I Can Only Imagine
by Ed Hird
My wife Janice and I recently went to a great date movie, “I Can Only Imagine”.
Many in Hollywood are amazed at how popular this Lions Gate Studios release is proving to be: #3 already in the box office. Dennis Quaid, as the best-known actor in the movie, powerfully represented the violent, alcoholic, abusive father who rejected and drove everyone away, including Bart’s mom. The father’s (Arthur) life motto was “Life hits me, I hit back harder.” Bart’s father memorably said to his son “I’m gonna teach you something, Bart. Dreams don’t pay the bills. Nothing good comes from it. All it does is keep you from knowing what’s real.” His father thought that crushing his son’s dreams was doing him a favour. Attempting to gain his father’s approval, Bart became a football player like him. Never good enough for his father, Bart ended up in the hospital and permanently out of football. In the midst of this huge setback, a high school teacher discovered Bart’s hidden musical gift. Music kept Bart alive when life was tearing him apart.
The “I Can Only Imagine” song is a triple Platinum song that has become well-known on both spiritual and mainstream radio stations. Andrew Erwin, co-director & co-editor commented, “God’s hand has been on this song and on this story from the beginning. We are delighted to see a story about forgiveness and redemption connect with so many people. We are humbled for the privilege of telling Bart’s story.” The movie explores how Bart Millard, the lead for the band MercyMe, wrote such a gripping song. It turns out that as Bart tapped into the deep wound around his relationship with his father, millions of people related to his trauma. Bart was told: “You didn’t write this song in 10 minutes. It took a lifetime.”
The movie explores how Bart’s childhood trauma left him in emotional chains until he finally processed his anger and bitterness towards his father. When Bart and the MercyMe band were rejected by top Nashville music producers, all the negativity from his dad’s earlier words began to poison him. Bart almost gave up on his dream. In one parable, Jesus compared unforgiveness to being trapped in a prison that we can’t get out of until we choose to forgive. The movie accurately describes how painful it is to forgive people who have been violently abusive. Bart said to his father: “God has forgiven you, but I won’t.” Even though Bart’s father genuinely turned from his abusive ways, it was very difficult for Bart to accept that this change was genuine. Bart had become infected with his father’s negativity and stubbornness, similarly pushing people away. Eventually Bart was able to say of his father, “I saw God transform him from a man that I hated into the man I wanted to become.”
Bart has had such healing that, as mentioned in the January 2018 Light Magazine, he is now investing in younger musicians at Trinity Western University in the Worship Arts Program. Bart’s life reminds us that nothing is wasted when put in the hands of God.
Rev. Dr. Ed Hird, co-author with Janice Hird of For Better, For Worse: discovering the keys to a lasting relationship.