Memory, strength, and balance all fade slowly as we age, but one things remains: Jesus’ love.
Eric S. Hartzell
On Saturday afternoons, we visit some people in our town of Globe, Arizona, who don’t know their own names anymore. Their minds and their memories are going away.
These people stay in one of several homes that take care of those who can’t remember their names and have other related ailments and afflictions. When they are taken to those homes, everyone knows that the chances are good that they won’t get well and they won’t go home again. They have a room where they stay, and many of them have a roommate. They move carefully around the hallways in their wheelchairs, or they walk slowly and uncertainly with walkers.
A song for all ages
Even though they may have trouble remembering their names, there is something that many of them do remember. They remember the words of the song “Jesus Loves Me.” They gather with us in little informal groups by the nurses’ station or in the gathering place of the facility where, in our case most of the time, the TV is mercifully silenced. Business is going on as usual, but something wonderful happens when the song begins. Listless eyes look up. Lips start to form words. Smiles sneak across features that were blank. And sometimes down the hallway you can see people in their wheelchairs backing out of their rooms, looking our way because they hear the sound of that song.
We just sing the first verse of the song. That’s the one everyone knows:
Jesus loves me, this I know,
For the Bible tells me so.
Little ones to him belong;
They are weak, but he is strong.
Then we sing the refrain:
Yes, Jesus loves me!
Yes, Jesus loves me!
Yes, Jesus loves me!
The Bible tells me so.
Anna B. Warner wrote the words of the song around 1860. She wrote her song for children, and maybe that’s why we like to sing it so much on Saturday afternoons. Its friendly familiarity is a comfort when the world around us gets foreign and strange—and when we forget who we are and where we are.
Jesus tells us all that unless we believe like little children we won’t enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18:3). In these places where these dear people are, they don’t need any “big or famous” people in the room or erudite people or clever, sharp people with intellectual acumen. We are all just children singing that Jesus loves us! We are certain of that fact because the Bible has told it to us.
Our mothers taught us to sing this song when we were little. All those years ago things were different, but this one fact wasn’t and isn’t: We know that Jesus loves us. Even in the places I would not choose to go, my Jesus loves me! There is no disconnect between the place where I am and Jesus loving me. Even though my memory is going, this much I know: Jesus loves me! You can’t sing that song and not believe and know that Jesus loves you, regardless of what has happened to you or to your memory. The Bible tells you and me so, and we know it. Our singing right now is proof that we know it.
A song for parents and children
It is possible to visit your own mother in one of these care facilities and realize that she doesn’t know you anymore. She who gave you your name all those years ago doesn’t remember your name anymore. On her bad days, she doesn’t even know her own name anymore. But try singing “Jesus Loves Me” to her just as she perhaps sang it to you and see what happens. Maybe her eyes will tell you what happens!
Perhaps someday you and I may not know our names anymore—it may come to that. But if we know that Jesus loves us, we know a great deal indeed! We know everything needful. There is nothing better for anyone anywhere to know! Nor is there anything better to share with a parent.
Sing “Jesus Loves Me” to your father if he is having trouble with his memory. Sing it even if he isn’t! Your strong father, who may not be strong anymore, will be happy when he hears that even fathers can be weak because Jesus is strong. The song is for children and the song is for all those who are weak physically and mentally, yet still children of God.
Because it really isn’t about their weakness that they sing but about Jesus’ strength. Jesus is strong! Old age whittles away at a father’s perception of himself. He isn’t happy when he looks into a mirror and when he sees his hands shake and his voice quiver. But your father can smile and sing when he knows he is weak because his Jesus is strong. It is good for the former proud and strong father to see himself childly weak and to realize that it really is Jesus who is strong in his life and in the lives of his family. What greater legacy can a man give his children or his grandchildren than that they heard him singing “Jesus Loves Me.”
So sing the song to him there in his room. Don’t be embarrassed to have passersby or visitors hear you singing. The work staff will be there too, maybe prowling around in the cupboard of the nurses’ station when you sing. You’ll even sometimes see these people who can’t help but eavesdrop mouthing the words and singing along. And sometimes you will see them smile and nod too.
One more thing we do on Saturday afternoons is read Psalm 23. We ask everyone who would like to join us to do so. It is surprising how many people know the words, even if they say them in King James English. “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” And just listen as we get near the end of the psalm, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.”
This leads us to sing one more song:
I am Jesus’ little lamb;
Ever glad at heart I am.
For my shepherd gently guides me,
Knows my needs and well provides me.
Loves me ev’ry day the same.
Even calls me by my name (Christian Worship 432:1).
Eric Hartzell is pastor at St. Peter, Globe, Arizona.
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Author: Eric S. Hartzell
Volume 105, Number 11
Issue: November 2018
Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
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