What Rick Astley Taught Me About Getting It Waaaaaaaay Wrong

I know Rick Astley is an 80s phenomenon, but Rickrolling has kept him more prominent in the culture a lot longer than anyone expected (the Wreck-It Ralph 2 post-credits scene is the most recent example I’ve heard of), so hopefully referring to him will not be too out of date for you to understand my point. In fact, if you can read, you should be able to get it regardless of Rick Astley’s place in your life. (If you can’t read, how did you get this far?)

So, one of Mr. Astley’s biggest hits is “Never Gonna Give You Up,” which came out in 1987. (I know: forever ago…) It was huge, and it is the song I generally see used in Rickrolls. Anyway, back then our radios didn’t give the title on the screen (radios had no “screens” in general), and I was (thankfully!) past my MTV days. (I was not attending the Church yet, but I was learning the truth.) So, while I kept hearing the song on the radio, I did not know the title and had no idea who Rick Astley was. And, like we often do with songs we hear a lot but don’t listen to carefully, I mainly knew the chorus. For those who aren’t familiar with this little bit of 80s magic, here’s that chorus:

Never gonna give you up

Never gonna let you down

Never gonna run around and desert you

Never gonna make you cry

Never gonna say goodbye

Never gonna tell a lie and hurt you

Yes, yes, yes, brilliant stuff, I know. But the point is clear, right? Rick is going to be a dependable guy! He’s never gonna do these things that other, terrible guys do. Nice.

But for years, I had no idea that was what he said. No kidding, every single time I heard that song playing in the background, here’s what I thought he said:

Then I’m gonna give you up

Then I’m gonna let you down

Then I’m gonna run around and desert you

Then I’m gonna make you cry

Then I’m gonna say goodbye

Then I’m gonna tell a lie and hurt you

Seriously. Every time I heard it.

If that song came on the radio, those are the words I heard in my head.

I know it’s hard to imagine, but if you listen to him singing it, surely you can imagine it. (If you can’t, don’t tell me and make me sad.) It might be more believable in context. At that time, songs like that were a thing—really, they have been for a while. They were the sort of songs that said, “Yeah, I’m one of those ‘bad boys’—you’re going to get involved with me and I’m going to let you down (though looking cool the whole time, of course).” They were sort of purposefully unromantic in a certain way that we are somehow supposed to find “entertaining.” Anyway, here was good ol’ Rick Astley, singing a song about how devoted he’s going to be to the woman he loves, and I’m thinking every time I hear it that he’s trying to warn her away from his terrible toxic nature.

And I did not know he was singing anything else until years later, after I met my future Beautiful Wife, who really enjoyed the song. “What?!?!” I asked her when she told me. “That’s song’s terrible! He’s a jerk! How could you like that?” In response, she essentially Rickrolled me: She got me to listen to it more carefully, and… heh… she was right.

Here’s the thing: I was convinced. I mean, I knew that’s what he was saying. I was 100%, rock-solid sure.

And I was also 100%, rock-solid wrong.

It is astonishingly easy to be extremely and powerfully confident in your wrongness. The Bible even warns us about that, telling us in Jeremiah 17:9, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” (Spoiler Alert: The answer’s in v. 10.) In fact, I can honestly say that the wrongest wrong people I’ve known in my 50+ years are passionately and powerfully convinced of their rightness.

For such people, we should pray they have the sort of moment my future Beautiful Wife provided for me. For ourselves, we have to be open that the same thing can happen to us. Admittedly, in 1987, I was only 17 years old, and I like to think I’m a little wiser now that I’m three times that age—not to mention I have the help of God’s spirit, which is a very real help, indeed (if we allow it to be). At the same time, I am still human. Christ hasn’t returned. I’m still just as capable of being simultaneously hyper-convinced of my rightness and being wrong at the same time.

So, in your prayers, ask God to help you grow in humility, to help you build a healthy sense of your own ability to make the most unlikely of mistakes, and to provide you an occasional Rickroll when you need one.