My eldest daughter and her husband have been singing with their kids forever. Okay, not literally forever, as her kids are not very old- 5, 4, 3, and 1. However, from the childrens' perspective it is forever, because she was singing hymns to them when they were still in the womb. I have a vivid memory of her singing to her firstborn while he was being resuscitated after being born gray, limp, and unresponsive. I am positive he stayed with us to hear more of his mother's songs.
Very recently this busy family has been working specifically on the hymn Trust and Obey. This mainly means they make sure to sing it every day in a more focused, intentional way. I could tell Trust and Obey was their current hymn because while the grandchildren were visiting me recently, they gathered themselves and their baby cousins together on my stairs and sang most of the hymn together, and my grandma heart was warmed to the core. Imagine the joy of hearing your small grandchildren spontaneously singing hymns together just for fun, because they want to.
A couple of days ago, the four year old unfortunately did not obey, and this resulted in an unplanned trip to the emergency room where she had to have a blood draw to determine just how dangerous her disobedience had been. To be honest, it was a pretty rough experience for them all, and perhaps especially for our small grand-daughter..
Her brother was born with a medical condition requiring regular blood draws, so she knows more about it than most four year old children. When she saw the white-coated staff coming toward her, she knew what to expect, and she was upset. Her mama offered to sing to her to help her think about something else, and asked what song she would like Mommy to sing.
She was still thinking about what song she wanted when the process began. It wasn't their fault- the ER room was swamped, and other patients were waiting. The staff was as kind as possible, but they were forced to rush. They began with back to back. simultaneous and brutal sticks- again, not their fault. She is not an easy stick. It was at the moment this torture began that my grand-daughter blurted out her answer to her mama's question- she sobbed out "Trust & Obey!" as the hymn she needed her mommy to sing.
Paul and Silas sang hymns in prison, and they were able to do that because they already knew hymns and were used to singing them. She was able to come up with that hymn when she needed it because she already knew it. It's a recent part of her family stock of songs. She endured while Mommy sang. But more was yet to come. They took the finished blood draws and dashed out of the room so they could quickly get it to the lab and move on to other patients. Not much later a nurse returned, saying, "Bad news. one of them clotted before they could analyze it. I'm afraid we need another draw."
Can you imagine how my little grand-daughter must have felt when she heard this? What do you suppose she was thinking when someone else came in and chatted gently with her while looking for another vein to jab in this petite morsel of a four year old?
Would you believe that she was thinking of another hymn to sing and even choosing the order (she is a bit of a control freak at times)?
While the nurse was searching for her vein, my nervous and fearful grand-daughter asked her Mama, "Can you sing Jesus Loves me & Trust & Obey? Sing Jesus Loves Me until she puts the needle in and then sing Trust and Obey." She then started chatting with the nurse about this song her family listens to on the computer and then sing together at home, and how it goes... and she sang a good chunk of Trust and Obey on her own to the nurse. My daughter tells me the nurse listened for a while and then said, "I just think it's so special that you sing with them like this!
We are all very encouraged and inspired by this story, although the irony is not lost upon us that she had this opportunity to share this 'testimony' with the nurse precisely because she had not obeyed. She is not a holier than thou, priggish miss who never does anything she shouldn't. She is much more like the little girl in the Longfellow poem, the one with the curl in the middle of her forehead ('when she was good, she was very, very good, but when she was bad, she was horrid!')
There are many children, and adults, too, who might find deep comfort and sustenance in singing these old hymns in times of trial (or in expressing joy). But they cannot, because they have never learned these hymns. Some Christians don't really even see the point in learning hymns. It smacks of rote religion, I suppose, or perhaps it brings a faint whiff of fusty, musty, dead faith. I do not know why- I grew up in a family where a hymnal was a standard part of our 'things to do in the car' on trips and we sang hymns while doing dishes as naturally and easily as we argued over whose turn it was to do the dishes. It may be something 'not done' any more, but that doesn't mean it's outdated and old fashioned. It means we are cut off from our roots.
Is any among you happy? .... merry? .... sing praises.... (James 5:13)
I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my mind. (1 Corinthians 14:15)
...sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. (Colossians 3:16)
Speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your hearts to the Lord. Ephesians 5:19
About midnight, Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God. Acts 16:25
Regular singing, both personal and congregational, of Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs has been part of the Christian tradition from the dawn of Christianity. It is the birthright of every child from a believing family. But we, like Esau, have squandered our heritage for a mess of pottage, very much like Esau, in fact. Esau didn't want to bother to prepare or fetch his own food, and we don't think we need to sing our own songs any longer. In fact, we think we can't because we don't sound like trained musicians and we don't have dub-step at home, so we might, at best, listen to somebody perform these songs once in a while. Listening to a performance may lift our spirits, but Christianity is not a spectator sport. It's personal. It's intimate. It's relationship.
We think the hymns that sustained the believers who went before us are too hard, too old fashioned, out of date, irrelevant, especially to little children. My grand-daughter is, of course, quite advanced for her years. She is bright beyond her chronology. Nevertheless, she is still only four years old. She was near panic in a very frightening and painful situation, and yet, even in that traumatized state, she was encouraged, strengthened, and comforted by a hymn over 100 years old. In fact, it is the hymn that came to mind first for her. This happened because she knew the hymn, because her parents did not decide for her that she could not relate to it or understand it.
In a CM education we build relationships, develop good habits and nurture affinities to complex ideas and practices such as singing hymns, personally engaging in observation for nature study, poetry, art, and great books. We do these things when the children are young so that these connections are already there for the children to draw on when they need them. While God can, of course, work miracles, most often, he works with us where we are. Just the right hymn coming to mind when and where we need it is more likely to happen when those hymns are already a natural, integrated, whole part of our lives.
Please. Sing with your children.
P.S. Grand-daughter's bloodwork all came back fine, and she left the ER saying to her mum, "I guess next time I should.... obey."
Thank-you to my oldest daughter for many things- permission to share this story and edit your words for an AO publication and for being the mother you are to those precious children, and for choosing the good man you did to father those darlings. A big thank-you to all the mothers of my grandchildren, because you all sing hymns with your children regularly and you all have married good men, so a story like this could have come from any of you.