Conversation: Margaret Becker
Coming up for air
What do you do when — after nearly a decade as a singer-songwriter with an array of number one singles, Grammy nominations and Dove Awards — things seem to fall apart? Margaret Becker chronicles that experience in her latest book, Coming Up for Air. She spoke recently with Scott Harrup, senior associate editor, about the life truths she is practicing and sharing.
tpe: December 1995 became the genesis for Coming Up for Air. Talk about that.
BECKER: I crashed. Lots of people do. But I crashed for reasons you wouldn't expect. Back then there was no great crisis. Everything appeared to be going incredibly well in my life.
There was a disconnect from my core. I was way too busy, and I was forgetting to live in God's blessing in the moment. I had to get away. I had to be somewhere apart from my established routine where I could pray and listen for God's quiet answers to prayer.
I rediscovered the Sabbath principle God created in us. It's not just a day; it's a sense of rest in Him throughout life. You learn to identify and do the things He calls you to do and let everything else sort itself out.
tpe: You made lists of life changes you would pursue. What is something you've done today that connects to those decisions?
BECKER: I ran and walked for an hour this morning. I put the world on hold. One of my goals was to learn to play the piano, and I've practiced that for a half-hour this morning. I got out in the sunshine with the Word and my journal and wrote down what is great in my life.
tpe: One of your personal goals has been to help hungry children. You're very involved in addressing that tragedy around the world.
BECKER: I've been with World Vision as an artist associate since 1993 working to bring attention to the plight of impoverished children and the need to address that problem as a flourishing country and people.
I've looked for ways to create inroads into churches that might not normally hold a Christian concert but would be more open to a speaker. I speak clearly from first-hand experience about these children, predominantly African children who are faced with the HIV crisis. Even if they don't have HIV, their parents do and are going to leave them as orphans eventually.
It is mortifying when you recognize how little it takes to keep these kids afloat, but how incredibly critical their situations are. They live sometimes on a patch of dirt without anything, and vulnerable to anyone who wants to exploit them. I want to let people know this is happening and that Christ would definitely want His followers to be intervening.
tpe: You're doing some conferences based on your book. What kind of feedback are you getting?
BECKER: I believe there's a push in our culture to constantly do more and be more. It's anti-Christ, anti-Christian in a sense, because it's about dominating the moment with activity without really letting ourselves be present in the moment and experience Christ and all the outgrowth of being His followers. It's strange — we can trust our co-worker on our day off, but we can barely trust God with inactivity.
I'm hearing a lot of people say, "It's good to learn I don't have to do everything." Christians have been adopting the world's ideal as their own, and it's not Jesus. When Jesus walked this earth and left a living example for us, He took time to rest, to enjoy people, to refresh and refill himself without activity.
tpe: Near the end of Coming Up for Air you mentioned the loss of your mother. How are you continuing to weather that experience?
BECKER: It's tough. Grief is funny. It's never in a form you expect, and it's never at a convenient time or for the reasons you would expect. I've never had someone this close to me pass away; I've never experienced this level of grief. But the Lord has sent me little reminders of how He is caring for her. I'll see a bird she would like, for example, or remember something we did together.
Without Christ, I really have no idea how anyone deals with death. On the surface, it's so final. If you do not have the assurance you will see this person again, it's maddening. But in Christ, I know this is temporary and I'll be with her before I know it. That's been such a huge help.
tpe: How is your dad doing?
BECKER: He's getting through it. They were married 60 years. He can't remember a time he was without her. But he survived World War II, so he doesn't believe in depression. You bear down and deal with it.
tpe: What are some spiritual disciplines that come into play when you deal with dark times?
BECKER: A key for me is to remember all the good things happening in my life. I had so many things fall apart for me at one time, I had to rehearse all the true, honest, pure things — Paul's whole list of thought subjects in Philippians 4:8 — and rehearse them to the point I developed my own "blessing book." It's a calendar I write in almost daily about God's faithfulness, something tangible I can point to even if it's just a line or two. It's like a palate cleanser for the soul.
Yes, there's difficulty and tragedy and enormous pain in life, but in the midst of it God is still good even if the moment doesn't seem to offer evidence of that goodness. I tend to be someone who errs toward the sad side of life. I have to constantly remember and remind myself of God's goodness to me.
tpe: What are some favorite Scriptures for you?
BECKER: I always say my favorite biblical character is Balaam's donkey in Numbers 22. I liken myself to that donkey because I believe, when God wants to get something done, He'll get something done no matter who we are, with or without our permission. The beauty of that happening with our permission is we get to be part of the process consciously.
I also love that passage because Balaam's donkey represents all the things that are frustrating to us that are actually part of God's refinement and redemption in our lives. The fact Balaam himself was kicking the very thing that was saving his life, and he was angry and frustrated and trying to dominate that donkey, is such a life lesson.
Often God is using circumstance, even difficulty, to either save us or prevent us from something that would pull us away from Him. And yet those are the very things we are so angry with and want to do away with.
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