Tag Archives: Cheerfulness

Hymn #226: Improve the Shining Moments

Improve the shining moments;
Don’t let them pass you by.
Work while the sun is radiant;
Work, for the night draws nigh.
We cannot bid the sunbeams
To lengthen out their stay,
Nor can we ask the shadow
To ever stay away.

Well. This is awkward. Of course I would write about a hymn vilifying procrastination after having slacked at my regular posting responsibility for a month or more.  Of course. (see 1 Nephi 16:2)

When I hear this hymn, I can’t help thinking of Alice misquoting Isaac Watts while trying to sort herself out in Wonderland. His poem–which is remarkably similar in theme and phrasing to Brother Baird’s hymn–reads thusly:

 How doth the little busy Bee / Improve each shining Hour / And gather Honey all the day  / From every opening Flower!

The subsequent stanzas explain that idle hands are the Devil’s workshop and express a desire to give a positive account for each day’s work at the Day of Judgement.

Worthy sentiments, no?

It is good to busy ourselves in the Lord’s work. It is even good to busy ourselves in our own work, provided our work is honest and our motives are good. We shouldn’t procrastinate our efforts or our repentance, and should use the time we’re given wisely. After all, as Amulek teaches us, “This life is the time for men [and women] to prepare to meet God; yea, behold the day of this life is the day for men [and women] to perform their labors.” (Alma 34:32)

But I think there are other, more immediate benefits to improving the shining moments as well. In verse three we sing:

As wintertime doth follow
The pleasant summer days,
So may our joys all vanish
And pass far from our gaze.
Then should we not endeavor
Each day some point to gain,
That we may here be useful
And ev’ry wrong disdain?

Since we’re talking about “shining” moments, I assume these are the days when all is well. Because there are days when all is not so well. We face challenges, stresses, doubts, and losses, and the moments don’t shine quite so brightly.

These not-so-shiny moments are when we can rely on the points we’ve gained during the good times. For example:

  • If read our scriptures diligently in our spare time, we will have words of peace and wisdom to rely on when we need answers to prayers….and we will be in the habit of turning to our scriptures regularly even when our schedules are especially tight.
  • If we pay our tithing faithfully when our bank accounts are full, the Lord will continue to bless us when they are emptier than we’d like…and it will be easier to continue paying because we will be in the habit of doing so.
  • If we strengthen our testimony in Jesus Christ right now, we will be able to draw near to Him when we need succor…and we will be in the habit of standing on His sure foundation no matter what may come in the future (see Helaman 5:12).

Yes, improving the shinning moments will prepare us to stand blameless before God, but it will also make each day of mortality that much easier. It’s the little things we do today that help us endure to the end. As the fourth verse says:

Improve each shining moment.
In this you are secure,
For promptness bringeth safety
And blessings rich and pure.
Let prudence guide your actions;
Be honest in your heart;
And God will love and bless you
And help to you impart.

Hymn #230: Scatter Sunshine

Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungered, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?

When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?

Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?

And the King shall answer and say unto them, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

(Matthew 25:37-40)

This passage from the New Testament is oft-quoted, but also oft-ignored. As disciples of Christ, we have the opportunity to emulate him, to do as he would do. It’s fairly easy for us to take care of those immediately around us—members of our own family, for example—the truth is that we are surrounded by so many more people.

When Christ encouraged us to serve “the least of these my brethren,” he did not mean simply “the least of these who you see every day.” In a simple trip to the grocery store, a ride on the bus, or a walk in the park, we interact with dozens of God’s children. Surely among them is someone in need.

Of course, we cannot know the needs of every person around us. The Spirit may occasionally prompt us to reach out to a stranger in a specific way, but often we have no particular guidance. How can we lift the burdens of those around us when we know nothing about them?

This question, I would suggest, is at the heart of today’s hymn.

In a world where sorrow
Ever will be known,
Where are found the needy
And the sad and lone,
How much joy and comfort
You can all bestow,
If you scatter sunshine
Ev’rywhere you go.

Needy, sad, and lonely people are all around us, as are the disappointed, discouraged, and frustrated. Some people only have a hard day once in a while, while others seem to be constantly beset. We cannot solve all of their problems, but we can work to lighten the load.

Scatter Sunshine,” this hymn encourages. Scatter sunshine everywhere you go. Sunshine is not heavy. It is not complex. It is simply a ray of light from afar. We do not need to carry the entire burden of every person we see; that is the realm of Christ alone. But through simple actions, we can make someone’s life a little easier, make their world a happier place.

Slightest actions often
Meet the sorest needs,
For the world wants daily
Little kindly deeds.
Oh, what care and sorrow
You may help remove,
With your songs and courage,
Sympathy and love.

“Little kindly deeds,” we sing. A smile as you pass in the library, or patience as you wait in the grocery store. Picking up someone else’s litter. A friendly wave to a neighbor. An encouraging remark to someone learning a new skill. Our days are full of opportunities for service that take only seconds, if we can only seek them out.

There are, of course, big things we can do to help others. There are many in dire need, the type of need that a simple smile will not solve. We have many opportunities for large acts of service—we certainly should not ignore those. But as we follow Christ in the large things, let’s not forget to follow him in the small things too, for in lifting others, you may just find that some of that sunshine scatters right back into your own life.

Hymn #241: Count Your Blessings

Count your many blessings; name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord has done.

“Count your blessings” is a bit of advice we often hear when we’re struggling with gratitude. Whether we feel entitled or abandoned, we sometimes end up with a warped understanding of the Lord’s role in our lives. When we feel entitled, we no longer feel that we need the Lord in our lives, believing that we have everything taken care of ourselves, thank you very much. And when we feel abandoned, we feel just the opposite–that the Lord no longer feels He has a need for us, leaving us to our own devices.

We are asked to consider the blessings the Lord has given us at these times, and are explicitly counseled to name them “one by one.” It’s not enough to think that the Lord has blessed us richly. We are instructed to consider specifically just how richly He has blessed us. We may consider the blessing of a loving family, a good job (or even any job at all), kind friends, modern conveniences, or simpler things like a pink and orange sunset, the sound of wind in trees, or a kind stranger sharing her cookie with you. (That was my blessing today.) When we deeply and individually consider the magnitude of the Lord’s blessings in our lives, we get a clearer sense of just how reliant we are on Him for our day to day existence. We are reminded that we cannot make it through life on our own, no matter how we try. Even the things that we tell ourselves are blessings we have bestowed upon ourselves, like our talents, our determination, and relationships we’ve built are in actuality gifts from the Lord. He endowed us with those gifts before we came to earth, and He placed us in situations in which we would be uniquely able to succeed. We owe all that we have and all that we are to our Savior.

When we do this, we will be surprised at what the Lord has done. It’s eye-opening to consider the breadth and depth of the blessings we receive daily. It’s staggering to realize just how pivotal a role the Savior plays in our lives. But what I think is truly surprising about counting our blessings is the total reversal in our outlook by doing so. Consider the second verse:

Are you ever burdened with a load of care?
Does the cross seem heavy you are called to bear?
Count your many blessings; ev’ry doubt will fly,
And you will be singing as the days go by.

Solely by counting our blessings, we go from groaning under a heavy cross to singing–singing!–as the days go by. We learn humility and gratitude by counting our blessings, and those feelings are reflected in our lives in our joy. We can turn our suffering on its head by reflecting on our many, many blessings and wind up truly, genuinely happy. The blessings themselves and their scope are surprising, certainly, but perhaps more so is the transformation that comes as we consider them.

So when we count our blessings and name them one by one, our eyes will be opened. We will “see what God hath done,” not only in the ways He has already blessed our lives, but in the way He continues to bless us by altering and improving our attitudes. And as we do so, we will find ourselves surprised, and even singing, as the days go by.

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Hymn #243: Let Us All Press On

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Ages ago, the king of Syria was troubled. He was at war with Israel, and despite his best efforts to kill the king of Israel, he was consistently able to sneak away from his assassination attempts. Convinced someone was leaking secrets to the enemy, the king of Syria asked his servants which of them was the mole. One answered and said that Elisha, “the prophet that is in Israel, telleth the king of Israel the words that thou speakest in thy bedchamber.” Convinced he knew how to gain the upper hand in the war, the king sent a huge military force to kill Elisha.

The prophet, for his part, seemed unconcerned about the massive army descending upon him, although his servant, arising early and seeing his city surrounded by Syrian soldiers, asked his master what they were going to do. Elisha said, simply, “Fear not: they that be with us are more than they that be with them.”

We will not retreat, though our numbers may be few
When compared with the opposite host in view;
But an unseen pow’r will aid me and you
In the glorious cause of truth.

Life is scary sometimes. We may feel overwhelmed and alone in our cause. It’s especially frustrating when the Lord, who has told us time and again that we can always depend on Him, isn’t plainly visible to our eyes. We do our best to trust and to believe, but faced with seemingly insurmountable challenges in front of us, we doubt, and we ask, as did Elisha’s servant, how the Lord expects us to cope.

And like this servant, we have wise people placed in our lives whose faith is stronger in the moment. (At other times, we may be the ones called upon to strengthen their faith. Sometimes our wounds are bound, and sometimes we do the binding.) Elisha, having told his disbelieving servant that the powers of heaven were close at hand, prayed that the Lord would “open his eyes, that he may see.” His eyes were opened, and he saw legions of heavenly defenders, ready to act at a moment’s notice.

We have our eyes opened from time to time as well. We get so wrapped up in a trial that we miss the fact that we have a loving family around us, or that we’re receiving financial, physical, or emotional blessings that prop us up during our struggles. The old story about the single set of footprints during the hardest times of life is a tired cliche, but there’s merit to the story. The Lord bears our burdens, and He’s always there for us, if we’ll but open our eyes.

And so, armed with that knowledge, we press on. The chorus of this hymn is particularly fun, as the soprano part diverges from the other three. I don’t often sing the melody at church, so I usually sing the counter part, which really enjoy. Listen:

Fear not, courage, though the enemy deride;
We must be victorious, for the Lord is on our side.
We’ll not fear the wicked nor give heed to what they say,
But the Lord, our Heav’nly Father, him alone we will obey.

It stuffs in quite a few more syllables, providing a nice contrast to the held-out notes of the soaring soprano part. Most of the words are the same, if in a different order, but last two lines have slightly different messages. The soprano part says that we won’t heed the wicked, but the counter part specifically says that we won’t fear them. That’s tricky when faced with the “opposite host in view.” We trust in our Lord, though, and that gives us hope, which drives out our fear.

If we do what’s right, we have no need to fear. We may be faced with difficult, and yes, frightening challenges in our lives, but we know that the Lord will ever be near. His angels surround us, ready to leap in and give their aid. “In the days of trial his Saints he will cheer,” we sing in the final verse. Not only is He ready to bear us up, but He knows when we’re struggling, and those are the days He is most ready to lend a hand. We need only to open our eyes to see the unseen power that aids us.

Image credit: “Red sunset,” Wikipedia user Fir0002, CC-BY-SA 3.0.

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Hymn #227: There Is Sunshine in My Soul Today

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“There is sunshine in my soul today.”

There are not many hymns in our hymnal that are more unabashedly happy than this one. Sunshine in my soul! Music in my soul! Springtime in my soul! What could be more cheerful than these?

And yet as I prepared to examine this hymn, the first question that came to mind was this:

How does someone who struggles with depression find meaning in this hymn?

As much as we’d like to believe that obeying God’s commandments will bring us complete and immediate bliss, we still live in a mortal realm and we still struggle with the perils of imperfection. We face sickness, fatigue, frustration, and loss, and sometimes we’re just sad or apathetic with no good reason for it. Life is difficult at times, and we should not expect otherwise.

In fact, even in the eternities, there is disappointment and sadness. Enoch was surprised to see God himself weep over his children. (Moses 7:28) So why then do we go on about sunshine in the soul, as if it comes merely by singing about it? Why do we sing that life is light, when life is often so, so heavy?

I hope you’ll stop and think on that for a moment. I don’t think we do it mistakenly.

The hymn itself contains a few answers. In the chorus, we sing “Oh, there’s sunshine, blessed sunshine, when the peaceful happy moments roll.” In every life, even those filled with frustration and heartbreak, there are occasional peaceful happy moments. Sunshine may not always fill our soul, but it certainly will sometimes. Seeking God’s guidance will bring us more of those happy moments than we might otherwise have.

These happy moments come because “Jesus is [our] light.” In the same way that we learn “line upon line,” a little bit at a time, Christ’s peace does not come to us all at once, and it does not always come as we expect. Alma and his followers were held in captivity, laid with heavy burdens. When they sought divine relief, the Lord did not take their burdens away—at least, not at first. Rather, he strengthened them so that the burdens became easy to bear. These people found sunshine in the soul, even beneath great hardship. The same can be true of us, if we seek it.

Eventually, Alma and his people were freed from their burdens. Some day, we can be free from ours. For some of us, that freedom may come next month or next year. For others, it may only come after we’ve passed on from this life. In the meantime, though, our burdens can be lightened as we keep the covenants we have made with the Lord and allow him to bless us.

Note that the song does not say that sunshine fills your soul. If we make room for it, it is possible to have a portion of sunshine in your soul, even while other parts of it are filled with pain. Sometimes we deceive ourselves, thinking that mourning is not real unless it consumes us. There is often room for a sliver or a slice of light, even in a pained and heavy heart. Our hearts can sustain a colorful mix of emotions, full of all shades of light and dark. Don’t be afraid of the light, just because you’re sitting in a dark room.

And Jesus listening can hear
The songs I cannot sing.

I love this phrase. Ponder: what are the songs you cannot sing? Why can you not sing them? Is it too painful to express them aloud? Are you afraid of committing to those thoughts? Are you unsure whether you yet believe what you might sing? Can you simply not find the words to express the emotions inside? No matter—Christ knows your heart, perhaps even before you do. When your thoughts seem conflicted or unclear, take heart; Christ understands you. He knows you. He can give you peace and light, portion by portion.

There is gladness in my soul today,
And hope and praise and love,

Note the mention of hope. Sometimes, sunshine in our soul comes not from the immediate relief of our burdens or the immediate fulfillment of our desires, but rather the anticipated joy that will come later on. We will always have hope, even in the eternities. God himself has hope for us, his children. He anticipates our joyful return to him.

Life is not always easy. Trials, temptation, disappointment, disease, and just plain old mortality are an inherent part of this early experience. But when passing through hard times, remember the words of Christ:

Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.

For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30)

There can be sunshine in your soul. Believe Him.

Image Credit: “Sunshine“, Jong Soo(Peter) Lee, 2005, via Flickr. . CC BY-NC-ND 2.0