Claire Hailwood fields questions at the dinner table that make her wonder what else her children don’t understand
I’m pretty good with melodies and recalling those.
I’m really bad at remembering lyrics. I tend to only remember a single line from a song that I repeat (which drives my family mad) or I sing my own version of the words which scan well in the tune but bear no resemblance to what’s actually being sung.
But I love words. Reading, writing and language is a great joy to me, so in spite of my terrible memory I pay attention to and often appreciate lyrics.
Over lunch recently, with no context, one of my sons said, “Mum, who was in the fire last week. And where was the fire, I didn’t see it”.
I had no idea what he meant, but an understanding that ‘last week’ simply refers to anytime in the past and a little bit more conversation where I tried desperately to understand what he meant, helped me realise he was referring to the lyrics of a song he’d heard at church.
There was another in the fire standing next to me
I love this song. The story in the Bible that it references is a powerful picture of the presence of God with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego IN the fire.
But for a five year old boy who doesn’t yet know the story, hearing grown-ups singing about people in fire was quite confusing.
I grew up in church and I remember singing the hymn ‘Crown Him with many crowns’, and I loved and appreciated the poetry of the lyrics which told me that God is the ‘creator of the rolling spheres’ and is ‘ineffably sublime’ but I had no idea what they meant!
Growing up, after someone in church read a part of the Bible out loud, they would finish with the words ‘this is the word of the Lord’ to which the congregation would reply ‘thanks be to God’. I’m embarrassed by how old I was before I realised that the words we replied with were not ‘thanks Peter God’…
One of my favourite things on TikTok are series of misheard lyrics – I wonder if there’s ever been a Christian song version done – I’d love to watch it!
I wonder whether it might be good for us as adults to look at the lyrics and words we say in church through the eyes of a child and keep talking about what they mean. I expect that for anyone new in to church that might be helpful too.
What we say matters and our children are listening more than we realise. So many of the hymns and songs we sing are poetry, like the Psalms, and they’re not solely for our logical brain to comprehend, but to give expression to the longings of our soul and point us to who God is. I don’t think we need to do a word by word analysis of every lyric we sing (my children wouldn’t last a line!) but being aware of the power of words, and creating opportunities for conversation around them means we don’t create unnecessary barriers for our children to engaging with beautiful and powerful truths.
More ridiculous than me trying to understand what my son was talking about was the explanation I tried to give. I fumbled over trying to explain what an analogy was, that the song was one, and that it was a picture of God being with us in fiery times. Alongside that, I tried to tell the accompanying Bible story which is quite graphic – something I only realised in the course of re-telling it and wondering whether I needed to sanitise it.
A bewildered face looked up at me.
“Listen bud, they’re funny sounding words aren’t they. It’s a song that helps grown ups remember that God is always with them.”
[A knowing look crossed his face].
“Kids already know that Mum…”