Take me to the place where your heart hurts most

I’M TAKING a risk in sharing this – it’s perhaps the most personal thing I have ever written here.

Last weekend, I spent the evening with two dear friends who have lived with chronic illness for many years, and still find such joy in life having come so close to death. One of them was celebrating the anniversary of a life-saving transplant – her ‘re-birth day’. It was an evening of simple pleasures – fish and chips on the prom, ice-cream and glasses of bubbly, love, laughter, and reflection on our lives.

Someone asked what music we would like at our funerals – after sharing my standard joke response, (Nelly The Elephant by the Toy Dolls), I recalled a song which has been on my mind for the last few months that has taken me by surprise and moved me deeply.

It came back to me while away on holiday in April, when I received a call that my uncle had died after a long illness. I felt sad and helpless, unable to be there or do anything to help. I found the local church open and quiet, and sat in silence for a while.

Then I recalled these words:

Take me to the place where your heart hurts most.

They’re the opening of a song by Deacon Blue, a little-known B-side which I’d recorded on a mix tape back in 1989, but hadn’t listened to for years. The lead singer’s voice is not always clear, and I don’t recall having read the lyrics before, so I was intrigued about why it should come to me at that moment.

Luckily I had a signal on my phone (not guaranteed in this part of the English countryside) so was able to look them up:

Take me to the place where your heart hurts most.
Lead me through the dark world gates down there
Where all the ghosts of sorrow and pain,
Fear and despair stay hiding,
And we’ll walk right through to our own way, our own place.
There’s a beach that we’ll walk so long, so broad,
Oceans away, miles longer than pain.
In my glad dreams, I take you there and it’s easy,
‘Cause the work and the hours
And the pay are far behind our sure steps.
My heart longs to be near to you.
My heart wants to be there with you.
Where it’s warm and tender and mercy flows like a river,
And there you stand with your wide open hands
And say abide with me.

As I read them, I felt deeply moved. It was as if God, or Jesus, were speaking those words directly into that moment, that experience. Reading the lyrics helped me to express something deep that news of my uncle’s death had touched. I have found that in key moments, music can speak to me like nothing else.

If you don’t know it, listen here:

It isn’t obvious at first hearing, but the closing wordsreveal that the music is an arrangement is based on the hymn Abide with me, often played in funeral services:

In the lyric,

Lead me through the dark world gates

it also echoes Psalm 23, The Lord’s My Shepherd, another funeral favourite. The psalm’s ‘valley of death’ is reimagined as the place

Where all the ghosts of sorrow and pain,
Fear and despair stay hiding

And the image of

a beach that we’ll walk…[with] sure steps

echoes the allegorical poem Footprints in the sand:

“The times when you have

seen only one set of footprints,

is when I carried you.”

I have listened to this song several times since, and it continues to move me to tears. It seems to express a deep yearning for me to find consolation and purpose beyond

the work and the hours and the pay

I’m still unsure of what that is, or how to express it in a way that draws out what’s life giving, rather than being driven by what’s ‘necessary’ in the world’s eyes.

Looking online for the meaning of the lyrics, I found a video tribute to the 96 victims of the Hillsborough football stadium disaster, which happened in the same year as this song was released, though it was not the inspiration for the song, as the song was released three months before the disaster.

I also found a blog post reflecting on using this song in the context of a Day of Reflection for the victims of sectarian conflict in Northern Ireland.

I believe that one of the conduits for God’s comfort is lament. The Bible is full of it – angry, frustrated, painful. Songs of lament do something deep in our souls. They can drill to the nerve centre of our pain, somehow empathise, soothe and mysteriously be companions as we journey through dark days.

This song speaks deeply into my dark days – around the time it was released, I was recovering from a breakdown where I came close to taking my own life. I can look back now and see all the ‘sure steps’, and not so sure, I have taken since then, and I know I have not been alone.

These dark days are when I faced my fear of death – I believe this is what connects me so deeply to those two strong women with whom I celebrated last weekend, who have exceeded all expectations in both quantity and quality of life, and still have so much joy, love and empathy to give from the deep well of that experience.

One thought on “Take me to the place where your heart hurts most

  1. rachel rackley

    Thank you for sharing – as I continue to thank that That which brought us together in the life that I celebrate post transplant. There are times in our playfulness when I glimpse the other side of the lament and that helps make it all the more joyful.
    My heart hurts the most when I touch the memories and vulnerabilities of walking with death and with the loss of close intimate love affairs…guess you can’t have one without the other.
    So thank you for making yourself so vulnerable again and know you are deeply loved. XX

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