I started taking piano lessons at the age of 6, but I didn’t have a piano at my house. Several times a week, I would go a quarter of a mile down the road to my grandparents’ house to practice on their old upright. Not perhaps the best way to learn to play, but it’s what I did.
I played everything I could find – the pieces I had been assigned in my John W. Schaum piano books, old sheet music from when my mother and her sister took lessons in the 1950s (“Moon River,” anyone?), and hymns from the old Broadman Hymnal.
While the first hymn I learned to play was “At Calvary” (because it taught me good fingering at the chorus), one of the hymns I played most often was “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.” Without fail, it was my grandfather’s request. I’m sure some of it was to get me to stop banging away at some of the other stuff that might not have been as appealing to his ears, but now that I am grown and he has been gone for over 14 years, I see perhaps a bit more.
What a Friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear! What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer! O what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear, All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.
My grandfather was born in 1909, 20 years old when the stock market crashed in 1929. He lived as a young adult during the Great Depression, learning to farm in rural northern middle Tennessee, in a town that was barely a mention on a map.
He was married in the 1930s, as the country was trying to climb its way out of its financial troubles and as we were unknowingly on the brink of the second World War.
Have we trials and temptations? Is there trouble anywhere? We should never be discouraged; take it to the Lord in prayer. Can we find a friend so faithful who will all our sorrows share? Jesus knows our every weakness; take it to the Lord in prayer.
In 1942, he lost a son, Patrick Henry Groves, stillborn – in the middle of World War Two. On June 4, 1944, just two days before D-Day, he and my grandmother welcomed twin girls into the world, one of whom was my mother. What a time in which to welcome a child (in his case, twins!), when it had to seem like the whole world was firing at each other.
Are we weak and heavy laden, cumbered with a load of care? Precious Savior, still our refuge, take it to the Lord in prayer. Do your friends despise, forsake you? Take it to the Lord in prayer! In His arms He’ll take and shield you; you will find a solace there.
Some years later, my grandmother suffered from a breakdown. She spent time away from her family. I’m sure he felt the weight of being both mother and father to these girls during that time.
Blessed Savior, Thou hast promised Thou wilt all our burdens bear; May we ever, Lord, be bringing all to Thee in earnest prayer. Soon in glory bright unclouded there will be no need for prayer; Rapture, praise and endless worship will be our sweet portion there.
Through all of these trials and more, he was a farmer, husband, grandfather, friend, brother, deacon, Sunday School teacher, and more. He quietly and faithfully went about his daily business.
But I don’t doubt that the words to this hymn rang quite true to him. He had found a friend in Jesus, a Friend who carried his burdens, who shared his sorrows, who was his refuge.
My husband sang my grandfather’s favorite hymn at his funeral in February 1999, just nine months before what would have been his 90th birthday. I think it was a fitting tribute to his life, and a legacy we can all strive to imitate.
What a friend we have in Jesus.
On the Web: This past week, I shared “4 Ways the Gospel Frees Us from Needing to Be Perfect” at Flourish.me. I hope you’ll join the conversation there as well!