Forgiveness is easy to ask for, harder to receive and can be almost impossible to give.
That is especially true when your life story starts with, “My father was a monster.”
Bart Millard of the Christian rock band Mercy Me, shares his story of forgiveness, redemption and restoration in the movie “I Can Only Imagine” that opened in theaters this week. Millard said the autobiography was accurate to his life story.
“It is as accurate as it can be when you squeeze 25 years of my life into an hour and 55 minutes,” he said.
The movie carries the same name as the most played Christian song in history that Millard wrote after his father died. This isn’t the typical candy-coated Christian cinema that sometimes makes it to film.
The film features the same soul-bearing honesty that Millard displayed in the lyrics to the song.
Millard’s father had been an abusive man to his son and his wife. While Bart was away at Christian summer camp, his mother plotted her escape. She left her 11-year-old son behind.
When she left, the abuse didn’t end. The pain of abuse, abandonment and the inability to live up to his father’s expectations were more than he could bear.
In his pain, he broke his long time girlfriend’s heart and went on the road with his new band, Mercy Me.
Through his father’s religious redemption, illness, and eventual death, Bart and his father reconciled their relationship. While Bart had no problems seeing his father’s sin against him, he took longer to recognize the pain he brought to the woman who would become his wife.
His redemption also came through undeserved forgiveness from her. The themes of grace, mercy and redemption wind through every scene of the movie.
The song is the thread that ties the story together.
“I handled it the only way I know how,” he said. “I wrote a song about it.”
I know how that feels. I’m no superstar performer, but writing is cathartic. I don’t share emotion well in person, but I can delve much deeper when I write. Words pour out through a keyboard where in person I hold them in far more easily.
One of my favorite scenes in the movie was when Millard met Christian music pioneers and legends Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith. He was awestruck and star struck. That was a feeling I had when I met Bart backstage at the Rock and Worship Road Show in Wichita, Kansas, in 2010. I had interviewed his band mate Nathan Cochran and 10th Avenue North singer Mike Donehey before the concert.
Donehey had invited me backstage after they played their set. As they led me back to where they would be doing a live webcast, he introduced me to Cochran, Millard, and Jeremy Camp. As a guy who grew up ordering his Christian music at a little bookstore in Chickasha, Oklahoma, and listening to the one or two hours of Christian radio each week, it was amazing to be standing around people who were now Christian music stars. The industry has come so far. There are now multiple Christian stations in every market and popular Christian songs can become popular movies. Gone are the days of calling 70-year-old women to see if they can order the new Amy Grant cassette tape.
One of the songs Mercy Me sang in Wichita that night was “I Can Only Imagine.” The song captivated the audience with its honesty and beauty.
The movie does the same thing. Don’t miss a chance to see this great story of redemption and grace. You won’t regret it.