"Feelin' great because the light's on me/ Celebrating the things that everyone told me/ Would never happen but God has put His hands on me/ And ain't a man alive could ever take it from me." —from "Work That"

With her debut What's the 411? in 1992, Mary J. Blige was instantly heralded as the next Chaka Khan or the modern day Aretha Franklin, standing out for her slick, contemporary blend of soul, R&B, and hip-hop. After establishing herself on the urban scene, Blige quickly branched out into pop territory, connecting with various radio formats through the release of 1994's My Life and 1997's Share My World. She became increasingly outspoken about her personal life with each release, including allusions to her ghetto upbringing, tumultuous romantic relationships, and party hard mentality.

On 1999's Mary, however, her commercial domination continued with a more mature sound that shifted away from street savvy in favor of more straightforward soul and hip-hop. Though her personal storms raged on, including drug and alcohol abuse, in an interview with Rolling Stone, she cited the Bible (particularly the Psalms and Proverbs) as the inspiration to eventually kick those habits. By 2001's appropriately titled No More Drama, she made the conscious decision to put her personal demons to rest and reconnect with the Christianity of her youth, as evidenced be her song "Testimony"—"Though my trials and tribulations, I still believe that God had a greater plan for me."

"You start wanting to look for the answer to how to get it," she told AOL Black Voices in an interview shortly after the 2005 release of The Breakthrough. "The answer I learned how to get it is dealing with my own issues–stop blaming everybody else for the stuff that happened to me years and years ago and just get on with my life and handle the pain, pray to God and help me let him through it."

Blige's spiritual growth is demonstrated throughout much of her latest effort Growing Pains, another sophisticated soul record loaded with hip-hop nuances and pop crossover potential. On the easy going R&B offering "Work In Progress (Growing Pains)," the singer is the first to admit past faults and the ongoing need to iron out her problems, but she also points to the love and faith that has carried her through her struggles: "I got the love from my fans that adore me, and I'm grateful/But my love for myself is lacking a little bit/I can admit that I'm working on me/Staying faithful."

On "Work That," excerpted above, Blige attributes her joy to God's blessing, and uses that to encourage others to never be ashamed of their looks or beliefs. The club-infused grooves of "Just Fine" also builds on themes of self-esteem, coupled with thankfulness for the freedom to live each day to the fullest: "No time for moping around, are you kidding?/ And no time for negative vibes, cause I'm winning … And I'm a still wear a smile if it raining/I got to enjoy myself regardless/I appreciate life, I'm so glad I got mine."

While old-school Blige would typically cast a negative light on relationships, but songs like "What Love Is" find her turning over a new leaf, embracing themes of harmony and forgiveness. "Stay Down" in particular vulnerably offers, "I knew that it wasn't easy, but sometimes when we fight it don't seem like God's design/But then I hear words you said and I promise I would stand for you and be true, throughout the bad and the good." She expresses a similar understanding of spiritual restoration in "Come To Me (Peace): "And we will heal, mend, me and you, telling you/ Come to me, I'll restore freedom … And I'll be here to make peace."

Unfortunately, Blige hasn't completely abandoned her old ways, with several sexual references to be found on Growing Pains. "Till the Morning" includes some fairly seductive language, and "Grown Woman," a rap styled duet with Ludacris, features exchanges that are rather provocative: "I got'cha lookin' at me/Wanna pat me like the police/The FDN&Y can't put out the fire on me." And though "Shake Down" is generally an innocuous love song, her duet with Usher includes contradictory lines about lifelong commitment ("Boy, I will be your friend forever") and a one-night stand ("Gonna be your baby tonight").

You could say that Blige is a work in progress, hence the title Growing Pains. Some caution must still be exercised when listening to her music, but once can still remain thankful that she's headed in the right direction spiritually. Though she has yet to record a true Christian project—following in the footsteps of Aretha Franklin, Patti LaBelle, and Kelly Price—the notion isn't as far away as you might think. "I know I'm going to do a gospel album," she declared in a recent interview with BellaOnline. "I don't know when, though, but I know it's probably sooner than later."

Unless specified clearly, we are not implying whether this artist is or is not a Christian. The views expressed are simply the author's. For a more complete description of our Glimpses of God articles, click here