Why We Cry When We Sing
“Mom,” she asks. “Do you ever cry when you sing slow songs?” She asks me the question while she waits for her blueberry PopTart to cool on the plate.
“Because sometimes, when I sing a really pretty song in music class, and the notes go higher and higher, I start to cry.”
I lean in close, meeting forehead-to-forehead with this daughter of mine:
I totally get what she’s saying. I can’t exactly explain it, but I know what she’s groping to describe. I know the way that a song can grip your heart by its throat, and dislodge some stubborn thing that has been stuck maybe a bit-too-long in a too-dark place. And it happens whether you’re nine or thirty-nine.
I also know the way that a song can climb the musical staff, and somewhere up high, the notes cling to the heavens, and you feel like you can touch something bigger than yourself.
Sometimes, the song knows more than you do.
And you know, it’s not always a “Christian” song. Sometimes it’s just … any old song. It’s that lullaby you sing over your baby, or that synthesized ’80s song that you sing with your husband as you zip down the interstate.
And you don’t know why, but you can barely get the words to move past the lump in your throat.
I’m no musical genius, but I know this: God knows what He can do to us with a good song. Maybe that’s why there’s this huge section of Scripture called the Psalms, full of a bunch of songs smack-dab in the middle of our Bibles. A song can feel like a crescendo rising up to meet the soul, a series of quarter-notes rubbing up against our deepest joys.
My daughter takes a bite of a PopTart, and I sing a little bit of “I Love To Tell The Story.” I tell her how every time they play that hymn in church, I start to cry. I don’t cry because I’m sad, but because I’m really, really happy.
She nods. She gets it.
She tells me that she stayed after music class one day to ask her teacher about this whole crying thing. The other fourth-graders had raced out for recess, but she stayed back. She wanted to know if it was natural to cry over a song. Her music teacher said that a song can elicit a strong emotional response in a person; a song can “let loose” something you never expect.
Sometimes, it seems, the unexpected soul-response comes gushing down your cheeks. And you know what? I want to sing along. Even if I weep right through the chorus.
What song “gets you” every time? Share in the comment box today! Links welcome, to your posts about worship music, or to songs that you’d like to share with us. ~ Jennifer
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OH music if such a power things…for me…I feel a bit like Saul…it soothes my tormented soul…songs that bring me to tears…Amazing Grace… HOw Great Thou Artand Alabaster Box…just to name a few. So many times…songs can become my prayers for me…when I have lost all my own words…
Jennifer…have a wonderful thanksgiving week…may it be filled with love and joy~
My dad used to sing How Great Thou Art at the top of his lungs I am told. I can’t even remember hearing him sing it and to this day can barely listen to it without getting emotional. Really wish he were here to sing it with today, I could use a little bit of him right now
Oh I so know what you mean…..the old Hymns do it for me every single time! And certain praise songs we sing in church…..Above All by Michael W. Smith gets me every time….and Sarah Mclachlan because my sister in law (who is in Heaven now) loved her music. Oh, so many wonderful songs….
“It Is Well With My Soul”; I will never get through it without tears….sung at too many funerals of those I have loved so deeply. There are many others as well because music with or without words invokes emotion and is able to do so without language as a barrier. Music connects all of us. Cool how God designed that.
On Eagles Wings
Your words today sung off the screen so sweetly. I was just talking to a young friend the other day who said he cried every time he heard or played “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” I cry when I sing Bach or the Hallelujah Chorus or Broken and Spilled Out or Nearer My God to Thee. Music elicits tears of joy or sadness. Music cleanses and uplifts. Thank you for sharing the story of your daughter’s tears, Jennifer. You lift our eyes through tears’ shimmering veil to God. Sometimes I can just sit at the piano and sing, and depression transforms to joy–all God’s gift.
So many songs bring tears…hymns, patriotic songs, praise songs…”Blessed be The Name of The LORD” the part where “My heart will choose to say” even though GOD takes away.
How Great Thou Art is my favorite Hymn and gets me every time. I remember playing this on the piano at my Great Grandma’s house. She was blind and enjoyed listening to piano music. Everytime I played this she would sing along. When I sit down and play this song I can still hear her singing along.
“Morning Has Broken.” One time shortly after my mother-in-law died, Noah was listening to the Cat Stevens version in his bedroom. He told me, “I open the window whenever this song comes on, so Haukebo can hear it in Heaven.” Now every time I hear that song, I weep.
There’s a new one at least weekly. Currently it’s “You’re Beautiful” by Phil Wickham.
Love all these hymns mentioned but my favorite is Be Thou My Vision. the words and melody haunt me and linger in my heart. Good post today!
The power of music. This is why I love/hate music in worship. I love the way it can communicate emotion much better than I ever can. I hate they way it can be used to manipulate that same emotion.
I’m a pretty open person emotionally. I know exactly what you mean when a song is building and there is “truth” in it, I can’t hold back. It gets me! I don’t know if there’s a song that makes me emotional every time, but I have seasons and songs that touch me deeply. I love that God built that into us! It’s a beautiful thing. Thanks Jennifer.
oh jennifer, once again, you’ve absolutely nailed it. and my personal list of songs that prompt the tears is only growing . . .
before my health crisis, it was always the wonderful, merciful Savior song, the line that “You give the healing & grace our hearts always hunger for.” and still is.
and now, there are several songs that the Lord has used along the healing journey of my body & soul. songs that He’s used to do powerful construction in my heart.
songs like building 429’s “where i belong” that the Lord used to begin my shift to feeling more comfortable with my new normal. and selah’s “i bless Your name” that He used when i was struggling so hard to remember All that i have amidst my painful losses.
“Some midnight hour
If you should find
You’re in a prison in your mind
Reach out and praise
Defy those chains
And they will fall
In Jesus’ Name.”
and they did.
and now, it’s tears of worship that fall, from a freed heart that rises up in praise.
thank you so much for articulating this worship-filled experience with our Abba,
Oh wow…how did you KNOW? I do so so often. Music, song, lyric…it DOES have power and inexpressible beauty. I was agreeing “yes..yes…I get it too!” throughout this entire post. What wonderful insights. Terrific post! Thank you for writing it because you have kindred spirits in so many of us. Beautiful.
Music is quite a gift! I provokes many emotions. this post made me think of a time in church shortly after I got saved… Tears streamed down my face as I sang the hymns… a precious memory for me and duplicated many times since then. Blessings to you Jennifer!
Oh Baby Baby It’s a Wild World…
And Bridge Over Troubled Water.
That’s a sweet, tender girl you’ve got there. 😉
I’ve written several posts about this too… and you are so right, not just “christian” songs. I often hear Him speaking through me in beautiful pop music, even tweak some of those songs to sing worship. For me, anything beautiful from Rodgers and Hammerstein, for example…
God Bless America does it every time. Over the Rainbow. Christmas music of course, Silent Night, O Holy Night… I believe God’s Spirit is so there in all that is beauteous and fun-loving, and always feel Him so strongly in music. And there come the tears. Your daughter has a precious heart. 🙂
I cry a lot. Amazing Grace, of course, holds a special place in our hearts here. Even 2-year-old Lillee can sing it. Did you see her? My sister and I sang it at my mom’s funeral and again graveside.
The other one that got to me when I was going through a really, really hard time is Blessed be Your Name…He gives and takes away…
Nicole C. Mullins, “My Redeemer Lives” brings tears to my eyes every time without fail, while the Mr. Mister song brings a smile to my face as I sing along – no guilt in that pleasure 🙂
Thanks for this post – it has been a rough week and and half with my father in law hospitalized here in Sioux Falls – this was the pick-me-up I needed!
Many christian songs, bring tears, Neil Diamond’s ‘hello my friend, hello’… and also ‘you don’t bring me flowers anymore’ with Barbara Streisand.
Southern Gospel songs, always stir the emotions.
It is hard to pinpoint one.
Great post. As a man it’s not as easy to confess, but I too weep at some songs. I didn’t as a kid, but the songs have more meaning than just the words in cadence. When I hear the song, It Is Well With My Soul by Horatio Spafford, though strong, not strong enough on the inside, where my Savior lives to hold in what overflows my heart and manifests itself in my eyes…
There are a few others… God doesn’t make everyone like this.. I used to wish He wouldn’t have me… but time seeking Him brings wisdom.
Beautiful post, beautiful words, Jennifer.
For me it’s “I’ll Fly Away”, “It is Well” (With My Soul), AND “The Faithful One” sung by Selah.
I also like “Morning Has Broken”–the Cat Steven’s version. 😀
Have a wonderful Thanksgiving Jennifer!
I Will Rise (Chris Tomlin)
I’m a blubbering mess with these three, especially “I Will Rise.”
I love it when a new song simply undoes me. For this semester, it’s been “Some Nights” by FUN. I raise my hands high when they sing, “But I still wake up.”
I do this, too! It seems to come when my son is home from college and attends church with us. Somehow the songs just articulate the cries of a mother’s heart.
1. Come Thou Font of Every Blessing
2. How Can I Keep from Singing by Chris Tomlin
There are more but I can’t think of them right now.
So many hymns bring that response in me, but the all-time, can’t-sing-without-crying hymn is Great is Thy Faithfulness! What an awesome God we serve.
I often sing to Our Father ”Your the best thing that ever happened to me from Gladys Knight and the Pips. That always does me in.
“How Great Thou Art,” “I Will Always Love You,” “How Will I Live Without You”–there are others, but these are never-fail crying songs.
Hope your family has an extraordinary Thanksgiving!
Jeff Buckley’s cover of Hallelujah:
The “newest” one that tightens my throat is the Travis Cottrell version of “Just As I Am.” That new chorus is just “wow”, making it so personal. If you haven’t heard it, check it out and prepare for the waterworks:
This one caught me. I cry all the time when I sing and while I like having that release I don’t like not being able to sing. I have wondered what that was all about and have asked around only to find confused looks, so I leave it. Thank you for posting this.
Oh, and what makes me cry is anything by Christy Knockels.
Smiling big at the picture of zipping down the highway singing with the husband. Precious husband and I were doing this on a long return ride home late one evening. It makes me cry when he sings the love songs to me, particularly My Girl by the Temptations.
Pretty much anything by Jesus Culture. And Bethel Live. I never feel any closer to God than when in worship.
Lately Faithful God by Laura Storey brings the tears every time! So very thankful for His faithfulness “every promise kept, every need He’s met.”
I cry every time I sing a song to my son. Not because im sad but im happy. Its odd to me.
Steven Curtis Chapman, what I really wanna say. Makes me think of the way I’ll love my future wife.
Not sure what it’s called, but the chorus is, “What if Your blessings come through raindrops, what if Your healing comes through tears, what if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You’re near? And what if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise?” Gets me every time.
Love The Way You Lie or anything else with really high or smooth lyrics. It does my eyes in causing me to whell up with tears everytime I sing, I have to stop when that happens. I thought it was some kind of problem or syndrome, but it’s clear to me now that it isn’t. It’s natural.
Any song. Any tempo. Any subject. Can’t sing a whole phrase without choking up. Therapist just stares at me when I tell him. This SUCKS because I am a lifelong professional musician.
I’m the same. Doesn’t matter which song and It has gotten worse rather that better as I grow older. Please share if you find therapist who knows way out. I’ve even considered hypnotic therapy 🙂
My psych Dr. suggested that I try straight dextromethorphan (the main ingredient in over-the-counter cough syrup). It is known to slightly squelch the human emotions. I bought a bunch on eBay and I took it one hour before I had to sing. VOILA!! It worked! It even works for sad movies. I am so very thankful to my Doc.
That’s interesting. Thanks for sharing. I’m definitely going to try that 🙂
Hallelujah always seems to ignite something in my soul, in my heart, and I can’t help but find myself weeping uncontrollably through it until the very end…….sometimes even after
When I hear almost any hymn and especially at Christmas time, I cry when I hear it.