I have a confession to make. Something has been stealing my joy recently. Yep, you heard me, and yep this is not a typo. It’s time to be real, and declare that over the past few weeks and months, I haven’t been as happy or joyful as I would have liked to be.
Sure work has been stressful over the past couple of years, but let me tell you what I have come to believe is the ‘thing’ that has stolen a portion of the happiness that should come from Jesus, and should be eternal. It is in fact, wait for it… it’s the notion of reviewing, first and foremost. ‘Huh? Is that right?’ I hear you ask. ‘Shouldn’t reviewing be stress free if it’s an album you enjoy? Does this mean that the site is closing? Do you not enjoy giving opinions on albums anymore?’. All very valid questions, and all will be revealed soon.
And before you all become scared and sad, let me say this- that the site will continue for the foreseeable future and we will not close. Good, not that we’ve got that out of the way… Yes reviewing is indeed fun- jotting down my thoughts on what I reckon are the best tracks on a certain album, and the tracks that I reckon need improvements. Giving constructive criticisms so that perhaps future albums are improved upon, and letting people know which songs are timeless, and which songs are sure to inspire during a time of crisis. And yes, there are perks to reviewing- like getting the album 1-2 months before release date, having the honour to interview artists, and also having the pleasure to listen to the songs more often, thus gaining a better appreciation of the tracks and the inspiration behind them. Yet why is reviewing recently stealing my joy? After all, haven’t I just listed why I enjoy reviewing so much.
Because right now we’re a team of two (myself and my brother Jonathan!), it is hard right now to review every album under the sun, and review to the same quality as we did before we had demanding full time jobs. Though I know in my head that we shouldn’t really put pressure on ourselves to review almost every high quality album, there is that underlying pressure. There have been times in the past where I have looked at sites such as Jesus Freak Hideout, New Release Tuesday and others, and have felt extremely envious of their success. Not that it all matters in the end, but when currently right now we have not much time to even review albums at a steady pace (have you all noticed that we review a lot of albums more so in the back half of every month, to compensate for the lack of albums reviewed in the front half…), let alone share review links and post on social media- which we have been seriously lacking!; it is a bit disconcerting to see other sites plough out multiple reviews per day, when both Jon and myself are struggling to put words onto a page at times.
In a day and age where there are so many good albums, Jon and I have been using a list, on a word document, that we constantly added to and re-altered, so that every day we are ‘on track’ to review ‘x amount of albums per month’. In fact, looking back on it now, so close to the end of the year, I can safely say that I have been using the list as something to put more pressure on myself. Writing reviews should be free flowing, not really caring about the time spent, but recently (I’m not sure if it showed in any particular reviews but maybe it did!), when writing a few reviews a while ago, I was more concerned about getting the review out by a certain time or word limit, rather than doing a quality work. ‘Do more to beat the other sites’ was my line of thinking, and as far as sharing on social media went, I was more inclined to reserve that for later, for such a time where I could bombard my readers with 50-100 social media posts promoting 50-100 reviews that were 2-3 months old.
I wanted to review more, but not really promote the same as ‘That would take my time up from reviewing’. What was the result? Us not sharing any review links on Facebook since September, and twitter since November. And though we wanted to review more and more and more, busier days at our work over the past few weeks and months meant that it was near impossible to review consistently, and that frustrated me more than I really think it needed to. With our likes and followers being stagnant over a while, upon reflection over the past few days I have found that my identity at the time (I’m not sure about Jon’s, but maybe as well…) was being wrapped in the idea that the site doing well was a reflection on how I was going as a person, or whether I was loved or not. Strange and ludicrous, I know, but those were my thoughts. I also started to neglect posting reviews of TV shows and movies, which we originally planned to do when starting the site more than a couple of years ago.
It was only within the past week that my views on worth and identity have begun to shift. And it was mostly in part to one of the albums that I would say is the best of the year. Tenth Avenue North’s album Followers which released back in October, speaks about us being followers instead of a leader, and following God’s lead instead, yet it is the inspiring and unassuming melody “No One Can Steal Our Joy” that spoke to me this past week, and has me realising that my joy and happiness wasn’t linked to the successes or failures of this site. I mean, if this site was to be shut down in the future, would my self-worth and identity ‘take a tumble’ so to speak? Would I be angry at God, or would I take it all in my stride and praise Jesus despite the trials like Job in the Bible? Not just after listening to the song, but it was after watching the video journal of the song, brilliantly conveyed by Mike Donehey, that I began to wonder- am I placing my love of reviewing, or more accurately, love of having more and more albums reviewed rather than the process of reviewing without expectations, above the love I should hold for Jesus? Is reviewing an idol that needs to be kept in check?
In the video journal, basically what Mike says is that God has given us more than we could ever imagine, so we should be grateful, thankful and happy. Yet somehow we seem to be discontent, and grumble. How come he has more than me? If only I had ___ then I will be happier. I’m not immune, I just revealed how reviewing can be seen as an idol. So does this mean that this realisation immediately gets rid of my tendency to compare this site to other more established and successful sites? Probably not. In fact, I probably will still struggle in reviewing, at least in the short term. Will I share posts on social media more often? I’ll try to, but hopefully I won’t get beat up if it’s not instantaneous. Will I try to share all of the reviews I posted all those months ago? Maybe, maybe not… But what I hope this post, and the Tenth Avenue North song, reminds you all, is that we all need to look to Jesus, not to the right, left, or behind us. We all have struggles, we all need to know that our struggles do not define us, and our joy and happiness is eternal in the light that Jesus has saved us, therefore we should always be thankful and realise that no one can steal our joy, not even ourselves. So let us live in that notion, and live in freedom. I can guarantee that living in that realisation is better than living under the assumption that what we do and what we have on this earth matters more than Jesus, because it doesn’t.
What is something that steals your joy away from you? Which album that Jon or myself have not reviewed yet for whatever reason, should we review before the year’s end? What about TV shows/movies/books? Which review do you think should be in the pipeline? Let us know in the comments, and stay tuned to reviews of albums from Zach Williams, Tim Neufeld & The Glory Boys, Cimorelli, Kyle Kupecky, Danny Gokey and Grayson Reed coming soon!