Reprinted from the November / December 2013 issue of “Christian Woman” Magazine.
It is not possible for me to be quietly joyful. I discovered that in a Sears store when I stepped on the escalator going down. The tune, “Whistle While You Work,” barely escaped my lips in a low whistle, scarcely a whisper, I thought. Immediately I heard the next few notes whistled by someone near the bottom of the escalator. My husband and I glanced at each other and chuckled. A stranger and I had made a momentary tuneful connection. That was a surprise to me, and not in keeping with my quiet nature, but it was fun.
At home I listened to music and sang along with the radio or CDs while I cleaned the kitchen. Hymns of praise were some of my favorites. My husband blamed me when he caught himself humming or singing hymns at the office. I smiled and thought, “Thank you, Lord.”
I grew up in a singing family. My sisters and I sang every day while doing our chores. It took us forever to wash and dry the dishes because we got carried away with singing. It made doing the dishes more fun. But some people aren’t tuned in to spreading joy. I once overheard my aunt ask my mother, “Does it get on your nerves – the way the kids sing all the time?”
“No, I like to hear them sing,” my mother said. What my aunt didn’t realize was that my mother sang, too. Sometimes she sat in her rocker and hummed contentedly in perfect harmony with the rest of the family. As the song leader of our little country church, one of my dad’s favorite Bible verses was Ephesians 5:19: “sing and make music in your heart to the Lord” (NIV84). He took that passage literally, and the melody that came from his heart was sung joyfully in a clear tenor voice.
My parents’ home was at the edge of the woods. Late in the summer evenings we sat in the backyard and looked across the field of wildflowers toward my grandmother’s house. We listened to the musical rustling of the trees, the singing of the night birds and sometimes we sang. The psalmist said, “Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them. Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy; they will sing before the Lord, for he comes” (Psalm 96:12).
Some people radiate joy naturally and spontaneously until it becomes contagious. So it was with Pollyanna, one of my favorite fictional characters from elementary school. The book, Pollyanna, a story about a young orphan girl, was written by Eleanor H. Porter. Pollyanna went to live with her Aunt Polly and became known as the girl who found joy in every situation. Her cheerful manner and joyful attitude changed the entire community.
When President Eisenhower made a casual comment about someone having a Pollyanna attitude, the media made a big deal about it. I was amazed that more people didn’t remember who Pollyanna was or know about her gladness. Her joyful manner made an indelible impression on me!
The writer of Psalm 98:4 said, “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all the earth: make a loud noise, and rejoice and sing praise” (KJV). In a Texas nursing home there was an elderly man who was often heard singing as he pushed his walker down the halls. It was always the same words: “There’s within my heart a melody, Jesus whispers sweet and low.” That old hymn, written by L.B. Bridgers, is properly titled “He Keeps Me Singing.”
Once, after he had passed by, I found myself singing that song, too. It was like a relay game where someone started a song and passed it from one person to another. I wonder how many people have been touched by one song. It reminded me of tossing a pebble into the water and seeing the widening circle of ripples. Where would they stop?
In that same nursing home, where daily devotionals were held, there was a gray-haired granny who had a song book in her hands although she no longer could see the words. Her singing was enthusiastic, and she knew every song by heart. During the short lesson she did not hold back her joyous emotions when she said, “Amen,” “Yes, Lord,” and “Thank you, Jesus.”
When the leader invited everyone back for the next devotional, gray-haired granny replied, “I’ll be here; I never miss.” What an inspiration, a joy and a blessing!
Joy Through Hymns
One Sunday before worship service, it was a challenge for the song director to overcome the joyful noise of people talking, laughing and greeting each other long enough to begin worship. His solution was to sing, sing and sing while everyone found their pews. The joyful noise of talking and laughing quickly turned into the joyful noise of praise through singing.
At times I have found myself singing hymns that I had heard in worship service the day before. The songs carried themselves from one day to another as a continuous praise. Philippians 4:4 tells us to rejoice in the Lord always with such emphasis that the writer repeats himself: “I will say it again: Rejoice!” (niv84).
When I hear the familiar hymn, “Shall We Gather at the River,” a smile comes to my face as I recognize the tune my daughter used daily when she led her son to the bathroom. It began, “Let’s go tee tee on the potty …” I hope that Robert Lowry, the author of that sacred song written in 1864, would not be offended if he were here. I think he might also smile, and I doubt that I will ever be able to sing that hymn again without the corners of my mouth turning upward.
Many times I have seen the movie, The Sound of Music, and each time I have been thrilled when Julie Andrews and the children sing, “The Hills Are Alive With the Sound of Music.” The producers of the movie may have been inspired by Psalm 98:8-9 where the psalmist poetically suggests that God’s creation is joyful and praises him in song: “Let the rivers clap their hands, let the mountains sing together for joy; let them sing before the Lord.”
Where there’s a room filled with singing, there’s a room filled with joy. If ever there has been a more joyful group than a singing bunch of young children, I can’t imagine who they might have been. I have seen exuberant elementary children in Vacation Bible School sing, clap their hands, and bounce as they added motions to their songs in joy and fun. Their expressions reflected their joyous hearts.
Joy Through Life Experiences
Contagious joy has been experienced in many ways. The psalmist recognized it in God’s creation as he wrote: “Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad; let the sea resound, and all that is in it” (Psalm 96:11). When I first saw the ocean and ran along the sandy beach, it was an exhilarating and joyful moment. My friends and I raced into the water as laughter bounced from one to the other. What a surprise when the noisy waves splashed the beach and toppled me over. Drenched and tasting the saltiness of the water, I hadn’t meant to get my face wet. I was 18, and it was the first time I had experienced the ocean, that wonderful part of God’s creation. It was a day filled with joy.
I remember the joy of rocking and singing to my babies before naptime or bedtime. Two were cuddled in my lap while one hung onto the arm of the rocking chair. I soothed and quieted them with lullabies and love. So it was with God as recorded in Zephaniah 4:17: “The Lord your God is with you … He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.” In return, God intended for us to sing to Him joyfully.
The psalms are filled with phrases telling us to sing with joy to the Lord. We have been in tune with Him when we sang meaningful praises from the heart with joy and love. In 1719, Isaac Watts summed up the total reason for joyful noise in his words, “Joy to the world, the Lord is come … And heaven and nature sing!” “Fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains repeat the sounding joy.”
And on the same note, Luke wrote, “The angel said to them [the shepherds], ‘Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy … For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord …’ and when they had seen Him, they made widely known the sayings” (Luke 2:10-11,17 NKJV). And all the people sang, “Amen.” o
Betty B. Cantwell is a retired art teacher living in Arlington, Texas, where she worships with the Park Row Church of Christ. Betty enjoys painting, pottery, sewing and genealogical research. Some of her writing has been published by Guideposts Books.