How I Sing The Hymns That Hurt My Heart

I grew up singing hymns.

I was introduced to praise choruses in my mid-twenties.

I love both.

I used to hear or sing along to them and feel them feed my spirit.

My family sang in choirs, served on worship teams and was rarely absent from church for over twenty years.  Music was part of everyday life with a special bonus on Sundays.  

dominic at gray haven

Now I find it hard to hear and even harder to sing some hymns I used to love. 

One of the most challenging is “It Is Well”-really, IS it well? 

Can I sing these words with conviction or am I lying my way through just to keep others from asking questions?  

I know the story behind the hymn-at least the part every worship leader or pastor likes to share.  Horatio Spafford wrote the words as he passed the very spot where his daughters drowned in an ocean crossing.  His life didn’t end on a high note.  It’s often introduced as an amazing testimony of victory over grief and death.  If I only cling harder to Jesus, I, too, can experience perfect peace in the midst of great trial and suffering.

it is well hymn music image

We sang that hymn in church a couple of weeks ago and I realized that it is a prayer as much as (or instead of) a declaration.

In many ways, after 5 years, it IS well with my soul.

I’ve reached a place where I can rest easy with unanswered questions and where I have finally received this blow with open arms. I’m not fighting the FACT of my son’s earlier than expected move to Heaven.

On those days, I can sing the chorus as an affirmation of truth.  

i thessalonians 3 peace

But I have days (and sometimes weeks) where life and memories and anniversaries and random stress unsettle me again. So then I sing it as a PRAYER like the psalmist who turns his heart to the only One Who can fill it again with grace, peace and hope. 

It may not be well right NOW, but it WILL be well.  

sings with song

I can trust that He who began a good work in me will complete it.

I can lean on the truth that in Christ every promise of God is “yes” and “amen”.

I know, deep in my bones, that all this heartache will ultimately be redeemed and that whatever I have lost in this life will be gloriously restored in Heaven. 

Blink of an eye heaven

Count Your Blessings?

Count your blessings, name them one by one,
Count your blessings, see what God has done!
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
*Count your many blessings, see what God has done.
[*And it will surprise you what the Lord has done.]

COUNT YOUR BLESSINGS by Johnson Oatman, Jr.

I grew up singing this hymn.  It has a catchy tune and a good message-if the most trying thing you have had to endure is ordinary disappointment.

But if you’ve been devastated by the storms of life, hope dashed to bits on the rock of despair, heart shattered into a million pieces by loss-well then, the advice seems rather infantile and useless, however good-intentioned.

It is useless, if what I’m trying to do (or what someone else is trying to do for me) is pile up blessings on one side and losses on the other and make the scales balance or better yet-tip toward the blessing side.

Because there is NO way to balance losing my son with any earthly blessing.

I have my other children.  Yes, but I had them when I still had him.  I have my health (sort of).  Yes, but I had it when I still had him.  I have a home, freedom, food-yes, yes, yes.  But all that I had when I still had him.

So you see, I can’t make it balance out.  No one can.

But there is a kernel of truth in this hymn.  And it’s not in trying to pile up one side and weigh it against the other.

No.

The truth lies in two things:  First, when I learn to count blessings I change my heart’s focus from what I’ve lost (and cannot regain this side of heaven) to what I still have.  It helps me live forward instead of trying (without success) to live in the past.  It whispers hope and courage instead of shouting death and despair.

Second, counting blessings forces me to see God’s faithful love even in the midst of terrible loss.  It reminds me of Who He is, what He has done and what He continues to do.  It brings to mind and burns into my spirit the truth that God never fails, His Word is true and He will finish what He started.

The Psalmist begins many of his songs with something like this:  “Where are You God?”  “Why have You forgotten me, God?”  “When will you answer my plea, God?”

He lays out his case, his worries, his broken heart before the Lord, begging for mercy, for action, for some kind of observable help.

And then there’s a turn in the song, it’s like a switch is flipped in the Psalmist’s heart-he remembers…

He remembers Who God is, what He has done in the past, how His faithful love has sustained him and continues to sustain him.

Nothing has changed except the Psalmist started counting blessings.  The pile of blessings didn’t outweigh the pile of troubles but it bore testimony to God’s gracious goodness even in the midst of trouble.

That spoke hope and courage to the Psalmist’s heart.

And it speaks hope and courage to mine.

How long, O Eternal One? How long will You forget me? Forever?
    How long will You look the other way?

How long must I agonize,
    grieving Your absence in my heart every day?
How long will You let my enemies win?

Turn back; respond to me, O Eternal, my True God!
    Put the spark of life in my eyes, or I’m dead.
My enemies will boast they have beaten me;
    my foes will celebrate that I have stumbled.

But I trust in Your faithful love;
    my heart leaps at the thought of imminent deliverance by You.
I will sing to the Eternal,
    for He is always generous with me.

Psalm 13 VOICE