Paper and a Ring: The Backstory

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I don't do song "commissions." I hate them. Songwriting has to just come to me, and when somebody wants a song "on demand," I struggle. Actually, I struggle with songwriting even when demand it.

But my little sister was getting married. She's been my biggest fan for as long as I can remember, and when she told me she wanted her "first dance" to be done accompanied by me singing an original song just for her, I couldn't refuse. I sort of promised that I'd at least try.

Predictably, I struggled. And struggled. I finished the song a mere two days before the wedding, just enough time for Kerry Skiles (one of my longtime musical collaborators) and I to rehearse it a few times. I think it turned out splendidly. And there's a very serious, providential reason for that.

This song was not written during a particularly wonderful time in my own marriage.

No need for details. But our marriage couldn't at the time be characterized by warm, fuzzy, romantic feelings. We were 13 years in. Patterns were established. Our lives moved in deep grooves. We were getting counsel from an outside, respected couple. We were dealing with besetting, sinful patterns. It was not a bad marriage. It was a normal marriage, with all the stresses and struggles of two sinners living a life together.

So here I was, trying to write a happy love song for the newlyweds, and, to be honest, my heart was not happy. This was not a golden time; things were tinted pretty grey. And it was because of this that Tim Keller's wisdom regarding marriage meant a lot to me: it is the commitment, the piece of paper, that is indispensable to marriage. That was what I was having to fall back on at that exact time. Not my feelings, my fleeting desires, or my felt "needs." I was committed to her, and she was committed to me. That provides the context for getting through rough times, for flourishing together. We're not going anywhere.

So I ended up writing a pretty counter-cultural song. Instead of "Who needs a piece of paper?" I wanted to say that I need that piece of paper. That piece of paper, that promise, that ring, that commitment provides a love that protects me from myself. A love to lean on, to catch my fall, "to tie me to the mast / when the Sirens call" (a terrific Keller analogy from Homer's Odyssey). Passion is such a momentary thing, and I knew it keenly when I wrote that line. On the other side of it, I wanted to challenge the idea that a woman giving herself to a man in marriage is a thing of weakness. When it's all about "me" and "finding myself," she is robbed of an awesome and powerful thing, true of both husband and wife: "to give of myself is liberty!" What a mystery is marriage. A beautiful mystery worth cherishing.

Kerry and I went into the studio a few days later and recorded it in one take, the two of us in front of the microphone. No overdubs or anything fancy.

I hope you like the song. I hope you'll download it on iTunes or Amazon. I hope you'll tell all your friends about it. Proceeds will help the Manhattan Declaration, the premier grassroots organization for promoting and protecting marriage.

Brian Mattson