Following a seven-year struggle with emphysema, my husband of 34 years died shortly after Christmas. I had to go back to work three days after the funeral, even though I was completely worn out. I had no choice; I had used up all my leave time during the last difficult days of his illness.
At the time, I taught music in the public schools in northern Nevada. Teaching music to more than 300 children is no easy job. Every half hour a new class of about 25 children came into my room. Elementary music is filled with action! I stood on my feet on a concrete floor all day every day, teaching, singing, doing folk dancing, marching with rhythm band instruments, and acting out songs.
When school ended in June, I went home after the final school party and collapsed. For several days I lay on my bed in a deep depression, too tired to even read.
One morning when I awoke, I felt so low that I slipped down to my knees by the bed and asked Heavenly Father what use there was in going on. I thought I had nothing to live for. I told Him I wished everything would just be over and that He would take me too.
It had been my habit each morning to read from the scriptures, say my prayers, and then memorize one verse of a hymn. So when I had finished my complaint to Heavenly Father (it could hardly be called a prayer), I climbed back into bed and picked up the hymnbook from the bedside table to try to memorize my one verse—although what purpose there was in this, I couldn’t imagine.
The book already lay open to a hymn I had been familiar with all my life but had always sung automatically, without paying particular attention to the words. This time, however, some of the phrases almost seemed to jump out at me:
Today, while the sun shines, work with a will;
Today all your duties with patience fulfill.
Today, while the birds sing, harbor no care;
Call life a good gift; call the world fair.
The words of the hymn spoke to me with unusual force. I knew Heavenly Father was telling me to get up and get busy and to appreciate the life that had been given to me instead of whining over what couldn’t be helped. I went on reading:
Today seek the treasure better than gold,
The peace and the joy that are found in the fold.
Today seek the gems that shine in the heart;
While here we labor, choose the better part.
(“Today, While the Sun Shines,” Hymns, no. 229)
What is the fold? Members of the Lord’s kingdom are the fold, and Christ is the Good Shepherd. I was being instructed to go to church and be a faithful servant. The chorus gave more emphasis to these instructions by saying, “Work with a will” and “Your duties fulfill.”
I knew Heavenly Father had spoken to me. I got out of bed, got dressed, and began to clean up my house. I did the laundry and started weeding the yard and planting a garden.
I started singing in the ward choir again and was soon called as a counselor in the stake Relief Society. I enrolled in a class on how to teach literacy and also English as a second language. Then I went to the community college and volunteered to be an aide in a literacy class. There was only one teacher and one assistant trying to teach 60 people who couldn’t speak English, so my help was welcome. I joined two community choirs. I became so busy that I had no time to feel sorry for myself. A year after I retired from teaching, I was called to serve a mission.
Our prayers are answered in many ways. During the most challenging time of my life, the Lord gave me a message through a hymn that strengthened and blessed me.
“Heavenly Father understands us individually. He knows how to love each of us in the way we most need it. Sometimes we feel His love through our [family members], teachers, and friends. Sometimes we feel His love through the promptings of the Holy Ghost. Sometimes we feel His love through music and hugs, through scriptures and prayers. He can encircle us in His light when we need it, because we are His children.”
Gayle M. Clegg, second counselor in the Primary general presidency, “The Light of His Love,” Ensign, May 2003, 112.
Sing “Today, While the Sun Shines” (Hymns, no. 229). Read the first four paragraphs of this article, and invite family members to suggest ideas that might be helpful. If someone mentions music as a possible solution, ask family members to suggest a hymn that might help. Read the rest of the story. Bear testimony of the value of the gospel messages found in each hymn.
Invite family members to share a favorite hymn and explain why they like it.