In March 2013 I wrote a post called “Hymns So Rich, so Free.” I believed in the message so strongly, I copied and pasted it into a new post that fall as part of my series “31 Days in a Liturgical Home.” Almost 18 months have passed, so can I tell you again? Hymns are so good for my soul.
I still love the metaphor of Pa Ingalls, keeping a hand on that strong rope as he walked between the house and the barn, knowing that if a blizzard hit without notice, he would be able to find his way back to safety.
The rope was strong. It was tied securely. And it was put in place before the crisis hit. More than ever, I’m aware of how precariously I sit in comfort and safety, knowing that all it takes is one phone call, one distracted moment, one unfortunate case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time to turn the world upside down forever. It’s true for me, and it’s true for my children, and I believe strongly that it is my job to string the rope for us all so that we’re tied to a rock if–when–the storm comes.
The God-inspired words of the Bible are, of course, most important, and I’m trying to pack those into our brains as well as I can. But I value the words of hymns, too, because my own experience tells me that somehow my brain can sing even when it can’t think. And even though they don’t know the meaning of every word that they memorize now, I want hymns to be what my kids sing when they’re paralyzed with shock or fear, whether it’s next month or in fifty years. Because I know that a good hymn will lead them back to the safety of Jesus, no matter how disorienting the storm may be.
Last July my brother-in-law and sister-in-law had to sit down with their ten-year-old daughter and tell her they were out of treatment options for the tumor in her brain. They prayed and worried over how she would react to the news, but her faith amazed and inspired them:
Sandy wrote: [That evening] I heard whistling coming from a bedroom. Thinking it was Brandon, I looked over to him, but he quickly said it wasn’t him….he often is the one who whistles and gets asked to stop. Tonight, it was Amanda. And she was whistling, ‘What a fellowship, what a joy divine, leaning on the everlasting arms. What a blessedness, what a peace is mine, leaning on the everlasting arms. Leaning, leaning, safe and secure from all alarms. Leaning, leaning on the everlasting arms.'”
Amanda had some strong rope.
I reflected later that her parents and her church had given her such a gift in her young years by singing with her and teaching her those songs that strengthened her in her pain and her fear. And now that particular hymn has become an anthem for us all: a comfort for those of us who miss her, and a cause for celebration as we imagine her eternally safe and secure in those everlasting arms.
Last January we tried a simple experiment that actually turned out great (!), so I can share it here with some confidence that it will work for you as well. We chose one song for each month, and I printed the lyrics onto a sheet of paper and laminated it. We’d grab the sheet every night at bedtime (and sometimes before meals or naps), and sing the songs together. Our goal was not to need the sheet any more by the end of the month. (The kids couldn’t read from the sheet, anyway, of course, but they consistently beat us in their memorization.)
I used the seasons, holidays, and family milestones to help me choose a song for each month. This year, we’re continuing the tradition; some months we’re repeating the one we learned last year and some months we’re choosing new ones. I love, love, love, hearing these strong words coming out of my kids’ mouths as they ride in the car or absentmindedly sing while they play.
I encourage you to choose songs that are meaningful to you, that reflect your personal family history, that are soaked in rich truths of the Gospel. And then get singing! (Actual musical ability NOT required.)
Here is our song list, for ideas or inspiration:
January— Epiphany, light
Hymn: “Joyful Joyful We Adore Thee”
“Melt the clouds of sin and sadness/Drive the dark of doubt away
Giver of immortal gladness/Fill us with the light of day”
February— Valentine’s, love
Hymn: “Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us” or “And Can it Be That I Should Gain”
“Amazing Love! How can it be/
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?”
March— spring, renewal
Hymn: “This is My Father’s World” or “To God be the Glory”
“This is my Father’s world/The birds their carols raise
The morning light, the lily white/Declare their maker’s praise”
April— Lent, Easter
Hymn: “When I survey the Wondrous Cross”
“See from his head, his hands, his feet/Sorrow and love flow mingled down
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet/Or thorns compose so rich a crown?”
May— I had already done a springtime song, so I just picked a favorite!
Hymn: Blessed Assurance
“This is my story, this is my song/Praising my Savior all the day long.”
June— Mine and Stephen’s birthdays, so I picked one of our favorites
Hymn: “My Hope is Built on Nothing Less”
“On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.”
July— Sam’s birthday month
Hymn: “Be Still My Soul”
“Be still my soul, the Lord is on thy side/Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain
Leave to thy God to order and provide/In every change, he faithful will remain”
August— Abby’s birthday month
Hymn: “Great is Thy Faithfulness”
“Great is thy faithfulness, O God my Father
There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Thou changest not, Thy compassions they fail not;
As thou hast been, Thou forever wilt be.”
September— Amanda’s birthday month, and the month after her death
Hymn: “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms”
“What have I to dread, what have I to fear, leaning on the everlasting arms?
I have blessed peace, with my Lord so near, leaning on the everlasting arms.”
October— Jem’s birthday month
Hymn: “God of Grace and God of Glory”
“Grant us wisdom, grant us courage, for the living of these days.”
Hymn: “For the Beauty of the Earth”
“Lord of all, to Thee we raise this our hymn of grateful praise!”
Hymn: “O Come, All Ye Faithful”
“O Come Let us Adore Him, Christ the Lord!”