I was wide awake in the middle of the night, my mind churning with heart-wrenching news and images from Afghanistan and Haiti. As I tried to replace those troubled thoughts with happier ones, my mind settled on my family—but instead of growing calmer I was stirred up with worries for my loved ones.
As my anxiety continued to rise, I remembered a conversation I’d had the previous morning with my friend Ilene, with whom I had not spoken for a year and a half. When asked how she had fared during the Covid-19 shutdowns, Ilene replied that as the stresses of isolation and uncertainty set in, she decided to start and end each day at the piano. In the morning she played through a cheerful hymn, such as There is Sunshine in My Soul Today, which set a positive tone. When evening came, she sat at the piano once again and played a hymn such as Abide with Me; ‘Tis Eventide, to soothe her soul. (1, 2)
Lying anxiously in my bed, my mind caught hold on the hymn The Spirit of God, and as I sang it silently to myself I felt a slight release of tension. (3) My fears and concerns did not immediately dissipate, but I continued to review hymns and primary songs, and finally relaxed enough to fall asleep. In times of stress, I often turn to the scriptures, prayer, and the temple, and feel blessed for doing so. But sometimes I forget the spiritual power of inspiring words set to a simple melody.
Setting words to music gives them staying power in our memories. Though we may not recall what we ate for breakfast yesterday, we can hear a song on the radio for the first time in decades and be able to sing every word. This is one reason why we should pay attention to the hymns in our church services, even if we are not singers. We need those words of comfort, encouragement, testimony, and peace to be stored in our mental archives so we can access them in times of trouble.
One of my strongest memories of a hymn bringing comfort occurred during my college years. I was stunned when my friend Rob was struck and killed by lightning. This was the first time I had experienced the loss of someone so close to my age, and grief nearly overwhelmed me. Though the funeral service was a beautiful tribute to Rob’s life, I continued to be stirred up inside, heartsick. A day or two after the burial, I was sitting at the piano providing prelude music for my singles ward Relief Society meeting. With tears in my eyes, I worked my way slowly through several hymns, then softly played the song Abide with Me! Though no one was singing, the lovely pleading hymn text filtered through my mind, and somewhere in the middle of the verses I felt a gentle warmth spreading over me–easing the ache in my heart. The song was an invitation for the Lord to abide with me, and He answered through the Comforter. (4)
Recently, I read a young man’s touching story:
“[For years I have struggled to overcome an addiction to pornography.] One Sunday night, right before we went to my sister’s graduation from Institute, I let inappropriate memories run through my mind. I noticed the loss of the Spirit instantly and tried not to cry in the back of the car. I was full of absolute sadness and emptiness like nothing I’d ever experienced before. I sat silent through the meeting, leaving to cry in the bathroom. When I returned, the choir sang a beautiful song, and I felt the love and light of the Spirit. The chair in front of me happened to be empty in the middle of a packed building. On it was the program for the graduation. I could see the lyrics of the hymn How Firm a Foundation. I read through the song and as I reached the end it said, ‘I’ll never, no never, no never forsake!’ I read it a few times and let it sink in.” (5)
In a difficult moment, the words of the song actually brought a smile to the face of this young man. The hymn’s strong declaration that the Savior would never forsake him was a timely reminder for a struggling teenager that he need not give up–that God was aware of him.
A hymn may contain a mini sermon or much needed encouragement:
Why should we mourn or think our lot is hard?
‘Tis not so; all is right.
Why should we think to earn a great reward
if we now shun the fight?
Gird up your loins; fresh courage take.
Our God will never us forsake;
and soon we’ll have this tale to tell–
All is well! All is well! (6)
Whispering even one line of a hymn can strengthen our testimony when we are wavering:
~I know that my Redeemer lives. What comfort this sweet sentence gives! (7)
~I feel my Savior’s love in all the world around me.(8)
Sometimes a song becomes a prayer:
~Heavenly Father, are you really there? And do you hear and answer every child’s prayer?(9)
~O Savior, stay this night with me… (10)
~I need thee, oh, I need Thee. Every hour I need Thee!(11)
On a late-night flight over the Pacific Ocean, six young missionaries sat in a row. A few of them were dozing, a few were imagining the life they were headed toward in the Philippines, and at least one sister was edging toward panic. She later wrote:
“I began to get really scared. It was late at night and most of the lights were out, and I was wondering if I could really do this. I prayed to have peace in my heart, and Elder Clark–who was sitting next to me–quietly began to sing the first verse of Lead, Kindly Light:
Lead, kindly light, amid the encircling gloom;
Lead thou me on.
The night is dark, and I am far from home;
Lead thou me on. (12)
“Immediately I felt so much relief and courage. Even though I was still a bit scared, I knew I could trust the Lord.”
The light and truth in hymns and spiritual songs bring peace to fearful hearts and calm us when trouble is near. President Marion G. Romney shared the following experience:
As a child I lived in a land torn by a devastating revolution…I became greatly disturbed and agitated. Well do I remember when word came that the rebels were marching on Chihuahua City from Ciudad Juarez on the north and that the Federals were marching on the same city from Torreon on the south. My distress turned to…terror when they met at Casas Grandes, just ten miles away, and the shooting began…My fears were tempered some as I listened to my sainted mother lull her babies to sleep. The words of the songs she sang comforted me. Some of them have been ringing in my mind through the intervening two-thirds of a century.
“When the earth begins to tremble,
Bid our fearful thoughts be still;
When thy judgments spread destruction,
Keep us safe on Zion’s hill. (13, 14)
We live in a turbulent season. The next time you feel anxious or fearful, consider the hymns as a source of solace, strength, and testimony. The more attention you pay to the words, the deeper the peace and inspiration you will feel. How vital are these musical reminders that there is no enemy too strong, no sin too dark, and no pain too fierce for Jesus Christ to overcome. I leave you with the beautiful hymn text of God Moves in a Mysterious Way, second verse:
“Ye fearful Saints, fresh courage take;
the clouds ye so much dread
are big with mercy and shall brake
in blessings on your head.” (15)
- There is Sunshine in My Soul Today, Hymns, 227.
- Abide with Me; ‘Tis Eventide, Hymns, 165.
- The Spirit of God, Hymns, 2.
- Abide with Me, Hymns, 166.
- How Firm a Foundation, Hymns, 85.
- Come, Come Ye Saints, Hymns, 30.
- I Know that My Redeemer Lives, Hymns, 136.
- I Feel My Savior’s Love, Children’s Songbook, 74.
- A Child’s Prayer, Children’s Songbook, 12.
- Abide with Me; ‘Tis Eventide, Hymns, 165.
- I Need Thee Every Hour, Hymns, 98.
- Lead, Kindly Light, Hymns, 97.
- Guide Us, O Thou Great Jehovah, Hymns, 83.
- President Marion G. Romney, Ensign, July 1981.
- God Moves in a Mysterious Way, Hymns, 285.