From the Assistant Managing Editor of Special Features, Jenna Ditsch:
Stryper is one of the top Christian rock bands of all time. With accolades such as selling nearly 10 million albums worldwide, being a DOVE Award winner, having Gold & Platinum albums and much more, there is no question that this band is by all accounts successful. One of the men behind the music — singer, guitarist and songwriter Michael Sweet — is to be commended for his success as well. Besides his leadership in Stryper, he is also a producer and acclaimed solo artist, and he was even a member of the legendary band BOSTON.
It can be easy to look at these accomplishments and conclude that such a talented and successful person has it made. But Michael would be the first to tell you that he is as human as any other, and that means searching for hope in the midst of pain, hardship and loss.
Though Michael’s accomplishments over the years are certainly praiseworthy, and he is most assuredly a talented musician, these things provided no comfort — no solution — to Michael’s grief when, in 2009, his beloved wife of more than 22 years passed from ovarian cancer, leaving him a widower and a single father of two young children. Michael didn’t know that his remarriage would lead to even more loss. Michael took some heat when, in 2010, he remarried Lisa Champagne-Sweet, a woman he describes as “a Godsend, an angel and a perfect fit.”
I interviewed Michael to get his perspective on what matters most when it comes to love and loss — and loving again. I pray that Michael’s humility and openness will encourage you to follow his lead. I don’t mean trying to emulate his life; we are all called to something different, and each of us has our own journey unique to who we are. Michael’s journey through an immense time of suffering reveals that it was his personal relationship with the Lord that led him through one of life’s darkest hours. It may appear to some that Michael’s remarriage was too abrupt, but Michael sought God’s perspective and trusted in God’s perfect timing.
May you be encouraged by looking into a slice of Michael’s life. God is not more faithful to one than to another, but He doesn’t treat us all the same. That’s because the God who knows the exact number of hairs on your head knows your needs before you even ask. God knew what Michael needed — and God knows what you need too.
You may want to get the new Stryper CD release The Covering.
Jenna: Many people know about your accomplishments as Michael the musician. Tell us who you are as Michael the man.
Michael: I certainly have a heart for the lost — for people. I am appreciative that God has given me a place not only as a musician — that’s just a tool — but to have one-on-one time with people and to help them through situations they are facing, especially situations that I’ve faced. That’s my passion. As much as I love music and that’s who I am, I love even more so being able to help people. When I write a song, the most important thing is the message and who it’s going to affect, inspire and encourage. So the two, music and passion for people, are really intertwined.
Jenna: Christmas has passed — the “most wonderful time of year” for some, but not for others. The holidays tend to be especially difficult for those who are enduring a time of suffering. What would you say to those who might have had a “blue, blue Christmas” or who may already be dreading the next holiday — Valentine’s Day?
Michael: The holiday that has been especially difficult for me is Valentine’s Day. My former wife, Kyle, passed from ovarian cancer and got sick around Valentine’s Day. That’s also around the time of my children’s birthdays. Looking at my kids and knowing that their mom is not here with them in the flesh, to experience those moments with my children … that breaks my heart, because they are young and they don’t understand matters the same way that I do.
But I always try to remind myself that I devoted my life to God. It is especially during these hard times, whether that be Christmas or any other time, that we have to believe what the Word of God says: that even though it is painful and difficult to get through the memories that come back to haunt us, we have to remind ourselves that there is a future, there is a better day, that day is coming, we are going to see them again, and they are not suffering or in pain. We’re still here on earth, having to deal with everything that goes on here, but them? They are with God! They are already where we long to ourselves be. Of course it is difficult at times, but it is something that I almost get through with a smile because I am reminded of the promises of God. If we call ourselves Christians, we have to believe in God’s promises. The word is very clear on God’s promises and what is to come. And yet I’m blessed on this earth too. I’m remarried to a beautiful angel that God sent me, and she helps me in so many ways — ways she sees and ways she doesn’t see. Her name is Lisa … she’s amazing.
Jenna: Some people wait for years before remarrying. In your case, God brought a woman into your life quite quickly. How did people respond?
Michael: That is the open wound that the bandage keeps getting ripped off of. It’s been difficult. I met my second wife, Lisa, soon after Kyle passed, and we went on an official date a little less than two months later, marrying a little less than a year after that. I took a lot of heat and grief for that. I was actually surprised and shocked. I thought I had it all figured out. I thought those who might oppose our marriage would be some of my former wife’s best friends. But they did not. In fact, they wrapped their arms around her and accepted her, undeniably, and without any judgment whatsoever.
Some of the people that I thought would accept it are no longer my friends and want nothing to do with me or Lisa — and that hurts. Some of those people were very close to me. When you go through something like that, it is difficult to understand why they don’t understand. You know, it’s not the same story for everyone. Often enough, the world we live in, we try to apply rules and regulations and statistics and this and that — we try to apply the same thing to everybody’s story. If you are not doing it according to this, because everybody says you are supposed to wait this long, or if you’re not doing it this way — then you are wrong. It just doesn’t work that way. We’re all different.
Jenna: Sometimes people cling to some sort of “rule” or principle instead of following the Prince. What did it look like for you to follow God’s lead in that difficult time? How did you deal with people who thought you should be making different decisions?
Michael: I’d be a liar if I were to say it’s not upsetting … it’s very upsetting. But I ask God to give me the strength to help me through it and rise above it, but there’s those periods of time when it comes back and I run into someone or hear this or that, and it’s a test all over again that I’m either going to fail or pass — and I hope I’m going to pass.
I think that the people who are accusing, judging or pointing the finger are coming at it from a very personal point of view. Some of the friends I lost during that time maybe felt they were defending Kyle — but who’s going to defend her more than me, her husband? I’m the guy who was married to her for almost 23 years, and we lived our lives together, so I knew her better than anyone. It’s a very touchy subject. Again, it is going to look different for everyone, so who are we to judge? That’s God’s job.
Your calling is not my calling, and God’s not going to speak to you to do the same things that I do in the same way. He has his plan for your life and his plan for my life. I’ve really tried to follow God’s lead according to my life. And it’s not always in agreement with other people’s plans for my life.
Anyone out there going through something similar — you have to follow God’s lead, and you have to pray to and hear from God.
Jenna: I know God interacts with us all in unique ways, but what does praying and hearing God look like for you?
Michael: For me, when I pray to God and ask him for an answer, it’s not like a big voice coming out of the sky, saying “yes” or “no.” A lot of times it’s a sign or a chain of events that fall into place, that lead to an answer. It’s also like a gut feeling — it’s the Holy Spirit speaking to me, and me feeling in my gut and in my heart and in my head — that something is right or wrong. God also speaks through others, and I do take that into account too.
Jenna: What advice would you give to readers who have been praying and are still waiting?
Michael: To those people out there that are waiting for someone, I say continue to wait and pray and when you see that opportunity that God puts before you, you’ll know it. Stay in communication with God, and you’ll know when it’s right.
You know, the last thing I expected was to meet someone. It wasn’t even on my mind. The only thing on my mind was just trying to get through the loss of my wife and to be a better dad and be there for my children, and figuring out how to act as two parents.
I knew I didn’t want to go into the bedroom and draw the shades and waste away, so I decided to go on tour right away and keep working. I kept living. And then, miraculously, I met somebody who is perfect for me, and we are now going into our fourth year of marriage.
Jenna: What misconceptions do you think people might have about marriage?
Michael: I’m not an expert on marriage, that’s for sure — I’m living and learning. But I think it is easy to look at marriage in a selfish way — like what you can get out of it or how that person’s going to help you and do this or that for you. I’m guilty of this too. But marriage is truly about giving — giving of yourself. It is about sacrificing and not being selfish. Marriage has taught me a lot about myself — about how selfish I can be at times.
Jenna: What mistakes do you think people might make when considering getting married?
Michael: A lot of people make the mistake of basing a relationship on passion and going out, and things progress and things happen — and they end up in a marriage based on passion instead of love and a strong, godly foundation. I’ve made plenty of mistakes, and I’m not here to point fingers and judge, but marriage is a beautiful thing and unfortunately, it gets clouded by what we see on TV. A lot of people just get married for the wrong reason. They realize later that it’s not working and want out.
Jenna: What can people do to prepare for marriage?
Michael: I think one key is to stop looking for a spouse who can help you or give to you, and instead focus on how you will be able to help them. During your time of being single, focus on what you have to give to another person. Then, look for somebody you can lay your life down for and sacrifice and love unconditionally. Next to putting God first and building a solid foundation, I believe this is really the most important element in a marriage.
Marriage is going to be difficult at times and there are going to be problems. You need to be committed to work through it. That’s part of the unconditional love that you vow.
Jenna: We hear terms like “unconditional love” and “sacrifice.” What does that practically look like — in everyday life?
Michael: I know that I love my wife and would do anything for her. And oftentimes the opportunity to do so comes in the little things. It comes down to just letting go of things. For example, when making the bed, Lisa likes to turn the sheet down; I like to not turn it down. I don’t know … I view it as a waste of time. But she views it as, “This is what I learned.” I’ve learned to just let it go … who cares? It sounds silly, but it’s those petty things that so often start arguments that can lead to dissention and hate — and ultimately divorce. It’s crazy! It’s key to let go of those things that don’t matter.
Jenna: Michael, can you wrap up by making a statement about what really matters? And how do you hold on to these things in the midst of so much busy-ness and so many distractions?
Michael: It seems life is getting crazier and crazier. I think back to 30 years ago, and things seemed simpler. Nowadays it’s all about multitasking and doing as many things in a day as you can possibly do. With that comes stress, and with stress comes animosity and bitterness and anger and road rage, and all this craziness we see on the news night after night.
We need to somehow — and I don’t have the answer — but we need to learn how to slow the pace down. Before you know it, two years have passed, and you look back and say, “Oh my gosh, was I so busy that I didn’t notice?”
We need to notice who and what is around us. We need to notice the things that do mean something … that matter. If we stopped long enough to really evaluate and break down what matters versus what doesn’t matter, I think we’d all be astonished that we put so much time into things that just truly mean nothing. This is easier said than done. I mean, when you have a list a mile long, and rush out at 7 am and don’t get home until 8 pm, and have to feed the kids and dogs etc. … I think people don’t have time to even think about it.
So, how do we do it? The “how” comes from knowledge and wisdom, ultimately through our relationship with Christ. It comes down to not just love, but taking time to slow down and notice. We need to notice our neighbors, our friends, our family — our loved ones. That’s who will be there when we are on our deathbed at the end of our life.
I want to encourage people to follow God’s lead — in every area of life. Don’t follow people’s lead. We’re all different. Follow God’s lead, and whatever that is — that’s what is best.
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