Last week’s JoyPrO post was written by my friend Hannah. Hannah had cancer and has a thing or two to teach us all about rock-solid, living hope. At the end, I snuck in a link to Audrey Assad singing Abide With Me. In the week since, I’ve been feeding on the hymn, soaking in these lyrics so I can store them up.
Because in the span of this one week dear some ones lost a tiny life and a heart attack almost cost a life and someone started chemo and another discovered disease. Because weather in our neck of the WI woods is way more damp, dismal fall than blazing glory today.
And because, truth be told. sometimes you just wake up feeling old and change and decay is all around to see. That’s why we need Abide With Me.
Store Up Abide With Me
That’s why I want this one in me. I want to hide its truth in my heart so I draw on it at will. Like Psalm 23 or “I before E except after C” or “Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.” I want it to be in me so it overflows from me. Because, one day it might be the right word to sustain a weary soul.
So I’ve listened to every mix of Abide With Me I can find- this one by King’s College Choir and this one by Indelible Grace and this acappella version by the Antrim Mennonite Choir and this one by sung by Hayley Westenra at an big rugby final and this beautiful one by Stephanie Seefeldt. This bagpiping father’s daughter even sung in tune with the Pipes and Drums of the Guards of the Royal Scots Dragoon.
And soaking so long like that landed me on a “variant” of a single line in verse four that I’ve been chewing on all week. I’d love to hear your take, to find out which lyric you pick. I’ll explain in a minute. First, maybe pick a link-Audrey Assad’s is my favorite- and sing along.
Change and decay in all around I see
Isn’t it stirring? The story behind the hymn is too. I won’t tell it now, but it is a great read. Because it’s these lyrics- so raw, so real, so what a soul feeling fragile needs- that are key. Will you read them with me?
- Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide;
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, oh, abide with me.
- Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;
Earth’s joys grow dim, its glories pass away;
Change and decay in all around I see—
O Thou who changest not, abide with me.
- I need Thy presence every passing hour;
What but Thy grace can foil the tempter’s pow’r?
Who, like Thyself, my guide and stay can be?
Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me.
- I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless;
Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness;
Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if Thou abide with me.
- Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes;
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies;
Heav’n’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee;
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.
Aren’t they rich? Every verse a tried and hurting heart’s faithful cry. Every verse a cry to the Lord who formed us and loves us and keeps us and promised he’d never leave us.
But it’s the second line in the fourth verse of Lyte’s lyrics that gives me pause: Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness.
Is it really “Ills Have No Weight“? Or is it “Though Ills Have Weight“?
Which is it? Did Lyte really write, lIls have no weight and tears no bitterness? Because if he did, I cannot relate. I’m not there yet. Ills do have weight and some tears have a bitter taste. Or did Lyte really write this version, which reads, Though ills have weights and tears their bitterness?
This second one I can sing with abandon; I can pull out all the stops. Because sometimes my ills feel heavy and my tears have a bitter sting. No often, thank God, and not very long. But there are times. That’s why I prefer Though ills have weight and tears their bitterness.
As in, I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless; though ills have weight and tears their bitterness. As in Peter’s, Even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake you will be blessed, or Paul’s sorrowful yet always rejoicing. Or like Lamentations 3- just before great is thy faithfulness- Jeremiah, a man of great faith, recalls his affliction and my wanderings; the bitterness (“wormwood”) and the gall and his eyes were spent for weeping.
As in our Suffering Servant, our Lord Jesus who felt sin’s weight so much he sweat bloody sweat.
And Jesus wept.
What Did Lyte Write?
Turns out we do have access to a 150 year old copy of the actual words Lyte wrote. He handed them off to his daughter a few weeks before at age 54, he “wore out for God.” You can see them in his own hand at the Challies’ “Hymn Story.”
Lyte wrote no weight and no bitterness.
Yow. I get that compared with the weight of heavenly glory our earthly ills are small. You might even say they “have no weight.” But I don’t say that, because I feel weight. Yes, I set my my heart on heaven, but my body still feels the weight of the fall. None of us is impervious to pain. We cry out to God like patient Job (6:10), “What is my strength, that I should wait? And what is my end, that I should be patient? Is my strength the strength of stones, or is my flesh bronze?”
Yes, it is okay to weep while we worship.
But we also sing songs and hymns to catch a vision for where we can be and for what will be.
So I’ll sing what Lyte wrote. Even though ills still have weight and some of my tears sting. But I wouldn’t hesitate for a second to sing the other, Though ills have weight and tears their bitterness. Because ills have weight this side of heaven.
Though it’s a tough run, a fight of faith, and sorrowful yet rejoicing, in Christ we will triumph still. Because in the end, it’s like Paul and Lyte both wrote, Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy victory? We grieve, yes, but as those with hope. And as for triumph, oh yes- We are more than conquerors through Christ Jesus.
But if you woke up feeling fragile today, or if change and decay is all around to see, if ills do have weight and tears some bitterness, well, have I got a hymn for you.
I fear no foe with you at hand to bless,
Though ills have weight, and tears their bitterness.
Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, your victory?
I triumph still, if you abide with me.