‘Strength for Today and Bright Hope for Tomorrow’ or, It Matters What You Sing

Published 10:39 am Saturday, November 8, 2014

You may recognize the words that serve as the title for this column. They come from the powerful hymn, “Great is Thy Faithfulness” and are the words that came to my mind last night as I pondered the events of the past few days. I have spent most of the past week at the hospital with my father as he has undergone open heart surgery. The procedure went as well as could be expected, and, God willing, by the time you read these words he will have been discharged (your prayers are still appreciated!). Even though everything has gone fairly well, major surgery is a time when we are all confronted with our mortality and the mortality of those around us. The events of the last few days have reminded me more fully than any conversation of the reality of pain and death.

I expect many of you who are reading this column have been where I was over the last week: sitting in a waiting room, sleeping on a hospital couch, talking with a surgeon and watching someone you love face the challenges of diagnosis, surgery and recovery. None of it is pleasant, and all of it gives you a lot of time to think. Inevitably, your thoughts go, as mine went, to thinking about the realities of pain and death in our world.

I have found that the best way for me to process my thoughts is to sit down with my journal and write. When I journal to process my thoughts, I simply write what is on my mind. Sometimes it is a conversation with God and sometimes it is a conversation with myself, but I find that journaling almost always helps me to make sense of the (usually jumbled) thoughts floating around in my head.

As I journaled last night two things came to my mind. First, I am not afraid of death. I am confident in God’s grace, love and power to take care of me and those around me when we die, so death does not really scare me. The second thought that came to me was “I am afraid of the process of dying.”

It sounds painful and I think I would rather avoid it. The more I thought about the pain of dying, the more I disliked the idea, and the more fearful I became.

It was in that moment I remembered something very important. I remembered that God does not only show up after we have died, but God is present with us in the midst of life. I remembered that God is with us in our joys and our struggles, in our happiness and our pain, and in every moment. The reason I remembered God’s presence was that God called to my mind those words I began this column with: “Strength for today AND bright hope for tomorrow.”

It matters what you sing, because the words that you sing become the wallpaper of your life. They are the words that float through your head throughout the day and they are the words that come to mind when you are faced with the challenges of life, pain and death. They can be the words that remind you of things you know to be true, but struggle to remember as you face the challenges of life. They can also be words that tear you down in those challenging moments if the songs you sing are songs of despair instead of hope.

I didn’t learn something new about God in that moment when the words of “Great is Thy Faithfulness” came to my mind. I know that God is always present and always working. However, in that moment, I had taken my eyes off of God and was looking only at my fear. I needed something to help me get my eyes back pointing in the right direction. A song will do that well. In fact, I have been humming the same song ever since and those words have helped me keep my eyes on God.

There are lots of great songs. Some are hymns. Some are secular. Some are praise songs. I don’t really care what label the songs receive, but I so care that the songs you use as wallpaper for your life are songs that are going to point you in the right direction!

At Courtland United Methodist Church we are serious about figuring out how to find God in the hard times of life, whether it is through a song or a friend or a prayer. We are equally serious about being honest that there are times when it is hard to see God. There are times when our eyes are looking elsewhere and we struggle to re-center ourselves on God. We bring all of this together when we gather in groups both large and small. We would love to have you join us if you are interested in seeking God in an honest community of imperfect people.

We are going to try again to being our series entitled “Anticipate God” this Sunday at 11 a.m. God willing, I will be there. I am confident that God will be there. You are welcome to be there too!

ANDREW BOOK is the pastor of Courtland United Methodist Church. He can be contacted at 653-2240 or andrew@courtlandumcva.org