Sara Groves found herself at a stalemate when she went to make her latest record Floodplain. Struggling with depression, the seven-time Dove Award nominee and Evangel University alum known for her song “The Word” was at her most vulnerable. Now with the release of her ninth recording, Groves, 43, chronicles the four-year journey since Invisible Empires, creating some of her most honest work to date.
“For quite a few years, I’ve been struggling with anxiety, but it began to snowball because of several different things going on in my life. I was really struggling with depression,” shares the mother of three.
Describing her ongoing battle with depression and anxiety as “feelings of conflict for no reason,” Groves explains it like this: “You feel like something’s terribly wrong. Like you’re in a fight with somebody you love or you have to confront something, but when you look around, there’s really nothing there. Your brain will bring you all kinds of reasons.”
During this time, the songwriter also experienced the stigma surrounding mental illness that can come from the church.
“I grew up in the Assemblies of God and… I know a lot of people who have struggled with depression, and I think that there can be this [stigma] where you are not able to get help because you feel responsible,” she shares. “I just remember feeling [that] positive thinking cannot be the Gospel that saves me. I need something, I need a foothold and I don’t feel like my ability to think positively is it.”
Experiencing writer’s block in the years following Invisible Empires, Groves found inspiration on her run along the Mississippi River in her hometown of St. Paul.
“I was running along the floodplain, and I had heard this story that the immigrant communities back in the late 1800s and early 1900s would build little shacks and hovels on the floodplain… Once a year the waters would rise and they would lose everything.”
“When I began to name things, it turns out that God, He already knows. It was less like denial and more like healing. To get to that place for me was a really beautiful gift.”
Seeing the homeless community set up tents along this volatile area of the Mississippi, Groves heard from God.
“I just felt like God whispered in my ear ‘Some hearts are built on a floodplain,’” she says. “The beautiful thing about it was, it just turned the whole thing upside down as far as my responsibility. I am responsible to fight a good fight, but in this world I will have trouble.”
Naming her record after this symbolic piece of land, Groves’ new collection of music is a reflection of her deeply personal battle over the past few years.
“It’s a metaphor about beauty, but beauty that has struggle in it. At the end of that song I say, ‘Lord please send a boat.’ In this last season of my life, God has sent unbelievable amounts of boats through friends and family, help getting a therapist and all kinds of things.
“I’ve just seen His faithfulness to me and it’s given me a lot of empathy for other people who… maybe it’s not depression, maybe they’re struggling with generational poverty, these systematic things they cycle through and it’s hard to get your footing.”
While it is uncommon for a band to co-ordinate the recording of a new album, Groves’ band — comprised of members from Add To The Beauty — did this in order to help her break the deadlock. “They called me in a very gentle way and said ‘Hey, let’s go and just play and have fun. It’s not for an album, it’s not for any reason, other than let’s just go and have fun.’”
According to Groves, the band said, “Our hope is to give you a hard drive full of music that you feel great about and that gives you a vision for yourself moving forward, we actually hope this is your now.”
The singer left changed after her time recording with her band.
“I just felt overwhelmed with the grace of God. He has bent so low in this season, and the fruit from this season has been so prolific and undeniable when I was at my literally weakest.” Explains Groves, “We talk about being weak, but when you’re really doing it, it’s not pretty. It’s not fun for me to really genuinely say, ‘No.’ I had nothing to offer there, and He literally came and took my hand and walked me through.
“The release of this record has just been a huge victory. Musically, it reminds me of Add To The Beauty. The guys were all really invested in their parts and they were really producing, but they were also playing and having fun.”
Characteristically raw and bold in her appeal for us to open up with one another, Sara Groves’ Floodplain echoes the heart of a woman who seeks to be honest.
“When I began to name things, it turns out that God, He already knows. It was less like denial and more like healing. To get to that place for me was a really beautiful gift,” says Groves.
“I am just on an evangelical mission to come to the church and say, ‘One of the reasons we are not free is because we are trying to be good for Jesus. We are trying to be good PR for God.’ I think my best PR moments are when I am weak, and He is strong in me.”
Floodplain by Sara Groves is available now.