"Life is difficult." That's the opening sentence of M. Scott Feck's late '70s pop psychology and self-help bestseller, "The Road Less Traveled." While that's a truth that Scripture supports, and many of us in our more candid moments would honestly admit, it's not something that appears front and center in most of today's Christian songs, nor is it a common theme on Christian music radio.

Sanctus Real may change that with the release of its third national studio album, "The Face of Love" (Sparrow). The disc opens with a heart-on-sleeve admission that “I’m not alright, I’m broken inside.” For all the talk about transparency in ministry, is it really OK for Christian musicians to open up about their pain and longing, their brokenness and humanity?

Perhaps so. At press time the song “I’m Not Alright” had already climbed to No. 8 on Radio & Records’ Christian pop (CHR) radio chart. And the life issues tackled on the rest of the album? If the quality of the music itself has anything to say about it, this disc’s important themes will be heard by a distinctly larger audience than the band’s known so far. When MercyMe guitarist Mike Scheuchzer recently remarked that "The Face of Love" is "hands down the strongest effort from Sanctus Real" and one of the year's best rock albums period, he spoke in tandem with music critics far and wide, whose responses seem unanimous.

A Year of Living Dangerously

“When we first started working on this record, a lot was happening in our lives,” states Sanctus Real singer Matt Hammitt matter-of-factly. “That took us a lot deeper than we were used to.”

“It was a big year for us – big highs and big lows for everybody in the band,” adds guitarist Chris Rohman. “Things happened to us that really changed who we were as people.”

The year started with accolades and praise for the hard-working pop/rock quartet from Toledo, Ohio. The band was honored in the 2004 CCM Magazine Reader’s Choice Awards as “Favorite New Artist,” and R&R reported that Sanctus Real was the year’s most played Christian Rock Radio act. In 2005 its "Fight the Tide" disc snagged the Dove Award for “Rock Album of the Year.” But as John Lennon once said, life is what happens while you’re making other plans.

It was also a year marked by change and turmoil, including personnel changes and personal challenges, reports Rohman: “Our bass player leaving was a mutual parting of ways, but that happened right as we were supposed to be writing and recording the record. [Bassist Steve Goodrum was subsequently replaced by Dan Gartley.]

“The biggest thing, was [Sanctus drummer] Mark Graalman’s father passing away. We were all close to his dad – his was the youngest father among the four of us – it was very unexpected and quick. It was pretty traumatic, as Mark had gone home early from being on tour to be there with his wife for the birth of their first baby. Literally, the same day of the birth, they found out his dad had terminal cancer of the stomach. That really drained us emotionally.”

Some make lemonade when life gets sour; some hide; songwriters tend to write songs. The members of Sanctus Real wrote “Benjamin,” about this inevitable “circle of life.” We’re here for a short time, the song admits. God gives and takes life, and if we’re here to love, we ought to get busy about it – not take this gift for granted. Other songs express less resolve and understanding.