Healing isn’t always linear. It is sadness, regret, and at times, anger. It is acceptance, and maybe, forgiveness. It requires great strength to be vulnerable in the journey to heal; something exhibited by Selena Gomez in her first album single in four years, “Lose You to Love Me.”
The song documents her recovery from the deep wounds of heartbreak.
“We’d always go into it blindly/ I needed to lose you to find me,” Gomez sings. “This dancing was killing me softly/ I needed to hate you to love me.”
Gomez’s path of healing is marked by something else: a deeply rooted faith. In the video for the song, she’s pictured in what looks like a church confessional booth, telling the story of a love that’s long gone and walking through the steps of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. By the bridge, her hands are clasped in prayer, her gaze looking up.
What Gomez may have been praying for is up for interpretation, but what she has received is peace.
“I’m literally just laying down and thanking Jesus,” she wrote on social media after releasing the song. “Where my father has taken me and placing me is exactly where I am meant to be.”
“He said to me ‘Selena hold on, I hurt when you hurt. I cry when you cry but I will NEVER, EVER leave your side. Work with me, walk with me and watch how I do it,’” she said. “In my worst moments, like awful, most painful moments–I never stopped falling to my knees wanting and needing only His love. See the enemy keeps trying to tear me down and it’s just not gonna happen. Not today. Not the next.”
Gomez is part of a growing list of celebrities openly sharing their faith in recent years, both online and on stage: Chris Pratt, Kendall Jenner, Justin Bieber and Kanye West, to name a few. In an age when religious affiliation is on the decline for millenials, these stars are flocking to Hollywood’s trendier churches like Zoe Church, City Church, and Hillsong.
“It used to be that to be an evangelical Christian was to be like Kirk Cameron or Jeff Foxworthy, old and irrelevant and consigned to made-for-TV B-movies. But there is an effort from churches like Zoe and Hillsong underway — probably more unconscious than deliberate — to make Christianity accessible, cool, and interesting to young people,” says Vox writer Laura Turner.
While some may question the authenticity of Hollywood-branded Christianity, especially when Kanye West’s Sunday Services are as exclusive as they are pricey, Gomez is less concerned with what people think and more focused on being transparent with her fans.
In September 2018, Gomez did an in-depth cover story with ELLE to discuss her involvement with global anti-human trafficking nonprofit A21, her partnership with Coach and new music. The interview delved more into her personal life, which Gomez publicly criticized on Instagram for writing things she did not say.
“Church is a name for something far more personal. There’s always agenda seeking information on such a subject and I understand why. Rarely do I mention church (and I didn’t) but I’ll always feel comfortable talking about my values and beliefs,” she wrote. “I understand that reporters are working to grab the attention of a reader, however I will always work to ensure that what is public represents my truth.”
Keeping with Gomez’s continued openness and vulnerability in the public eye, she shared her truth via a testimony of her faith at Hillsong’s 2017 conference.
“You already have faith but you have no idea what you have faith in,” Gomez said of her 15-year-old self. “You are already being pursued by God who knit you together and called you His, but you still don’t know that this can be more than a nightly prayer, you don’t know that this will become the most important relationship, but just wait.”
Selena leading worship at Hillsong
She admits her faith has been a lifelong journey, and a challenging one at that, marked by a life lived in public scrutiny.
“Selena, you are enough! Not because you’ve tried hard, not because you have loved hard or put on your best face. Not because you have been given a large platform and not because others tell you ‘you are enough.’ You are enough because you are a child of God who has been pursued from the very beginning,” she declared to herself. “What you give to others will always be an overflow of what He has given to you. Selena, you don’t have to try so hard. You can rest.”
In her testimony, Gomez said her platform and the stage are simply tools for her to reach her ultimate purpose of helping others, something she’s had more opportunity to do in recent years through relationships she’s developed at Hillsong. In early 2018, she put her Calabasas estate and Studio City bungalow on the market and moved to Orange County with a friend from Hillsong. Rather than focusing on releasing her new album, which has been in the works for four years, she took an internship with A21, the anti-human trafficking non profit, at the invitation of cofounder and Hillsong friend Christine Caine.
“I felt like I needed to learn everything I could possibly learn about human trafficking, because, what am I doing? I’m in this house, I’m in a nice place, I have nice things. I don’t care about this stuff,” she told her fans in an Instagram live. “If this is actually happening and it’s happening in California, I should probably be doing something about it.”
Human trafficking isn’t the only cause Gomez has dedicated herself to in the past two years. This October, Gomez released her passion project on Netflix, Living Undocumented, a docuseries she executive produced following eight immigrant families facing possible deportation from the United States. In September, she was awarded the 2019 McLean Award for mental health advocacy.
“For me, it feels right to share that I have personally felt the effects of both depression and anxiety—but it isn’t easy. I have feared being misunderstood and judged,” she said in her acceptance speech. “I know that I have been given experiences and people and opportunities that have made my life exceptionally beautiful and sweet—and yet I struggle with my own thoughts and feelings at times. But this doesn’t make me faulty. This does not make me weak. This does not make me less than. This makes me human. We need help, and we need each other.”
These only represent a fraction of the causes near and dear to Gomez’s heart, having worked with more than 16 charity organizations. Her faith has spurred her to action to help others and herself, and she’s grown stronger because of it. Since 2014, she has checked herself into mental health treatment centers on three separate occasions. Though Gomez’s journey to faith has been a lifelong commitment, 2014 was the year that would mark a major turning point in her life, forcing her to rely on her faith more than ever. While the public speculated she was in rehab for substance abuse, in reality, she was reeling from a diagnosis with lupus, a potentially life-threatening chronic autoimmune disease.
“I wanted so badly to say, ‘You guys have no idea. I’m in chemotherapy. You’re assholes,’” she confessed to Billboard. “But I was angry I even felt the need to say that. It’s awful walking into a restaurant and having the whole room look at you, knowing what they’re saying. I locked myself away until I was confident and comfortable again.”
Her lupus diagnosis would culminate with a lifesaving kidney transplant in 2017 from her best friend and roommate, Francia Raisa. The two friends have a shared faith and don’t believe the match was coincidental.
“I was like, ‘Okay, I’m about to look for a place,’ and something in my heart told me not to look yet. I felt God being like, ‘Just wait.’ And I actually told her that, and she goes, ‘Well I like having you here, just wait it out a bit.’ And I didn’t understand why, because I was so ready to just live on my own,” Raisa told Today’s Savannah Guthrie.
“She couldn’t open a water bottle one day, and she chucked it and just started crying. I said, ‘What’s wrong?’ That’s when she told me. And she goes, ‘I don’t know what to do, the list is seven to 10 years long.’ And it just vomited out of me, I was like, ‘Of course I’ll get tested.’”
Something that could have taken Gomez’s life instead change it for the better, and now she is focusing on what’s important. She shared with her fans on Instagram that she starts every day by reading the devotional book Jesus Calling, writing messages she needs to hear in dry-erase marker on her mirror.
“I wake up everyday and I’m so grateful to be alive, and I’m so grateful to God that I’m even breathing after some of the stuff I’ve been through,” she said.
In a recent interview with Zach Sang on the brink of her “Lose You to Love Me” and “Look At Her Now” releases, Gomez said these songs only tell part of her story.
“The rest of [the album] is just me, having a really good time talking about real things: vulnerability, strength,” she explained. “It’s me claiming everything I lost.”
Gomez shocked fans in 2017 when she told Vogue that she “can’t wait for people to forget about me.” After stepping back from the spotlight for a while, her upcoming album is being called her comeback. But she says she doesn’t see fame being a part of her life forever.
“I feel like art and all of the creativeness inside of me will have to exist, not necessarily for the world,” she said. “I want to get older and have a family and be normal for a bit.”
But Gomez assures fans, whether it be on stage, on film or as a producer, she still has more stories left to tell.
“I ain’t going anywhere anytime soon.”
Gomez has proven her staying power, with a career that started at the young age of seven on Barney & Friends and continues to blossom and evolve; a steadiness that perhaps is grounded in her faith.
“By grace through faith,” she writes in her Instagram bio, to an audience of 160 million followers. This is shorthand for a verse from the Bible found in the book of Ephesians: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.”
God has come to Gomez’s rescue a number of times over the years: from health scares to heartbreak, depression to the pressures of fame. As she said upon the release of her new song, she won’t let anything take her down. Not today. Not ever.