It took losing his earthly father for award-winning singer-songwriter Matt Brouwer to understand his heavenly father.
The Nova Scotia, Canada, native says it's a hard truth that's haunted him ever since he lost his dad in a car accident at age three. Since growing up in a single parent household on a dairy farm with two older brothers, Brouwer has turned his heartbreak into a way of wrestling with God's will through song.
Such raw honesty has bolstered Brouwer's fan base, and the singer now counts Billboard Top 20 singles and Canadian Juno Awards among his achievements. Stopping by the Christian Post's Washington D.C. office en route to New York, the singer shares how with great loss comes even greater love.
The following are excerpts from the interview.
CP: You first began playing Christian music seriously as a member of a college band called Monday Night Worship (MNW). Why were you passionate about pursuing Christianity in your music at such a young age?
Brouwer: I have always had a lot of questions growing up spiritually. When I was in eleventh grade I went to a conference in Halifax and a worship band that led us there really changed my life. I went home after that weekend and decided serving God with music was my path in life. It was cool finding that direction early on and knowing through-and-through that's what I was created to do. Even when everything goes wrong and it looks like everything falls apart, I've got that to hold onto. It's been a peaceful place to be through the ten years I've been doing this.
CP: You've since gained recognition as a solo artist by cracking the Billboard Top 20 with your song "Sometimes." What did you think when you achieved that?
Brouwer: It feels good when people connect to your music as that's what you do it for. There are days that you wonder why you're performing. If you don't have some major accomplishments, you might get discouraged.
God's measure for success, however, is a lot different than what we judge success by as a society. So many people in our world see topping the charts, touring the world and being rich and famous as success. The real reward is the blessing of getting to do this for a living. Rewards and achievements are a shot in the arm, but I play music because I love it. It's at the center of where I think God wants me to be.
CP: Many of your songs are deeply personal. Is it hard confessing your hidden thoughts and feelings through music?
Brouwer: People respond to passion. It really isn't hard opening up for me. I don't know how to be any other way.
I think that's served me well in some ways. I don't fear being myself. It's a good place to be in music as a communicator. God has kept me leaning on him for strength as I'm constantly putting myself out there so people respond and reciprocate. There's a humility that's created in me because of my vulnerability.
Leading worship isn't about performance. It's about bringing a group of people together and expressing something to God spiritually and to each other. Worship happens when we humble ourselves. The one thing that gets in the way of God is our own ego and self.
CP: Your next album 'Til the Sunrise comes out in February. What message do you hope listeners take from it?
Brouwer: Music and life is better when it's collaborative. Sometimes it seems easier doing something alone instead of working together with people and dealing with human drama. I'm something of a lone wolf. I realize the importance of feeding off each other and holding each other accountable. We benefit but we also give.
The reason I'm thinking about this is because I got married 15 months ago and it's changed my worldview. Loving my wife has just thrown open the doors and enabled me to love other people more. It's enabled me to have more compassion for the world. My new album is about opening your heart to love and fighting the fear that comes with doing that. God wants us to take a deep breath and relax as we enjoy the journey.
CP: You've been open about losing your father when you were three in a car accident. How has that affected your life?
Brouwer: I don't know what it would be like having had it any other way. When I was a child, I was afraid of people leaving as I worried they'd never come back.
It definitely hit me more in my teen years. I had to deal with my father issues and through that how I viewed God. It was a long journey coming to terms with who I am and what my identity is.
I'm now able to understand who I am with God as my father. The metaphor of God as our father and all of us as his children is a powerful one. The more I grew close to God, the more I understood that relationship.
When my dad died, I didn't want anyone to fill that place. I didn't have an understanding of a greater authority and why we need it. The responsibility stops being all on your shoulders when you trust someone more powerful than you.
CP: You met your wife during a mission trip to Guatemala. How did you know she was the one?
Brouwer: My wife Hannah is originally from Illinois and her parents moved to Guatemala to be medical missionaries. She would attend college in America and then return there for vacations. We met one summer during a mission trip I was taking there.
When we reconnected after college for coffee, we hadn't spoken for a bit and we talked for literally three and a half hours once we were together again. I knew right then I could see myself marrying her. I thought of every excuse after that to meet with her as we lived 45 minutes apart at the time.
I used to hate how people say when you meet the person you'll spend your life with you know they're the one. I've had to eat my humble pie on that. My life is totally changed. She made my old world completely fall apart. I was done and ready for the next chapter.
CP: You've remained openly Christian throughout your entire life. How do you keep your faith strong?
Brouwer: I think because my faith grew out of tragedy my family's general faith grew a lot. I saw God provide for my family in some pretty amazing ways. It was a strong foundation.
There's always an opportunity when you grow through hard times to close down and get depressed or draw from the strength of something somewhere else. For me, that's the Lord. It's a core value in my life and my focal point. It's like tapping into a root system that keeps you nourished as a human being.
All of this has happened for a real reason. I have something to share and something to say. I'm going to work hard, but at the end of the day I'm OK with whatever happens.