When Praise Hymns Hurt: Rather Long Ramblings, Rabbit Trails, and Reminiscing

After church on a Sunday a while back, Thomas asked me, “What did you think of the sermon?”

I answered back, “What did you think of the hymns?”

Before I go on, I want to be sure everyone understands that both the hymns and the sermon were excellent, and the questions above were directed, not at the quality of the hymns, but on our emotional capacity and reactions for these hymns and sermon.

We had a moment’s silence as we got on the highway.

I love to sing. My sister and I would sing together as we washed dishes every night. We would inevitably end up with her playing the piano, and I singing alongside her, turning the pages and choosing our favorite hymns and choir songs. Nowadays, my husband and I sing hymns together as lullaby’s, or to help each other remember titles.

But singing praises and grieving at the same time is a tall order.

We had three hymns that Sunday. Take My Life and Let It Be, Be Thou My Vision, and Holy, Holy, Holy. The first one was easier to sing. The other two were vastly more difficult.


As we were driving, we tried to put it into words. The only way I could describe it at first was through academic terms: the first is Aristotelian, the second two are Platonic. The first takes each piece of myself, separates them out, and gives each, one by one, to the Lord for him to use. In a way, I can give up my feet, and then my hands, and then my gold, and forget about each piece that came before or that is to follow. The second describes the glory, goodness, righteousness, power, love, and holiness of our Almighty God.

Thomas described it slightly differently. He said it felt easier to sing about “MY” life, but harder to simply praise God, regardless of where I stand.

This is the part of the post that becomes incredibly rabbit-trailed. If you are confused, I certainly don’t mind if you move on.

(I must also add here that Thomas and I are both fairly private individuals with strong academic bents. We grieve by trying to put our thoughts, our emotions, our confusions, into words for each other. I post these words and thoughts, not simply as an outlet to some very real emotions, but also as a way to work through grief. I hope that this will give some comfort to another woman, somewhere, who is working through the pain of losing a child. Please continue to keep use close to your hearts in prayer, but please also give us some space to work through this ourselves.)

  1. I just finished reading A Grief Observed, by C. S. Lewis. Someone once told me that Lewis was a horrible theologian. That might be true. But most theologians I know are not always good about apologizing (in both senses of the word), so I guess it’s only fair to not expect one of the greatest apologists of the modern era to also be an incredible theologian. I take great comfort from his thoughts and journalings. They never made complete sense to me until now. They are no longer exhausted ramblings lacking coherent transitions. For I see that grief is made up entirely of exhausted ramblings lacking coherent transitions. At one moment, I will be able to talk with Thomas about how wonderful God is to work reunification. The next moment, I will be wrestling (unsuccessfully, it feels) with bitterness and anger. After reading Lewis, I take comfort in knowing that even the greatest of minds experienced these sudden midnight moments. I also take comfort in the last few pages. Sometimes it feels like I will never be able to enter the second bedroom again, once our little one is gone. Won’t the memories, the grief, be too near, too present in that little room? No. It seems that the memories, the joy, will be more solid in time. Solid enough to hold close and put away when needed. To put away to make room for another little person, and the joy and memories there.
  2. Again, C. S. Lewis. The Great Divorce is an incredible book. I highly recommend reading it regularly. Right now, my mind constantly returns to the various passages of conversations between characters. How well Lewis understood people! I find that I think often about how God’s glory is so real, so solid, so much more in essence than myself, it would kill me. I always grew up thinking that the mythologies of ancient Greece had the right idea about the result of mortals viewing a deity in full glory: instant death by burning. Now, I’m not so sure. I don’t think God’s glory burns: it pierces, stabs, concusses, breaks, bruises. It could kill us, for certain. And, some people are called to die for His glory. This breaking, though… this glory… it’s a breaking of the heart, a reddening of the eyes from weeping, bruising from trying to walk around the house after sleepless nights. This glory is hard. It hurts. It breaks.
  3. What does it mean for Death to lose its sting? The Grave its victory? What would it be like for the everlasting, everliving Son of a God of Breaking Glory… to die… to be exiled… to be broken and bruised? How can that be comforting to me? I find myself crying bitterly to God (always at night… when the world sleeps and I can hide behind my shutters), “You killed your own Son! I’m not nearly as beloved as Him! So what are you willing to do to me? I’m not even clean enough to be sacrificed… I’m the spotted, lame, blemished, sickly goat… Why should I ever rely on You? I’ve read your word… I know where my kind end up… I’ve read the Psalms. I’m not David. I’m one of the Philistines. Is that why you are doing this to me?” These are lies that grow in magnitude the longer I listen. But underneath it all, if I force myself down to the whisper hiding it…

    Be still, and know that I am God…

  4. I understand Job’s wife, and I am ashamed. “Curse God and die.” Those were her words. This woman lost 10 beloved children in a disaster that could only come from supernatural powers. The grief she must have felt. I understand her now.
  5. Job… I understand him better, too. Not because I feel like him. I certainly don’t have the confidence of righteousness behind me. I have to remind myself (not my friends) that Christ was righteous for me. This is not punishment. It’s glory. Hard, terrible, piercing, all-consuming glory. No, I understand Job because of my husband. How many times has he remembered to pray, when I have been swallowed into thinking about everything. He prays for our little one. He prays for the family, the case-workers, the judges, the doctors. He prays for me. He reminds me that God could take all of it, everything, all that I love, and still sustain me.
  6. When I was younger, I was afraid of falling asleep alone. I had nightmares about waking up to an empty house, or worse, a house with all my family in it, but never waking up. I dove into books, read until I was exhausted, and could fall asleep thinking about other worlds, other people’s problems, their happy endings. I love to read. I’m reading a lot these days, late at night. When I’m finally tired enough to sleep, I fall asleep repeating songs, verses, prayers from my childhood to myself.

    Now the light has gone away. Save your listen while I pray, asking Thee to watch and keep, and to send me quiet sleep. Amen.
    Dear Father in heaven, look down from above. Bless Father and Mother and all those I love. May angels guard over my slumber and when the morning is breaking, awake me. Amen.
    Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep. And if I die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take. Amen.

    It’s true that a child will follow the paths she was trained to tread from an early age. I thank God for parents who gave me such valuable treasures as goodnight songs and prayers for children. Because, sometimes, that’s the only way I can know how to pray.

  7. Also, rather humorously, as a child, I used to crawl out of my bedroom and try to fall asleep on the stair landing where I could hear my parents talking, and know that they were there, and I wasn’t awake alone in a sleeping silent house. Now, I prefer to sleep on the floor of our living room. Surprisingly, I actually sleep soundly, and wake up feeling more refreshed after 6 hours of sleep, rather than the typical 8 hours in my bed. Maybe I have always been a floor sleeper…

In the end, praise hymns are hard. They hurt.But only for a time. After all, God’s glory is often hard, difficult, and excruciating. Look at the cross. But Christ was resurrected. My sins were washed away. God’s glory might come with pain in the night.

But Joy comes with the Morning.


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