When it got close to wintertime in South Dakota, Pa Ingalls used to string a rope from the house to the barn, and he’d keep his hand on it as he walked back and forth to do his chores. Out on the plains, a blizzard could strike with only a second’s notice, and if it caught him unprepared, he could easily become disoriented and get lost in the swirling wind and snow. But with his hand on the rope, he knew he could find his way to safety, one step at a time, even in the midst of the wildest unexpected storm.
Although I’m not above gratuitous Little House references, this one is actually quite apt. Great storms of emotion have a way of spinning us around and leaving us without a sense of which way is up. In these moments, often our own words fail us, and we’re unable even to process our own feelings, much less talk any sense to them. In these moments, having a memory full of hymns and psalms can be a rope to cling to.
In the hardest moments, when it is most necessary to pray, I often find myself speechless. In the weeks after our son’s funeral, I couldn’t pray anything but the words of “Be Still, My Soul.” On slow, boring, frustrating days at home with the children I keep reminding myself, “I need Thee every hour,” or for a little more pep, “On a day like this, I need the Lord to help me!”** The day a child we loved began treatments for a brain tumor I spoke through my tears, over and over, “When other helpers fail and comforts flee; help of the helpless, O abide with me!”
I love Ann Voskamp’s advice: “When it is hardest, that’s when you sing loudest.”
Praying hymns is a way of elevating our words beyond our immediate emotions and scrambled thoughts; it’s a way of articulating to our own hearts what we know to be true, of expressing faith in God’s promises, of responding to what is real instead of what we feel.
How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?
But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing the Lord’s praise, for he has been good to me.
Hymn mixes are some of my go-to playlists as I cook dinner, clean the house, or run errands. We keep a hymnal by Abby’s bed and sing from it at bedtime. I’m always in the process of practicing the hymns I know as well as intentionally memorizing new ones.
So when the storms hit and my own words fail, I know I’ve got some rope.***
Just in case you’re wondering: Yes, and double the emphasis on memorizing Scripture itself for all the reasons above! I assume you’re already doing that, though.)
**Actually, NOT a hymn.
***Observant long-time readers, you might recognize that today’s post is adapted from this original post: Hymns so Rich, so Free
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