My young hands held the navy blue church hymnal firmly on the corners that had heard many a voice sing across its pages over the years in the hard pews of my small country church as I was growing up. The pages smelled of a touch of mustiness …all part of the memory.
I loved singing. I had sung since the tender age of 4. The words of the decades old hymn seemed to flow effortlessly from my lips…
My young body sunk softly into my grandma’s seventies couch as I proceeded to sing my own concert to nobody else but grandma’s beautifully blooming Christmas cactus, centered in the front of the living room picture window, and shelves of black-and-white framed photos of generations past, listening in respectful silence.
“What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear, what a privilege to carry, everything to God in prayer.”
Sung with the innocence of my age, I didn’t know then how much these words would come to mean to me in the coming 5 decades in different seasons of my life journey. What a friend He truly became as the mountain tops gave way to valleys through the seasons.
Fast forward 30 years.
I gently held one corner of the navy blue church hymnal with my dad, dressed in his Sunday best, firmly holding the other side.
“What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear...”
My soprano voice blended effortlessly with my dad’s beautiful bass voice as we stood together, side-by-side, bringing the gift of song to my grandparents, my dad’s parents, on their 60th wedding anniversary. They too will have experienced the words of this song as they had journeyed many seasons together raising 6 children, and loving on many grandchildren and great grandchildren over the decades.The suttle glistening in both my grandparents eyes said it all…
“What a privilege to carry everything to God and prayer.”
Fast forward a few more years… sitting low beside my grandpa’s contented face as he lay feebly on the temporary bed made up for him, where life was coming quickly to a close for his life’s journey in the living room of the home, he and the love of his life, grandma, had shared for 60 plus years. His pure white,stiff, bristly hair, stood at attention as I had always remembered it as a child growing up.
It was a familar comfort even now when life was ebbing quickly for my grandpa.
Now in my late thirties, having a young family of my own, I quietly and gently sang the words of the familiar hymn once again…
“What a friend we have in Jesus…“
My voice trailed off as his tired eyes drooped heavily, but in a moment, my grandpa gifted me with a heartfeld “Thank you!“in his low familiar voice I had heard for so many years of my life…
My grandpa peacefully left for Heaven just days later, but I was so comforted to know he had the comfort of his Jesus… what a friend.
Fast forward 20 more years; my dad, now laying in his bed most days, having had to say goodbye to his sweetheart of 53 years 2 years by now, left to face life with a debilitating stroke that accompanied him for over 13 years.
“What’s song would you like me to sing dad?”… was a question I asked often as we spent time together in the evenings after the home care had left. My dad’s verberating bass voice answered as he stared at the ceiling, laying on his back, ready for bed, all tuck in by those who cared for him round the clock…
“What a friend we have in Jesus!…”
Now it was my turn to have glistening eyes as the days of our duo singing were over, as the stroke had stolen a part of his singing voice among many other things.
Yet I knew as I sang the old familiar hymn with a lump in my throat, that my dad was singing along in his spirit as I saw the glisten, now in his eyes as the words that had comforted 3 generations over the years through many valleys, spilled out of my now quivering lips.
Life had been hard for my dad the past 13 years dependent on so many others …
“What a friend we have in Jesus….“
My dad met his friend Jesus the next night… face-to-face… It had come full circle as I now needed the words of that beautiful hymn as I said goodbye to my beautiful dad.
This one line of this beloved 18th century hymn had stood the test of time for 3 generations… and can continue to do so for many more generations I believe…
“What a friend we have in Jesus….”