This year Bob Seger will celebrate his tenth anniversary as an inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The honor is his because of his hardscrabble, up-by-the-bootstraps life story; the way he can forge lyrics that are a combination of personal autobiography and everyman’s experience; and of course, there is the legendary intensity with which he delivers his melodies.
Of equal legend are his songs: “Turn the Page,” “Night Moves,” “We’ve Got Tonight,” and “Still the Same” – tunes that launched Seger to worldwide fame, carried him to the top of the charts, and gave many of us a soundtrack for our coming of age years.
My personal Seger favorite is “Like a Rock.” Most people today associate this iconic song with Chevrolet pickup trucks. I associate the apropos lyrics with the evening of my high school graduation: “I stood there boldly, sweatin’ in the sun, felt like a million, felt like number one; the height of summer, I’d never felt that strong, like a rock.”
And then the refrain that Seger screams into the microphone, a refrain about himself as a younger man: “Like a rock, I was strong as I could be; like a rock, nothin’ ever got to me; like a rock, I was something to see; like a rock.”
Seger captures the years of youth, perfectly. It is a time of unbridled optimism, strength, and arrogance. A young man or woman can do anything, be anything, try anything, and overcome anything. No challenge is too big, too tough, or too much – body and soul are as solid rock.
Honestly, a young person needs this kind of bravado. He or she needs a kind of audacious swagger when life is just getting started. But he or she will also learn – life teaches everyone this lesson – that the do-everything, dare-anybody, defy-anything ability of youth, doesn’t last.
We live a little while and experience a few disappointments. We bury loved ones, lose a job, a marriage, a house, a career, or a fortune. We are betrayed by a friend, a business partner, or a lover. We suffer, hurt, age, have our hearts broken, or muddle through a couple decades of muted frustration.
Then we learn, and this learning is as absolutely necessary as youthful strength, that we really aren’t “like a rock” at all – at least not anymore. The challenges of life are indeed too big, too tough, and too much. We learn that life, like erosion, has a way of reducing the hardest stone into sand.
Admittedly, this realization might cause you to hit the booze or pills and collapse into a hopeless stupor – many past the prime of youth do exactly that. But the recognition of weakness and personal limitation – that we won’t always be “standin’ arrow straight, chargin’ from the gate, and carryin’ the weight” – is not cause for despair. It is liberation.
It is deliverance from the “try-harder-and-do-more” life. It is a release from the gladiator’s ethic of “I have to kill myself (or others) to overcome.” It is freedom from the totalitarianism of “If it’s going to be, it is up to me.” In short, it is surrender, and surrender is true faith and true life.
“If you try to hang on to your life,” Jesus said, “then you will lose it.” This “hanging on” includes personal arrogance, strength, ambitions, and our self-reliant approach to life. We learn to let these go, not because we have hopelessly given up, but because we have given over. We have exchanged our failing abilities and life for the power of God and his life.
In the end, we won’t always “stand boldly in the sun.” We retreat into the darkness. We aren’t always as “strong as we can be,” because we face things in life that are stronger than we are. Our steady hands will grow shaky and our clear, bright eyes will grow dim. But it’s all okay if we have learned to live differently, if we have learned to live a life entrusted to the Rock that is Christ.