Sing a New Song

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Joyful, joyful, we adore You,

God of glory, Lord of love;

Hearts unfold like flowers before You,

Opening to the sun above.

Melt the clouds of sin and sadness; 

Drive the dark of doubt away;

Giver of immortal gladness,

Fill us with the light of day.

Have you heard this hymn before?

I sure thought I had. You see, I’d heard it sung absentmindedly by the somewhat unenthused worshippers at my Presbyterian church. In a deeply contrasting setting, I’d also heard it sung at youth group conferences in my early teens, with lights flashing all over a darkened room as the fog machine emitted smoke, changing colors like a chameleon: a smog of pink, blue, and purple rising to the ceiling with the chorus of 14-year-old voices.

I’d even heard it on kids’ worship albums played in my mom’s car when I was a child. I’d long since tucked it away, somewhere in my brain, in the crevices where old song lyrics and poems you had to memorize from elementary school live.

But I had never heard it like this.

Just this summer, I worked at an all-girls Christian summer camp nestled in the mountainous range of North Carolina. I was a cabin counselor, which basically means I was the “fill-in mom” for a cabin full of girls. I was woven into the fabric of these young girls’ daily lives, and I had the opportunity to arise each morning and embody John 13:34 to them — to love them as Christ has loved us. It was, to say the least, an experience that changed my mindset. In more ways than one, it realigned my heart.

Now, in this lovely “post-camp” existence, I feel as though a rehab patient returning to the “real world” for the first time in months. I’d lived in a bubble of sheer heavenly goodness and purity for ten weeks, and upon my return, I find myself surprised by the busyness of the world. At camp, we slowed down. We took our whole summer to sit in Crazy Creeks and watch the sun set, or to sing slow hymns in the cool breath of a mountain morning. We told each other long stories as we slept in tents under the stars, and awoke with the sun the next day, trudging back to our cabins in the dewy grass.

My job, quite literally, was to slow down. It was often hard for me to believe that I was being paid to do things like sit in side-by-side Adirondack chairs with sweet 14-year-olds, nervous wrecks on the brink of starting high school, asking me for my best advice and most faithful prayer on their behalf. All I could do in response was smile at their sun-tanned, earnest faces and fold my hands over theirs in solidarity. “I get that you’re scared,” I’d tell them. “I was too. I still am. But God is good, and He provides, and if He can get me through high school—He will do the same for you.”

On Sunday mornings at camp, we gathered in the pavilion to have our church services. The campers would file in and sit on the wooden benches provided for them, dressed in their darling Sunday best. Us counselors sat on the sides of the pavilion, next to our cabin’s bench. From that seat, you had a really great view of all five-hundred-plus campers—eyes trained on the stage, waiting for the pastor to begin his sermon.

Before the sermon, we would always begin by singing worship. And this was no flashy, youth-group-conference worship—it was authentically grass roots—one piano and our voices. There was such a beauty in that simplicity.

One Sunday in particular, I marched my cabin down to the pavilion in a bit of an irritated mood. The girls had taken forever to get ready and I was frustrated because I didn’t want to walk into church late. In that moment, I empathized deeply with my own parents.

We sat down in a flurry as worship was about to start. In what seemed to be a direct message from the Lord Himself, the pianist began to tap out those familiar notes on the piano:

Joyful, joyful, we adore You

God of glory, Lord of love

Hearts unfold like flowers before You,

Opening to the sun above.

My gaze casted over to the ragtag group of 14-year-olds that stood right before me. They held their hymnals with such earnestness, eyes focused on the pianist. I felt my heart soften like butter in the microwave. I watched my girls, then let my eyes wander around the entire crowd.

Five-hundred plus girls who had given up five weeks of their lives to be present not with their phones, not with the demands of the world around them, telling them to be smarter and stronger and thinner and have a GPA that resembles a phone number—they came for five whole weeks to be present with God. With the people around them. With their counselors. To reconnect and realign their hearts, just as my heart was in the process of being realigned alongside them.

Their hearts were joyfully unfolding like flowers in the sun before their Father each day, in teeny tiny ways, and I, a broken-down sinner, had the unimaginable honor and privilege of watching it happen.

Melt the clouds of sin and sadness

Drive the dark of doubt away;

Giver of immortal gladness,

Fill us with the light of day.

Every single day these girls were at camp, they didn’t have to read the news or hear their parents chiding them on a poor test grade. They didn’t have to hear the explicit rap music that I’m sure they all love. They didn’t have to meet demands or go to volleyball practice and run suicides, sprinting till their lungs gave out. They didn’t have to check their Snapchat or Instagram and experience the feeling of knowing that their best friends were all doing things together while they hadn’t been invited. They chose to leave that world behind for five weeks. Every single girl in the room did it voluntarily.

And here they sat, worshipping in a church service, asking God to fill their hearts with the light of day, and I was grumpy because someone couldn’t decide between the striped dress or the blue dress.

I felt a deep sense of gratitude crack into the cavern of my heart and rush through my body, like I’d just gotten a warm hug from someone I love. My eyes welled with tears as I thanked the Giver of immortal gladness who daily, in imperceptible and consistent movements, drives the dark of doubt away on my sinful behalf. On the behalf of the 500 girls who showed up to sing for Him in that pavilion on Sunday morning.

Before camp, “Joyful, Joyful” was just another hymn we sang in church occasionally. But that morning, I left singing a new song. A song that I hope to take beyond camp and mold into the structure of my life, the stature of my being.

This summer was a healthy and much-needed reminder to me—someone who’s always going, someone who never slows down to stop and just be. In the transition from camp back to college, I have found myself letting my heart unfold before God in ways I never have before. I have found myself trying to walk in step with God’s purpose instead of my own. I have asked Him to be the source of electricity and light in the core of my being. Camp made me reconsider what I considered important or worthy of my time prior to this season, and in light of this revelation, I have asked God to realign these priorities so that my life may greater reflect that of a person whose soul has been sold out to Jesus. My hope is, through Him, to inherit a heart of thankfulness that will seamlessly flow into the lives of others, only by God’s grace and consistent work.

Ask God to help you look for the little reasons to be joyful in the daily mundane. He will surely do so. I know, I’ve been there, and it can be hard to find joy some days. But in my experience, those are the days where the joys stick with you eternally and become ingrained in the fabric of your DNA.

That’s how joy becomes consistent. That’s how it becomes a pattern. When we plead for it, then we notice it, and we try to reciprocate it ourselves. Sing that song in your daily life–the song of surrender to great, unbounding joy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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