When I was seven, my father worked in the Mammoth and Morning coal mine in Washington State, USA, till his frozen lungs wouldn’t let him go underground anymore. We knew what “poor” was, but “jobless” was a whole other experience for our family.
My mother stitched (badly) winter coats for us out of men’s suit jackets. The day when we wore them on the school bus coming home down one of the Selkirk Mountains, I watched my younger sister take hers off and throw it out the window into the Kootenai river.
“What are you doing?” I gasped.
“Now, they’ll have to buy me a proper kid’s coat,” she said. “But I’m cold. Give me yours.”
At school, our class was staging the song, Red Wing, about an Indigenous girl waiting for her lover (an odd choice for second-graders). Who would play Red Wing?
Our teacher said, “Since we have no girls with long dark braids, we’ll have to make do with Corinne” (her favourite, a blonde with curly hair).
I had long dark braids, but we were poor, and my best friend, also with long dark braids, was Indigenous.
“So, Corinne has agreed to wear a wig,” the teacher concluded.
Are you keeping some childhood pains, like mine, warm and well-fed by long-stored-up resentments?
How Can I Keep From Singing by Robert Lowry (1826-1899) was the very first song my husband taught me. It begins: “My life flows on in endless song; above earth’s lamentation”.
“Lamentation” is an all-purpose word that rolls injustice, regret, and sorrow into one big ball of bitterness.
We can choose to bounce such a ball around in our lives, growing it bigger and heavier, complaining often about the way life has done us wrong. Or, Lowry reminds us, we can let go of lamenting forever and choose to sing. The choice is ours!
The hymn sets an example for believers to follow in rejoicing, and mentions a whole lot of reasons for us to rejoice, even in dark times:
- We are part of a new creation coming, that won’t have any pain.
- This “new creation” echoes in our souls so that we hear it twice.
- We have a living Saviour Who is Lord of heaven and earth.
- He gives us something to learn and sing about even when things seem bleak.
- We are safe and protected by Him despite the way that things are going.
- He smooths the path ahead on our journey with Him, day by day.
- We find a fresh way of thinking and being as we follow Him.
- Blessings keep on coming as though we had a fountain full and deep inside us.
- Everything that we have ever needed comes from Him through faith.
- All these things and more give us reason to sing.
Jeremiah, that career prophet of the Old Testament, catalogued grief for his times in two books, the first under his own name and the second in Lamentations, where he concludes from experience, “The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning.” (Lamentations 3:22-23 NLT)
Prayer: Dear Father God, thank You for examples in Scripture of how others have come rejoicing through times like these, by faith in You and Your Word. Thank You for allowing us to see the hope and strength that You offer. Teach us to sing. Amen.