When I was growing up in my parent’s church, I considered the hymns kind of a pain, and I couldn’t wait for them to get over. After all, I thought of them as just “filler” that made the service longer, and I was always in a hurry for it to end. Luckily, we usually only sang a couple of verses — seldom, as far as I can remember, the whoooole thing!
Then, when I joined Hubby’s church when we married, I quickly found out that they sang every verse of every song! If I had known that before we got married, it might have been a deal breaker! Well, not really, but I have to say, it did seem like all those verses of a hymn just went on f.o.r.e.v.e.r. But, gradually I learned some things that changed my opinion.
It took me a while to figure out (with the help of Hubby, the parochial school grad) that hymns are like stories, and each verse is like a chapter. I had never thought of a hymn as a story. In fact, I have to admit, that I had never paid much attention to the words of a hymn. Of course, all the familiar words were usually there like, Jesus, redemption, heaven, temptation, salvation, etc., but I had never taken the time to actually read the way the composer had used those and other words to tell a story, or make a point, and ultimately, to praise God. Yes, you can read just the most important chapters of a book and get the essence of its story, but if you read all the chapters you get the fuller, more complete story that the author intended. The same is true of a hymn. Once I realized that, and started actually listening to the words that we sang, a hymn had alot more meaning for me, and I didn’t mind singing (and hearing) everything the composer had to say.
In order to tell the whole story about hymn singing, I need to tell you a little of Hubby’s history. He may be the parochial school grad, and the life-long Lutheran, but he doesn’t sing in church. He follows along and read the words, but seldom actually sings. In fact, he hardly ever sings anywhere, and here’s the reason why. When he was in 8th grade and preparing for confirmation with his class, his voice was changing. You know how unpredictable a pre-teen boy’s voice can be. Anyway, when they were practicing for confirmation, the 8th grade teacher told Hubby not to sing, just mouth the words. Right then and there, Hubby decided that he couldn’t sing, and he has avoided singing if at all possible every since — anywhere. He knows realistically that there’s nothing wrong with his voice, but he has not sung regularly for so long now, that it just doesn’t feel natural to him. I tell him that he is going to be soooo surprised when he gets to heaven and God puts him in the choir! He laughs, because he knows he could sing in a choir, but it would take “heavenly intervention” for him to be able to get past his singing “phobia.” And by the way, in the teacher’s defense, I’m sure he was just thinking about getting the group prepared for confirmation, and would never have intentionally had the life-long impact he did on the one 8th grade boy whose voice was changing right then.
So, in church we both hold the hymnal and both read the words but I am the only one who sings most of the time. (Once in a great while, Hubby will sing a song he’s very familiar with.) And when I sing, I never think about who is listening — you know, you’re just one of a bunch of people singing — you certainly aren’t a “soloist” who needs to make sure she’s singing the words the way they’re meant to be sung.
But then, last year, when Hubby and I had very small parts in a theatrical production that the school puts on as a fundraiser, there was a little ditty that needed to be sung during our time on stage and I was asked if I could sing it. I declined. Saying rehearsed lines in front of an audience is one thing, but I certainly didn’t want to try singing in front of them by myself! But, later Hubby told me that he thought I had just as good a voice as the woman who did sing it, and that I should have agreed to sing. I was really surprised that Hubby actually had an opinion about what kind of singing voice I had, and then it struck me. He has stood next to me in church for forty-three years while I sang, in essence, for both of us! So, yeah, I guess he does know pretty well what my voice sounds like!
Loooong story short: I now sing with new resolve because I’m aware that I’m singing those words for both of us — and that Hubby’s listening! But, if you carry that one step further — who else around me in a service might be listening to what and how I am singing — after all, isn’t it a little like reading a story out loud? So, when I sing a hymn now I try to sing it clearly and with inflection that best portrays the meaning the composer intended. If he took the time to write those verses, I guess that’s the least I can do!
And, the other person you are singing the words to a hymn for is God. You are glorifying Him. And is there anything more beautiful than the sound of a group of people singing hymns like “Old Rugged Cross” and “Amazing Grace.” How pleasing that must be to God’s ear.
So, next time you sing a hymn, remember to sing it loud and clear and with meaning. Because you never know whose listening!
May your voice be clear, your salvation be secure and your Sunday be beautiful!
Surely this is a day the Lord hath made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.