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#420 - "Don't Try So Hard" by Amy Grant
Finding good in one of Amy's toughest seasons served as the bedrock truth of this brand new song.

I've been listening to Amy Grant for over 25 years as I first heard "El-Shaddai," "Thy Word" and "Tennessee Christmas" when I was in high school. Like many avid Christian music collectors, I agree that 1988's Lead Me On was one of the most influential albums in the history of Christian music. Amy truly paved the way for all female artists and today I hear her influence in some of my favorite artists including Sara Groves, Britt Nicole and Francesca Battistelli.
I had the amazing opportunity to attend the 2 Friends Tour in May, 2011. That night Amy said, "I started writing something for my mother over 20 years ago about aging. Back then, I thought what do I know about aging? Now when I washed my face this morning, I see the changes in my face. What I know is that things change, but it's good to know The One Who never changes." Amen.
After ten years since her last full album of new songs comes How Mercy Looks From Here, Amy's newest collection of songs chronicling the lessons of faith, family and love that are on her heart from the past decade.
This album includes 11 new compelling songs about her experiences of the past decade being a wife, a mother and Christian. The new album finds Amy Grant collaborating with other songwriters and producer Marshall Altman crafting a collection of songs that mine the depths of both heart and soul as only Amy can.
The theme for the album is stories and journeys. Amy has always been a great storyteller and many of her most impactful songs have come from her own journey as she sings about the honesty of life, its joys and struggles, and ultimately the hope she has found in faith and love. The songs on How Mercy Looks From Here read like journal entries that will resonate with anyone who grapples with wanting answers to life's toughest questions. Topics range from being honest with yourself and God, learning to wait for answers to questions, assurance that you are not forgotten and much more. I had the privilege to speak with Amy about her new song "Don't Try So Hard."
Please tell me about the message behind the song.
I wrote this song with Ben Glover. He's a great writer and in fact he wrote the chorus before I was invited to the party. Anyway, I believe it was a completed song, but the verses framed the song in a very different context. I heard that chorus and I flipped. Originally the song was done in a teaching way. It didn't pack the punch that I knew that chorus had in it. I can't imagine any lifestyle, or season of life, whether a down and out time, or everything is going gangbusters that we don't feel that somehow we aren't measuring up. I don't know if that's just human nature. Probably. When Ben and I started to discuss how to frame this chorus with the verses, you're right that how the verses set up the chorus invites people in and lays the groundwork for how they'll listen to the song. Is this song for someone else, or is this song for me?
I had written the first verse and I was on a trip with my very dear friend and manager Jen, and she's a single mom. She's brilliant, and a consultant for a wide group of social organizations. I'm always intrigued by her mind. She was in my hotel room and I was brushing my teeth before a speaking engagement in Greenwich, Connecticut and I had this recording on my phone and I asked Jen if the direction of this song spoke to her. It was just the first verse and the chorus and I finished brushing my teeth and came around the corner and she had these huge crocodile tears rolling down her cheeks. She said, "I think you've written a song just for me." Once the record was finished, my booking agent called me to tell me he had the close the door to his office because he had been sobbing for ten minutes.
Do you have a life verse or any Bible verses that connects with the message of the song?

My life verse is Hebrews 10:23: "Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful."
...Galatians 2:20-21: "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain."
...and Ephesians 2:8-9: "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast."
What's are the takeaway messages for listeners regarding the song and the album?

I think especially for people who are performance driven, somewhere in this song you find yourself asking God if you're performing well enough for Him to love you. Of course our performance has never had anything to do with His love for us. Every single song on this record came from real experiences. Some of the stories in the songs began over 20 years ago. Another song is based on something that happened a specific afternoon in May 6 years ago. "How Mercy Looks From Here" is based on one week of life where the best and worst things happened in the context of our family.
What I've found, especially in the light of what's happened in past four years, the patterns of my family, and my parents, the constants in my life have been giving way. I've discovered that no matter what's going on, if we can frame the events in our lives that we can see the value in them and the lessons that we're learning, the clarification of what matters, and the appreciation for the passing of time, it changes how we feel about life. I'm so grateful for a series of really difficult things in my life. I saw that reflecting in the passing of my parents, and a dear friend, the building of a new tool kit that I carry now.
As a young woman, all was right with the world. Now, I feel like when I hear a new detail about someone's life rather than say this is good or this is bad, I find myself saying this news is going to change the direction of the next chapter and we're going to discover it as we go. In general, think about how much energy we spend judging good and bad. It's so different if you observe to understand and learn.

I would have said cancer was the worst news you can get. I was taking a walk with my dear friend and she turned to me and said if she could put in a capsule the clarity she's received in life from her cancer, she'd give it to me right this minute. She said, of course she'd like to live longer, but she wouldn't change anything. I confided in her more than anyone ever. It makes me think if I ever get that phone call, I can't be upset or go into histrionics, or I would be devaluing the trusted advice of this dear friend. Basically she said, "don't be afraid, it's a gift." Who knew that even in the bad things of life there's so much to be gained?
Another Monday comes and I just wanna breathe 
Cause it's a long, long week for someone wired to please 
I keep taking my aim, pushing it higher 
Wanna shine bright, even brighter now 
Wish I would tell myself 

Don't try so hard 
God gives you grace and you can't earn it 
Don't think that you're not worth it 
Because you are 
He gave you His love and He's not leaving 
Gave you His Son so you'd believe it 
You're lovely even with your scars 
Don't try so hard 

Do you remember how the summers felt when we were kids
Oh we didn't think much about it, we just lived
Taking our time, beautiful leisure
When did we start, trying to measure up
And all this time, love has been trying to tell us

Don't try so hard
God gives you grace and you can't earn it
Don't think that you're not worth it
Because you are
He gave you His love and He's not leaving
Gave you His Son so you'd believe it
You're lovely even with your scars
Don't try so hard
Amy has dedicated this poignant album to her mother Gloria Napier Grant, who passed away in April, 2011. Before she passed, she gave Amy the advice "sing something that matters." Mission accomplished. Grant has built a long, successful career with music that matters.
"Don't Try So Hard" features James Taylor and addresses the topic of being honest with yourself and God. Her vocals are stellar and the poignant message behind this song—"God gives you grace and you can't earn it, don't think that you're not worth it, because you are,"—has me hooked again.
Grace is freely given and isn't something we can earn by our good works. It is a gift from God by faith in Christ Jesus. We have freedom when we accept that grace is a gift from Christ and isn't something we can earn with our good works. I learned that the story of the Prodigal Son's elder brother thinking he could earn favor by being good is actually a hindrance to accepting God's free gift of grace.
Jesus wants us to celebrate that our freedom from the burden of our sin was taken away by His sacrifice on our behalf on the Cross. It is so freeing for me to know that I can't earn God's approval. God doesn't owe me anything, and I don't bring anything to Him. Everything I have is because of His work on the Cross for me.
We are called as Christians to believe in the freedom that we have in the Cross of Jesus. We are free from our fears, addictions, insecurities and perfectionism. Jesus came to die for us so that we can all truly live in Him. Know the Truth: "He gave you His love and He's not leaving, gave you His only Son so you'd believe it, you're lovely even with your scars, don't try so hard." Amen.
(Watch the lyric video here.)

NRT Lead Contributor Kevin Davis is a longtime fan of Christian music, an avid music collector and credits the message of Christian music for leading him to Christ. He lives in Pennsylvania with his wife and three daughters.

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