“And that’s how John Mayer ended up with dancing pandas.”

It’s not every day that one reads such a sentence in a New York Times piece, but when it comes to John Mayer, is anyone really surprised?

Mayer has made quite the reputation for himself, not only as a talented musician but as a man who can’t seem to control his “stupid mouth” in a number scandalous interviews. In the aftermath, he escaped to Montana, where he moved toward redemption, apologizing for many of those wrongdoings in Paradise Valley (2013), identifying many of his shortcomings (“I Will Be Found”), and promising maturity by proclaiming his ultimate goal of a settled, domestic life (“Waitin’ On The Day”).

Four years later, Mayer has returned from his self-inflicted exile, emerging with a new level of self-awareness and maturity and channeling his reinvention into his most recent studio album, The Search for Everything. Although this album includes several breakup/love songs, as has come to be expected, it goes far beyond that. Mayer says, “There were times when tears came out of me, and I went, O.K., John, this is not about an on-again, off-again relationship. This is something more profound.” Not the least of which is “Never on the Day You Leave,” about an unnamed ex-girlfriend and the feelings that continued to grow for her after their breakup, with poignant lyrics that are too painful for Mayer to sing live:

No, it’s never on the day you leave
You can tell how it’s gonna be
To watch a girl become a ghost before your eyes
You wish you’d given her one more kiss
To put away for a night like this
But never, never on the day you leave

Love grows in the time it’s been
Since you last held her hand
She’ll fight for you like hell
Then force herself to like some other man

Mayer’s relatively newfound maturity is evident in such love songs featured on The Search for Everything that go far deeper than the tunes of his younger days (think: “Your Body is a Wonderland”), but the real proof lies in “In the Blood” when he wrestles with serious, honest questions:

How much of my mother has my mother left in me?
How much of my love will be insane to some degree?
And what about this feeling that I’m never good enough?
Will it wash out in the water, or is it always in the blood?

How much of my father am I destined to become?
Will I dim the lights inside me just to satisfy someone?
Will I let this woman kill me, or do away with jealous love?
Will it wash out in the water, or is it always in the blood?

And who doesn’t ask these same questions? We see the mistakes and struggles of our parents and grandparents and swear we will never repeat them, that we will make a new way for ourselves, but then begin to wonder if it’s all just engrained in who we are. Mayer doesn’t offer any answers to these impossible questions and is reluctant to discuss the song in interviews, probably with good reason: “I guess I made a deal with myself that if I was gonna go that honest on a song, I wasn’t gonna necessarily be a liability to it and color it in.” He leaves the song open to interpretation, inviting us to explore the ramifications of these questions in our own lives and to decide what this arguably universal song means for us.

And with the weight of two verses worth of his parents’ issues and their potential to affect him, he gets to the core of what is really going on:

I can feel love the I want, I can feel the love I need
But it’s never gonna come the way I am
Could I change it if I wanted, can I rise above the flood?
Will it wash out in the water, or is it always in the blood?

He’s painfully aware of the love missing in his life, a recurring theme across all of his albums, and believes that he has prevented himself from ever receiving it, either by following in the path of his parents’ mistakes or by creating new problems for himself. Then the question, and central theme of this song, becomes, can he change himself and wash out his problems in the water to finally receive love? Or is he just stuck?

The expansive self-help section at the bookstore would say, “No! You’re not stuck! You can change yourself! Follow these steps to become the best version of yourself!” That will work for a little while. You’ll white-knuckle your life and swear that this time will be different, but eventually, you’ll run out of stamina and slide back into your old self. And if left to your own devices, that vicious cycle will continue. And that’s not to say that, as Christians, we don’t try our hand at self-improvement. New Year’s resolutions, exercise plans, fad diets—we’re all just as susceptible to it as the next person. But this is where the Gospel takes a radically different approach—and where we can extend grace and mercy to Mr. Mayer.

This side of heaven the issues (sin) we face—those inherited from our parents and those of our own making—will be ever-present. We will not be able to wash them out in the water, but we can certainly wash them out in the blood of the Lamb, poured out for us on the cross, washing away the old and ushering in a new, white-as-snow child of God.