She doesn’t look like a very formidable opponent. You wouldn’t be afraid to meet her in a dark alley, she doesn’t have washboard abs or well-defined biceps, and if she ever landed a punch it would probably be by accident. So while critically acclaimed singer/songwriter Sara Groves won’t be facing Tatiana Ali in the ring anytime soon, she is definitely a fighter. Groves spent 2003 wrestling with God and struggling against the hold evil has on this world. She questioned, as David did, a Creator that she loves but doesn’t always understand, and defended herself against an enemy she knows all too well. She emerged with a few cuts and bruises, but she also gained a new perspective, a more sure-footed faith despite life’s uncertainties. And as she prepares for the March 23 release of her third album on INO Records, The Other Side of Something, Groves is ready to get back in the ring, and this time she’s coming out swinging.
That wasn’t the case last year. While Groves was quick to pledge her own life to serving God, the birth of her first child found her placing conditions on her faith. “I wanted a guarantee that because I believed and followed Him with all my heart, because I was on the road doing what I felt was the call of God, that my family was going to be safe. I was kind of saying, ‘hands off,’ that if something happened to my boys while I was on the road, I didn’t know if my faith would survive that.” It was a good friend who gently pointed out that if there is a scenario you don’t think your faith would survive, then your faith isn’t surviving. That sent Groves running to the Lord, but she didn’t find the assurances she hoped for. “I went to the Bible for comfort and I found Job and Jonah and Paul in prison. So then I had to go and look at what I believed about life, about bad things happening to good people.”
In the end, she didn’t find answers so much as peace amid the questions, and the eventual realization that what we want isn’t always what God knows we need. “I thought I wanted to be safe, but I realized I don’t want my kids growing up watching me be safe,” Groves says. “Jesus’ walk is very unsafe. If I live that out with safety as my highest goal, then I’m not reaching out to the tax collector. I’m not surrounding myself with sinners. I needed to realize that so I could give my kids to Him again.”
As she worked through these issues, they naturally turned into songs. She wrote “The Boxer” in her bunk on the tour bus when she was feeling particularly low. “I was feeling defeated and I just kept repeating, “when you said this was a fight, you weren’t kidding.” The song follows her from defeat to a renewed confidence in her ability to finish the fight well, ending fittingly with several choruses of “greater is He who is in me.” “Spiritually, it’s where I was,” she says. “I felt beat up, but I returned to my corner. Now I’m rested and ready to go. And I feel more sure of my call, more confident in what I’m doing.”
When producer Charlie Peacock asked her to define the effect the last year had on her, she explained that it felt like she was on the other side of something. That sentiment sparked “Compelled”, an ultimately optimistic tune she wrote with Peacock: “I have a new hope that blows away/The small hopes I knew before/And at the end of the day I am yours/And I am compelled.”
“I had been a fan of Charlie’s for a long time, watching from afar,” Groves says. She was also curious about how her sound would change with another producer. That’s how Peacock was tapped to help Groves bring to life four of the songs born out of last year’s struggles. To produce the balance of the album, she relied on the talents of long-time collaborator Nate Sabin. The result is a mix of songs that find Groves gamely exploring new musical territory while remaining always true to who she is. From the introspective “Leave It Like a Skin” to the marital honesty of “Roll to the Middle” and the timely “Esther,” which touches on the African AIDS crisis, Groves isn’t afraid to probe some still tender topics if her insights can challenge others and move them closer to God and each other.
While she may occasionally wish for an easier road, a sunnier path or at least weaker eyes that didn’t see in such detail the darker side of this life, in the end, she knows she’s right where she belongs. “I can’t help myself. I have to follow Christ everyday. I’ve tried to walk away and I’ve tried to shake this whole thing off. I’d love to not know about the battle between good and evil, but at the end of the day, I’m marked. I’m His and I’m compelled to do the right thing. Realizing that is a tremendous freedom for me.”