Reaching the Grieving Heart with Hymns

by Dawn Oaks on March 1, 2015 · 0 comments

I received word this week from a friend that her mom passed away quickly and unexpectedly.  In the midst of all the logistics of getting home and helping her father, her heart is hurting.  She is grieving!  It is in the moments of grief that words seem to be so inadequate.  The person that is grieving finds it so difficult to even begin finding the right words to give significance to what they are feeling and the meaning of the relationship that is now lost in some ways.  For those that surround the grieving, there are no words that we can begin to share that will alleviate an ounce of the pain and sorrow.  In our humanness, we want to make it all better.  But is that what grieving is really about.  It is in feeling the loss that we get a tiny glimpse into the how our Heavenly Father felt separated from His own son as Christ was turned over to death at the time of His crucifixion.  It also helps to magnify the importance of our earthly relationships and how God has knit us together.

As Christians, we are not left in despair with no hope.  For our hope lies in not a crucified man, but an Everlasting and Victorious Savior.  But God does understand the pain, the loneliness, and the darkness of our grief.  There are many verses of Scripture that address our crying out and even moanings before the Lord.  Utterances from our very soul where words fail.  God understands our moanings, our crying out, and times when words are so lacking.  We yearn though to put these feelings into words so that we can put boundaries around our pain and share it in a more concrete way with those around us.

Healing Music

Over the years, I have found no better way to bridge this gap than music.  It transcends past the mental exercise of words and speaks a more native language to our hearts.  I have felt this personally in grieving the loss of my mom, a dear sister-in-law, and close friends.  Professionally in having worked as a music therapist, there were times of healing that I saw through the use of music that did not seem achievable separate from its power.

My greatest love during these difficult times are some of the powerful hymns stored away in many church closets as they are replaced by large screens with the words of Contemporary Praise songs projected.  There is a power in the hymns of days past that I fear our generation and those that will come after will suffer the loss of.  Don’t get me wrong.  I love praise and worship music, but there are times when the depth of both the music and lyrics of the older hymns can speak our crying out and inward groanings like nothing else can.

Before I knew her mom had passed, my friend posted the beginning of the hymn, It is Well with My Soul as her facebook status.  When I first saw the words, my mind went immediately back to our first days on the mission field in 1993.  Gary and I had just arrived in Alaska and it was one of my first days in our staff devotions on Wednesday mornings.  As I was still learning the names of the other missionaries, there was a couple that struck me as we sang this same song.  Their faces were marked with a determination to join us in singing as tears streamed down their cheeks and fresh, raw grief was apparent.  It was after our time together that one of our nurses shared that Burt and his wife had just returned from burying their young daughter.  She had been serving on the mission field in Germany when she was killed.  They sang in the midst of their sobs with a determination to keep singing until their heart caught up to the words that were being uttered from their mouths.

It is Well with My Soul

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.

It is well with my soul,
It is well, it is well with my soul.

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.

My sin—oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!—
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

For me, be it Christ, be it Christ hence to live:
If Jordan above me shall roll,
No pang shall be mine, for in death as in life
Thou wilt whisper Thy peace to my soul.

But, Lord, ’tis for Thee, for Thy coming we wait,
The sky, not the grave, is our goal;
Oh, trump of the angel! Oh, voice of the Lord!
Blessed hope, blessed rest of my soul!

And Lord, haste the day when the faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul.

Before Gary and I were blessed to have children, an older couple in church shared with us how they would sing hymns to their children rather than lullabies.  I took this to heart and all through their early days, the great hymns of our faith were sung over our children.  At 17 months of age, our youngest was involved in an accident that caused one of his fingers to be amputated.  As we were in the emergency room of Children’s Hospital in Cincinnati, he became hysterical while the plastic surgeons attempted to graft his finger back on.  As I stood by the bedside, the doctors told me to sing his favorite song to see if it helped to distract him.  I stood there incredulous.  What they did not know was that our son’s favorite song at the time was the hymn, Count Your Blessings.  I battled with God in not knowing another time in my life that I struggled so in seeing the blessings through the pain.  In the distance, I could hear the doctors urging me to sing.  So as Burt and his wife had several years past in Alaska, I began singing with determination words that had a hard time reaching my heart with tears streaming down my face.

Count Your Blessings

When upon life’s billows you are tempest-tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord has done.

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.]

Are you ever burdened with a load of care?
Does the cross seem heavy you are called to bear?
Count your many blessings, every doubt will fly,
And you will keep singing as the days go by.

When you look at others with their lands and gold,
Think that Christ has promised you His wealth untold;
Count your many blessings—*money cannot buy [*wealth can never buy]
Your reward in heaven, nor your home on high.

So, amid the conflict whether great or small,
Do not be discouraged, God is over all;
Count your many blessings, angels will attend,
Help and comfort give you to your journey’s end.

My favorite hymn of all is How Great Thou Art.  Not only does it speak of God’s greatness, but also how in His very essence He is truly the only one worthy of our praise.  But there is an emotional connection as well.  It is one of several hymns that was sung at my mother’s funeral 34 years ago.  I remember as it was sung how happy she was in being in His presence.  How she would be singing How Great Thou Art face to face with my Savior and how someday I would join her in that chorus on the streets of gold.  The feelings became that much more poignant when a dear friend passed away a few years ago and we too sang of how great our God was.  How I blasted that song and sang at the top of my lungs as I drove my car in those early days of her passing.

How Great Thou Art

O Lord my God, When I in awesome wonder,
Consider all the worlds Thy Hands have made;
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder,
Thy power throughout the universe displayed.

Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, How great Thou art.
Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, How great Thou art!

When through the woods, and forest glades I wander,
And hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees.
When I look down, from lofty mountain grandeur
And see the brook, and feel the gentle breeze.

Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, How great Thou art.
Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, How great Thou art!

And when I think, that God, His Son not sparing;
Sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in;
That on the Cross, my burden gladly bearing,
He bled and died to take away my sin.

Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, How great Thou art.
Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, How great Thou art!

When Christ shall come, with shout of acclamation,
And take me home, what joy shall fill my heart.
Then I shall bow, in humble adoration,
And then proclaim: “My God, how great Thou art!”

Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, How great Thou art.
Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, How great Thou art! 

I wish I could promise that life’s trials were over, but they aren’t.  There will be more days of grieving and pain.  Hurts may abound, but God is still God.  He will continue to heal your wounds, listen to your cries and carry you each step of the way when you are just too weary.  So join me in singing the hymns from the midst of our pain until our hearts catch up to our mouths in uttering His Praise.

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