Near to Me
“That’s the only thing in my whole life that’s ever been bigger than my fear: my conviction…. When I didn’t feel like it or want to, my conviction has always been bigger than my fear which is so wild to me. I am so grateful.”
In Near to Me—an interview from Cultivate Vol. IV: Creativity Unlocked—Melissa sits down with our dear friend, Steffany Gretzinger, and asks her questions about worship leading, how she fell in love with music and songwriting. It is full of honest moments from Steffany’s story and encouragement for those in process with creativity. Whether you’re a worship leader, songwriter or just trying to open up creativity in your world, we hope that Near to Me will inspire you to keep pressing and allow your Creator to come close to you.
I love taking long walks with my dearest friends. There’s nothing like time spent with the ones you love, no agenda, no plan. Just connection. This kind of time is even more sacred when you live all the way across the country from one another. Not only do you crave it when you’re apart, but you savor it when you’re together. This was one of those savoring days. My heart is full to the brim with gratitude for it.
Time with Steffany is a gift. I love our time together on stages. Leading the masses in worship. Going crazy as we get wrecked all over again by the love of God. But these times are equally special to my heart, if not more so. Quiet walks, talking about all of our favorite topics: life, motherhood, songwriting and Jesus. We make our way back to her house and sit down at her kitchen table. Her daughter, Wonder, is playing close by, all smiles and golden curls. This is friendship. This is what my heart loves.
Steffany Gretzinger is a wife, mother, worship leader and deep lover of Jesus. She’s written worship anthems that have changed the world, led thousands into the heart of God and penned lyrics that are powerfully vulnerable and honest. Her songs have given people permission to be honest with their hearts and drink in the truth that the Father is committed to them. For so many, Steffany’s worship has been a game-changer. May her story and her process do the same for you.
How did you fall in love with Jesus?
I have said this my whole life, and I will say it forever: my mom and dad made it super easy for me to fall in love with Jesus. Ron and Kathy Frizzell, they’re just the real deal. Both come from lines of absolute conviction: I was born for this, I can’t do anything else. And so I was born into it. Every night, even if I was already in bed, I’d wake up to the sound of my father kneeling over my bed and praying over me, and I just couldn’t not love the Lord because I felt His presence my whole life.
I remember being in my room with bunkbeds and Disney pictures all over the wall—I was just a preteen hungry for Jesus—and this crazy, physical mist filled my room and I just started sobbing. Light was shining through the mist, like a rainbow in my room. It was like God said, "I promise I’ll come when you call on me." I’ll never forget it.
There are so many names for God in the Bible. If you were to give God a name, what would it be?
I would probably say the Near-to-Me God. I say that all the time to the Lord. I just close my eyes and say, "I feel your nearness. You’re so close."
How’d you fall in love with music?
Very easily. When my mom was pregnant with me, my parents were on the road singing. So it was like Wonder in my belly; it was just music. It’s been everywhere. I fell in love with it. We were always in worship. My mom ended up learning to play guitar, learning John Denver stuff and Bread…do you remember the band Bread? They were so smooth, so sweet. Anyway, my dad was the only white kid in his neighborhood—Motown, R&B, I mean anything. So I’m this crazy combination. There was always music in the house. It was kind of impossible not to love it.
When did you become a worship leader?
Probably sooner than I thought or realized that I was. I’ve sung my whole life. I would do a song with my mom and dad. When I was in youth group, I’d sing, but as far as when I became a leader—I’d say when I came to Redding in 2008-2009.
Do you love it?
I do now. I love leading worship. My confidence has shifted, so now I love it because I feel like I don’t overthink anything now. It’s just like, "Oh this is who I am, and I get to worship—I get to take people with me." I’m not everybody’s mom, but I do, in a sense, get to mother the room in a natural way, not in a bossy way. It’s a gift, and I’ve never loved anything more than being a mom to my daughter, Wonder. So now I can really love it, if that makes sense, now that I’ve connected the two.
What’s the story behind discovering that this is what you wanted to do with your life? Was there a moment or a process?
I actually never wanted to be a worship leader. My mom actually sent me a picture in the last several months. She found something I did when I was eight from school, and it had all these questions and fill in the blank spots. One of the questions asked what you were going to do when you grew up, and I said I was going to live in California and I was going to be a singer. Isn’t that wild? I came to Redding because I wanted to go to school, because I was hungry and kind of a ministry burn-out. I didn’t actually want to lead worship because I didn’t want the pressure. Where I came from, the songs were at least planned for you, and I would just sing them. But I knew if I was going to be here, I was actually going to lead it. Here I had to deal with not being afraid to fail.
After I got here, I led worship in school. I felt like I was supposed to, but I was kicking up against it internally because I felt my own pressure—but nobody here pressured me. Once I had the space without the pressure, I realized the pressure was coming from my insides. It’s taken me years to deal with the pressure. But I think I kept stepping into the thing I knew I was called to do because I was convicted to do it even though I didn’t necessarily even want to.
That’s the only thing in my whole life that’s ever been bigger than my fear: my conviction. It’s the only way that I’ve pushed through any of my fear. When I didn’t feel like it or want to, my conviction has always been bigger than my fear, which is wild to me. I’m so grateful. I think I just started following that conviction, living from that place, and then when I was just obedient, I started taking deep breaths and saying, "How is it that I’m alive for this? I am born for this." Now, literally every time I lead worship, I am saying under my breath to the Lord, "I was made for this! To be in your presence and take people with me."
Will you talk about Pieces, the song?
I had read Chris Miller’s piece called "Discovering God’s Goodness" in Volume I of Cultivate, and I was in it super deep. I just completely opened up my life to do this thing that you all are doing. I followed the instructions and I had one of the most profound encounters with the Father. When I was reading it, I realized that I hardly addressed God as Father. I mean, in the circles I grew up with, people would say, "Dear Heavenly Father," but it was more of a buzzword. I had such a heart connection to Jesus. And I mean, me and Holy Spirit? We’re tight. But I realized that when I prayed, and even when I spoke, I didn’t even talk about the Father. And it broke my heart because I knew I believed in Him. I was like, "Oh! I didn’t mean to neglect you all this time." I was journaling the voice of the Lord, and He basically was speaking to me the lyrics to Pieces. He started saying this: "Unreserved. Unrestrained. My love is wild for you. I don’t give my heart in pieces. I give the whole thing. I long for you." It was just this slow unraveling in me, and I had no idea that I thought He did give His heart in pieces, but I did. I did, I thought He measured it: "Oh you’ve earned this, I’m going to give you this part of my heart now." And so that’s how Pieces got written. It was literally straight from my journal, and Amanda helped me finish a few lyrics and then put it all to music. I wept in my living room reading her my journal as a best friend. I was just pouring out, "This is what the Lord’s doing. I’m in the middle of this encounter and it’s super vulnerable. Listen to what He said to me." And she’s just crying with me, and she sits down at the piano and says, "Would it be okay if I played? Would it be okay if we wrote to this?" She just started. She just sang it. She just sang the words: "You don’t give your heart in pieces." It was just stunning. It happened just like that—simple like that. And even the bridge—we wrote that days later. I said, "You know if you get anything, let me know." And she said, "Steff, you have the language; this is from your heart, this is from an encounter that you’re having with the goodness of God. I think the language is inside of you." And again we sat down, and she’s playing and the words are just flowing out of me from this encounter. Praise the Lord for Chris Miller. Praise the Lord for him. Yeah, it completely changed my life. It’s still changing my life.
Where do you pull inspiration from musically?
Everywhere! It’s all around us. I genuinely am always asking, always telling God that I want to find Him everywhere. I remember when I was in second year at BSSM. He said, "Look for me in places you didn’t think you’d find me, and I’ll meet you right there." And so I try to pick places that don’t seem inspiring. There are the obvious places where it’s super easy to soak it in. You know, like the field, the trees behind our house. But I try to find Him in the middle of really frustrating things. I try, I’m not saying I do it all the time, but I try to close my eyes and say, "Hey, I’d really love to see you right here in this spot. I need to see you. We can turn anything into inspiration—I know we can." So typically I find inspiration in all the things that are obviously beautiful, but also from asking Holy Spirit to show me where the beauty is in the things that are not obvious.
The most common inspirational face would be Wonder these days. Everyday I am changed by her—by her love, by her trust, by her purity and her innocence. It’s like I’m relearning things all over again. It’s like I’m watching her walk, and I feel like I just started walking all over again. It’s wild.
What does it look like for the Holy Spirit to lead you while you lead worship?
The same way we do the rest of the day together. I don’t know how to make it about a special occasion anymore. That’s how near I feel He is. That’s how much we’re talking. I’m asking questions a lot. And if I’m not asking a question, I typically feel Him nudge me: "Why don’t you ask me about that? Why don’t you ask me what I think about that?" There’s always dialogue. So when we step into worship, the hope is that we were connected before and we just continue on in conversation, and then it just gets even sweeter because there’s nothing like a roomful of people going in the same direction in worship. That might be a really simple answer, but I think it’s the truest.
If you were to give advice to people who were just starting to fall in love with singing and worship leading, what advice would you give them?
I would say not to edit a single thing. Because I think we need to fall in love with what God is doing in us, with the way He looks on us, and really appreciate the unfiltered version. Not the part of us that’s writing for the whole world to listen, I’m talking about the part of us that’s writing to write because we feel moved to, because we feel called to, whatever the reason. I think it’s super important to not edit yourself the first time, you know? Give yourself a good, honest-to-God, unfiltered run. Make sure that every single day you are reading and writing and that your process is completely unfiltered—that you are as honest as you can possibly be. Not all of that is going to make it into songs that the world will sing by lyric. But the history and the faithfulness will. Your process will come out in everything you do. They’ll feel the work you put in, the honesty. People can smell fake from a mile away. They can smell your lack of vulnerability from a mile away. They won’t buy it, and God sure doesn’t. That’s what I’m finding in my own life. He already knows what’s in me, so I might as well be honest with myself.