True confession: I’m not much of a singer or musician. Yet I enjoy belting out a great hymn of praise, and it makes my heart soar when I hear my kids doing the same. One of the reasons I’m looking forward to the new Christian Worship hymnal is because it sounds like it will include more resources to help individuals and families use the book at home. That’s helpful for those of us who aren’t so musically inclined. Read on to see how Johann Caauwe and his family have been using hymns in their daily lives for generations.
— Nicole Balza
Most of us have probably seen elephants only at the zoo. They live in enclosures designed to keep the animals healthy and safe, but it’s not their natural habitat. Only in the wild does an elephant have the room to roam and run, to live its elephant life to the fullest.
Some of us may have only seen or used hymnals in church. Perhaps the pew racks at church are like zoo enclosures. They’re useful for holding the hymnals we use as we join voices with our fellow Christians in worship. But it’s not really a hymnal’s natural habitat. It’s not the place where hymns can really stretch their legs and live life to the fullest.
Passing on the treasure of hymn singing
I’ve never seen elephants outside of cages, but I have seen hymnals and heard hymns sung at home all my life. As a child, we went to sleep to “Now the Light Has Gone Away” (Christian Worship 593) and woke up to “While Yet the Morn Is Breaking” (Christian Worship 585).
I suppose my mother learned that from her father. My grandpa also sang to the cows while he milked and on the tractor in the field. He learned to sing hymns at home from his mother, who sang this to her own mother on her deathbed, “Let me depart this life confiding in my Savior; do Thou my soul receive that it may live forever” (The Lutheran Hymnal 395:7). The last time I saw my grandpa before his death, we sang the hymn “Oh, that I Had a Thousand Voices” (Christian Worship 194). At home.
So when I had kids of my own, I knew I had to pass this treasure on to them. I wanted these hymns to serve as constant companions through their lives. So I set out to sing hymns to my little ones, with the full intention that someday they will sing to me when I can’t anymore. I knew that the only way to accomplish that is for the hymns in the hymnal to live at home.
When the kids were little, we sang mainly at bedtime and sometimes at the dinner table. Mostly we followed the flow of the church year, but the evening hymns were also common. We sing “God’s Own Child, I Gladly Say It” (Christian Worship: Supplement 737) on their baptism birthdays and frequently sing “Feed Your Children, God Most Holy” (Christian Worship 616) as our table prayer. As a family, we sing through a “hymn of the week” each day that we are able to have a family devotion. And every Sunday at dinner I ask each of the kids their favorite hymn sung in church that day.
Today, as our oldest children are reaching adulthood, it gives me great joy to hear all the hymns. Now they will sing to each other. Sometimes I’ll look up in church to see one or more of my kids singing the hymns by heart. Last Easter Sunday, when we were unable to have a regular Easter service, my wife and I came home to the sound of singing. Our children decided to sing through all the Easter hymns in the hymnal. With our oldest on the piano, we joined them in singing every hymn, every stanza.
Tips for singing hymns at home
What we’ve done is not magic. We just sang hymns at home. Besides that basic advice, may I make a few other suggestions?
- Don’t be afraid of long or hard hymns. These are some of the best, and they just might be long enough to last and sturdy enough to support your children all life long. When I ask the kids their favorite hymns, they often pick the longest!
- Don’t be afraid of repetition. You might get tired of it before they do, but don’t stop. Your children are taking in those precious words so deeply that they may remain with them to their dying day.
- Don’t worry about how you sing. Kids will notice that you sing much more than how you sing. If you can speak, you can sing. Especially you, dads: Real men sing. It might take some courage and hard work, but you can do it.
In the Small Catechism, Martin Luther suggests that after you have said your morning prayers, “then go joyfully to your work, singing a hymn.” Where does the hymnal live? If you sing hymns at home, early and often, the hymns in the hymnal will live wherever you are.
Christian Worship hymns referenced in the article use the hymn numbers from Christian Worship 1993.
Authors: Multiple authors
Volume 108, Number 8
Issue: August 2021