One of the strange things about my personality is that usually when I’m feeling emotional, I tend to want to lean into it and amplify that emotion with whatever music I’m listening to. (Maybe it’s not all that strange, actually. I’m sure I’m not alone.) When I’m feeling buoyant, I’ll listen to something with good tempo and a bright melody to lift me even higher. When I’m excited, I’ll bolster that excitement with thrilling music. When I’m feeling down, I’ll drag myself even further into the mire with solemn songs.
This morning I was struggling mightily with anxiety and painful depression. I’m running on very little sleep, and my feet are having trouble finding purchase on calm lands. I’ve read some Bible verses, I’ve prayed, and still I am anxious to the point of panic. I know intellectually that my Father will lift me when He sees that I am ready, and that the future, while unknown, will be safe and warm and dry and full of love. I have faith in that.
But that hasn’t helped my emotional state right this second.
So, against my usual inclination, I made a conscious decision to find music to turn the tide. I thought that something joyful might do the trick, but to no avail; either I failed to find the right song, or there isn’t one for my state right now. Then I thought of something with great energy, but still I struggled. Then, as if from nowhere, my prayer was answered in a flash of understanding.
I turned to something from deep in my past; a song I’d forgotten about from long ago. A hymn from the church of my youth, Hymn 789 from the Lutheran song book. It is unquestionably, undoubtedly my favorite song of praise. I never sang it in a talented choir, or even learned all the parts. I barely remember the words, but I do remember that the tune, “Bunessan,” and the lyrics of praise always made me happy, and proud to be on God’s earth. (Most people know the tune from the Cat Stevens song “Morning has Broken.”) I’m absolutely certain that I never fully understood what the lyrics truly meant, but looking back on it now–and listening to it–I’m heartened to find that the song has even more power in my heart today than it did 25 years ago:
Praise and thanksgiving, Father, we offer
for all things living, created good:
harvest of sown fields, fruits of the orchard,
hay from the mown fields, blossom and wood.
Bless, Lord, the labor we bring to serve you,
that with our neighbor we may be fed.
Sowing or tilling, we would work with you,
harvesting, milling for daily bread.
Father, providing food for your children,
by your wise guiding, teach us to share
one with another, so that, rejoicing
with us, all others may know your care.
Then will your blessing reach ev’ry people,
freely confessing your gracious hand.
Where all obey you, no one will hunger;
in your love’s sway you nourish the land.
It’s a song of hard labor, and of glad tidings and togetherness. But the title of the song is Praise and Thanksgiving for a reason. I think that’s just what I needed, really. Not something uplifting and buoyant, or energized. I needed a moment of praise and thanksgiving to my Lord.
I was reading a little bit from the book of James last night, and I came across this passage that seems apropos this morning: “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights” (James 1:17). It’s not a mystery why that song “popped” into my head this morning, after having not thought about it for so many years: it was an answer–a gift from above–to my prayer for healing.
This line from Psalms also brought me some measure of comfort this morning: “The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and he helps me. My heart leaps for joy, and with my song I praise him” (Psalm 28:7). On one hand, it’s strange to think that a moment of grateful thanksgiving and praise might quiet an anxious heart. But when I think about it, it’s really not that strange at all.