you too.

Key Questions from the Podcast

  • Who is Matthew Ward? Who is Deanne Ward?
  • Why does music seem to speak and heal more powerfully sometimes than written or spoken words?
  • How do we respond to and process the pain of losing a parent?

Notable Quotes from the Podcast

I think that's why King David wrote so many psalms and sang so much, because it was a way for him to navigate some of the things that were going on in his life that he couldn't just confront. He did it through music and I think that's powerful. – Matthew Ward

As a kid, I didn't have the tools to embrace that kind of pain. There wasn't anybody around that I could pour into to get those things out of my own heart. I couldn't offload it. I was walking around with these bricks inside of me that I didn't know what to do, so I just would throw them at people. – Matthew Ward

Resources Mentioned in the Podcast

About Matthew Ward

Matthew Ward was one of the voices that helped create the sound of contemporary Christian music. He started as part of the 70s group, 2nd Chapter of Acts, which is credited with changing the sound of Christian music. Matthew is a singer, songwriter, and producer. He has released 9 solo albums, and 15 albums as part of the 2nd Chapter of Acts. He has recorded or performed with more than 50 contemporary Christian artists. As well as singing a duet with pop-diva Donna Summer and background vocals on other songs including the No. 1 hit She Works Hard for the Money.

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About Deanne Ward

Deanne Ward is CEO of Ward Consulting and has worked for more than 30 years in collaborative partnerships with non-profits. She has served on a number of boards, including Caring Hands, Friendship International, Mission Outfitter, and Kids Crossing. Deanne’s passion is to impact the lives of others for the cause of Christ. She has traveled to more than 50 countries with this purpose. She has worked with various churches, ministries, and non-profits, establishing and cultivating leadership teams. Some include, Colorado Springs Mission, David C. Cook, World Challenge, Habitat for Humanity, Family Talk, Navigators, and New Life Church. Deanne currently resides in Colorado Springs with her singer/songwriter husband, Matthew Ward.

About Gary Wilkerson

Gary Wilkerson is the President of World Challenge, an international mission organization that was founded by his father, David Wilkerson. He is also the Founding Pastor of The Springs Church, which he launched in 2009 with a handful of people. He has traveled nationally and internationally at conferences and conducted mission ventures such as church planting, starting orphanages, clinics, feeding programs among the poorest of the poor and the most unreached people of the earth. Gary and his wife Kelly have four children and live in Colorado Springs, CO.

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