Solace through Sacred Music


I remember a time shortly after my baptism when I struggled through what seemed a hopeless battle for self-mastery. Feeling overcome by discouragement and despair, I curled up on the sofa and cried. In my aloneness, I prayed. I had no sooner done so when a strain of music flowed through my mind, and as I tried to capture it, I heard the lyrics that belonged to the melody:

When dark clouds of trouble hang o’er us
And threaten our peace to destroy,
There is hope smiling brightly before us,
And we know that deliv’rance is nigh.

(Hymns, no. 19)

To me these healing and prophetic words were as water in a desert of affliction. Ironically, as a new convert I didn’t even recognize the source of this lyrical gift. Eventually I discovered that this powerful and comforting message of hope and deliverance was a hymn, “We Thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet,” authored by William Fowler.

Since that time the sacred hymns of the Church have been a boon in my life—a balm of Gilead, a source of joy, and an added witness of the Savior’s personal love for me.

On another occasion, I happened to be home alone and quite frightened. During the previous night our home had been vandalized, but because the perpetrators had only entered the garage, my husband and I felt assured that our house was still safe. The morning after the incident, my husband, with my encouragement, had left on a long-planned trip with our children.

As the day progressed, however, my fears grew. That night I found myself restless and unable to sleep, planning my defense in the event of an uninvited stalker. I prayed for peace and rest. Again, the words of a hymn came into my mind:

My noonday walks he will attend,
And all my silent midnight hours defend.

(“The Lord My Pasture Will Prepare,” Hymns, no. 109)

In my midnight hour the Lord sent a timely message to me through a simple musical couplet. Those 13 words seemed to say a million. I knew he understood my feelings and that he would be with me in my hour of need. I could trust in him. With that kind of personal assurance, I was able to sleep peacefully throughout the remainder of the night.

Once I was touched by a hymn I’d never seen or heard before. At the time I had been troubled in one of my callings because it seemed I’d been misjudged, and I knew there was little I could or should do to try to reverse the judgment. The pain was distracting me from my personal responsibilities, and I was tempted to ask to be released.

Again I slipped into the corner of my couch and reached for my hymnbook. This time I prayed that the Lord would speak to me through a hymn and tell me whatever he thought might help. I opened the hymnbook to “Lean on My Ample Arm” (Hymns, no. 120). I was intrigued by the title and repeated aloud the wonderfully alliterative phrase “ample arm.” I thought to myself, That’s just what I need right now—an “ample arm.” I wasn’t familiar with the hymn, but I drank in the words:

Lean on my ample arm,
O thou depressed!
And I will bid the storm
Cease in thy breast.
Whate’er thy lot may be
On life’s complaining sea,
If thou wilt come to me,
Thou shalt have rest.
Lift up thy tearful eyes,
Sad heart, to me;
I am the sacrifice
Offered for thee.
In me thy pain shall cease,
In me is thy release,
In me thou shalt have peace
Eternally.

Through these verses, the Lord seemed to acknowledge gently that he knew of my sad heart and of the storm in my breast. And then I saw the cure: “I am the sacrifice / Offered for thee.” These words were rich with meaning. First, they reminded me that the Savior died for my sins against others. Through this reminder I was humbled and felt his love. Then I understood a second sense of his sacrifice offered for me: not only had he paid for my sins against others, but he paid for others’ sins—including false judgments—against me. Through the Spirit, which had been invited into my mind and heart by this hymn, and with my additional recognition of the Savior’s love, the hurt and disappointment I had felt dissipated, and I was given strength to find my release in Christ.

To this day I have never found a sorrow that heaven cannot heal, nor a hymn without the healing power of the Savior hidden in its melody or rhyme.

[illustration] When I have been troubled, the hymns of the Church have helped bring a quiet peace to my soul. (Illustrated by Keith Larson.)

Karen R. Merkley serves as a family history assistant in the Sandy Utah East Stake.