Why We Cry When We Sing

November 7, 2011 | 63 comments

“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 my nine-year-old girl:

“Me. Too.”

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.

This week my mind is on worship. I’m leading worship at a spiritual retreat this coming weekend. But here’s the deal. I’m not a singer. Really. I’m NOT. But I love a good song.

Friend, what’s a song that moves you?  

 

by | November 7, 2011 | 63 comments

63 Comments

  1. amy@to love

    oh i know this so well. and there are so many i hear and immediately that lump swells up. this is such a beautiful post jennifer, because it’s so true. for all of us. one that gets me? how he loves by john mark mcmillan. lump beginning already. i could go on. but i’ll only mention one. because i don’t want to cry this morning.

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      Amy,

      Oh … yes. That song is humbling in its truth and beauty. Thank you for mentioning it here. Have a worship-filled week, friend!

      Reply
  2. Crystal

    If there is anything that chokes me up, it’s music. Just a month or so ago, we went to a new church. As I started singing the songs, tears came to my eyes … I couldn’t help it. Something in the melodies and the words just tugged at me.

    My husband knows when I’m in a terrible mood, music is the thing that pulls me out of it. He’ll turn on a song he knows I love – sometimes a Christian song, other times a familiar pop song – and within minutes the stress of the day is gone.

    God truly does work through music!

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      I hear you, Crystal. It’s like peeling back the sky and getting a little peek of the Throne Room. And that glimpse of the heavenlies can pull a Jesus-Girl straight out of “a mood,” ya know? 🙂

      Reply
  3. lisa auter

    I sang Wonderful Merciful Savior in church. Loved that!
    I am hugely affected by music, both secular and religious. That is why I can’t go back to my old depressing but beautiful singer songwriting music. It drains me. Now I prefer deep, uplifting songs.

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      Lisa, Do you ever listen to TobyMac? That’ll get your blood pumpin’! 🙂

      Reply
  4. Julie

    Music does indeed have the power to stir emotions in us all. Right now…one that brings me to my knees is “Praise the Lord” by Kristene Mueller. But I could list a hundred more! 🙂

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      Julie, Thank you for sharing this song. It’s new to me. I will head over to YouTube or iTunes and see if I can find it. Have a worship-filled week, my friend!

      Reply
  5. Dea

    “I will Never Be” (the same again) was on the first Shout to the Lord cd. I cry every time I think of the words. I am forever changed and those lyrics sing my story.

    For some reason that version can’t be purchased on iTunes. Still I can hear it in my heart and I sing it when I am alone with God. (I have no clue where the cd is. It came out in the 1990s.)

    I am not a singer! I follow the lead worshippers and “amen” him or her—or them with hands lifted high! 🙂

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      Dea … Is this the song?

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k1ou36Er2mI

      I love it. Beautiful!

      Isn’t that something? God takes us just as we are, but He promises that He won’t leave us that way. We’ll never, ever, ever be the same. Your special song is giving me goosebumps. I’m listening to it right now as I type. 🙂

      Reply
      • Dea

        That’s it Jennifer!!

        When you have a minute click over and read my post today and you’ll understand why I can’t hear this song without crying.

        Thanks for looking that up for me. You bless me.

        Reply
  6. Doug Spurling

    The notes float, the dam breaks washing my heart clean of the clutter leaving joy in its wake. A foretaste of heaven I think…And sometimes I end up with a washed out contact blurring my external but clearing my internal & eternal vision.

    Oh, and you are leading Worship. That doesn’t take a singer – just someone with a song – you’ve got that indeed.

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      Thank you for that affirmation, Doug. You’re right. I don’t need to be a superstar singer. The most important part of my job is to point to the King.

      Reply
  7. Nancy

    I think about a lot of strange things, and one of them is, “Why did God create us with the capacity to sing and make music?” He didn’t have to, but think about how impoverished our lives would be without music–even cheesy 80s music! I love the passage in scripture that talk about God delighting over us with singing, or of singing the stars into existence. I think singing is going to be huge in heaven. Sometimes when I can’t pray, I just sing. A couple of favorites: O, The Deep, Deep Love of Jesus and O Heart, Bereaved and Lonely (Sandra McCracken does an amazing version of that one)

    Beautiful piece, Jennifer. And that girl of yours? She does some deep thinking.

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      I love the way you think, Nancy. He created us with the capacity to make music. That’s pretty cool. So … is there a verse in the Bible about “singing the stars into existence?” Can you point me to it, Nancy? That’s profoundly cool. I’d love to share that with the women this weekend.

      Reply
      • Nancy

        Job 38, where God asks Job if he knew how the world was created. Verses 6 and 7 talk about the morning stars singing as God laid the earth’s foundations. So, I think I said that wrong in my comment. But one point, during the creation, the stars were singing. Gives me chills. I think we’re going to hear them sing again.

        Reply
        • dukeslee

          What. A. Gift.

          I’ve never noticed that part of the verse, Nancy. Not really. I mean, I actually have those verses highlighted in green in my Bible, but I’ve never noticed the singing!

          Thank you for helping me hear it. I love how the Word is always refreshing itself, making itself come alive anew — like a continual F5 refresh-key on a computer keyboard.

          Reply
  8. Sarah Vander Plaats

    “Untitled Hymn” by Chris Rice. Each stanza is its own story and sparks its own unique emotion. And as the music creeps higher and higher, the more hold it has on me, and I just can’t keep the tears from pouring. Such a beautiful song.

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      Oh yes, Sarah … That is a worshipful song. Thank you for sharing it. I haven’t played that one in a while.

      Reply
  9. Pattylh

    Music, the notes, the words, the melody, the harmony, the intricacies or simplicities, while always engaging my rational brain, always takes me beyond myself in a way that words could never adequately describe. Music is the instrument God continually uses to keep this wandering heart near it’s home; I can’t imagine my life without it. Right now, JJ Heller’s Truer Things and Moment of Surrender by U2 pull me in and take me beyond myself.
    And isn’t it amazing and fun to share conversations like this with your kids? Look forward to many years of enjoyment as you grow together!
    love you and your heart!

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      Will you be playing some U2 during your worship segments, Patty? 🙂 … I’m done playing Dea’s song on YouTube, and now I’m listening to Surrender.

      Yeah, these conversations with the girls open my world up way wider. 🙂

      Reply
  10. Erin

    Marching bands always make me cry. Isn’t that the weirdest thing? I have never in my life played in a marching band, so it’s not like I’m remembering all these sweet and precious memories. But every time– at a parade or whatever– my kids are like trumpets! drums! batons! and I’m fighting the lump. Gotta love it.

    Reply
    • Pattylh

      Me too, Erin!! Really any live music has me choking back tears.

      Reply
      • Erin

        I went to a violin concert with my son a few months ago and kept getting all chokey. It wasn’t even emotional music. 😉

        Reply
    • dukeslee

      Erin, I guess I’m weird, too. 🙂

      My nephew, Brennan, plays saxophone for the Iowa State University marching band, and my heart swelled earlier this fall when I watched the band march from the Hilton Coliseum parking lot toward the football field. I so “get” what you mean. 🙂

      Reply
      • Erin

        Next time you are in Ames you really should let me know. I’m only about half an hour from there. 🙂

        And I’m so glad it’s not just me. 🙂

        Reply
  11. Karen

    I love the way you explained the “why”… so many melodies bring me to tears, but two that do it with just the opening notes are…Amazed and I Bless Your Name….

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      Karen,

      Is Amazed the one by Desperation Band? Love that song. That’s a tear-maker.

      Reply
      • Karen

        Yes, Desperation Band sings many songs that move me…and the other song is by Selah…

        Reply
  12. Linda

    The older I get, Jennifer, the more frequently the tears roll down my cheeks as I sing. I think it is when the words so perfectly speak what is in my heart.
    Although, I can’t get through “America” without welling up and getting a huge lump in my throat.
    There is great power in music.

    Reply
  13. Amy Sullivan

    There are so many songs that move me, but it’s during this time that I am able to truly worship and let all of my many walls down.

    Reply
  14. Cheryl Smith

    I often cry during songs. And at other times. (Peter says I could be a professional crier.) But worship? That always brings me to tears. Wish my mom had helped me understand that when I was 9.

    Reply
  15. Lyla Lindquist

    Tears don’t come all that easy for me. Makes me pay attention when they do. A couple of weeks ago I sat in an unfamiliar place. Though I’d been welcomed, it wasn’t a place I belonged. As much as I wanted it, I was not convinced God was going to show up, at least not in any tangible way. As things got going, I pulled a musty hymnal from the rack to join the singing. Not my hymnal. Not even my grandmother’s hymnal. I’d never seen the song before. I couldn’t sing it for you again. But here it went: Trumpet, sound a note of gladness / Christ our Lord is with us here / As we gather to adore Him / He among us now draws near.

    Yeah, tears. Go figure.

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      More often than not, for me, the dam breaks loose on the hymns. I like the one you’ve mentioned here. Those are some mighty fine words.

      Reply
  16. Duane Scott

    I can barely make it through How Great Thou Art every time. Because I remember the one time I was singing that at hospice and the man woke up just long enough to whisper the ending words with us.

    So I cry.

    And when we cry so hard we aren’t able to sing, that’s when we’re singing the loudest of all.

    Because song is a heart thing.

    Loved this post, Jennifer! 🙂

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      Gasp!

      I can’t imagine. What a beautiful moment, Duane. Thank you for sharing it here.

      And yeah … song is definitely a heart thing.

      Reply
  17. Patricia

    Oh dear friend… when it says make a joyful noise, I do believe that is all that is required! God looks on our hearts as we worship… I do believe he hears music in there! I led worship for 18 years…there were days when I thought I had no music to share at all… I think the HS evens groans for us when we do not know how to sing. I know you will bless those women with your heart of love for Jesus.

    Reply
  18. Rita

    Oh Jennifer….music is the thing that touches our very soul. It is my passion. I love when other people have “musical moments”. The goosebumps and the tears….it can bring us joy or cut us to the quick. Songs can instantly bring us back to the past.

    The one thing I miss dearly from leaving the city and coming back home is the group I used to sing with and tour the state with, called GodZ GuyZ. Amazing ministry and music. Amazing people.

    I love that your kids “get it”….and on a personal note…I’m pretty sure MamaD is super proud that you all get it. 🙂 Blessings on you today. 🙂

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      Mama D’s voice is the soundtrack of my life. Just now, I remember watching her sing at the front of the Marathon Methodist Church, belting out Gaither tunes with The Trio. Blessings to you, too, Rita.

      Reply
  19. Dani Pettrey

    In Christ Alone, COME, THOU FOUNT OF EVERY BLESSING, The Air I breathe, and Amazing Grace are the songs that always well up in my soul and bring tears to my eyes.

    Thanks for another great post, Jennifer 🙂

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      Dani,

      Thank you for sharing the songs that move you most. I remember hearing The Air I Breathe for the first time several years ago, during communion at a women’s retreat. It still makes my heart melt.

      Reply
  20. Sandra Heska King

    *A* song? Just one? Well, there’s Amazing Grace. And Better Than One Day. And Blessed Be Your Name. And lately I’ve been crying over every single song on Shaun Groves’ Third World Symphony CD. Oh, and then nearly every hymn we sang at Laity Lodge. I’m just a big crybaby. Singing–crying. It’s all the same to me.

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      I know. I know. *A* song. That’s not nice AT ALL, is it? 🙂

      I loved all those hymns at Laity, too, even the “blood hymns,” as Gordon called them. 🙂 And don’t they sound amazing in that room? Do you suppose that God sent heavenly reinforcements with voices special-made to blend with ours?

      Reply
      • Sandra Heska King

        Absolutely possible. I know there were several times I just stopped singing to just listen–and cry.

        Reply
  21. Dave

    Your posts, Jennifer, always seem to strike the tender and kinda neglected places of my heart. Thanks.

    Here’s one that brings tears for me:

    “Behold the Lamb (Communion Hymn)”
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=alvX9Fa53-o

    Reply
  22. Audra Krell

    God Gave Me You because my country heart loves that Blake Shelton remade it and God gave me that song about my husband. He’ll always be love’s great martyr and I’ll be the flattered fool. I love Chris Tomlin’s My Chains Are Gone, because they are and God has set me free. My teen boys are worship leaders and I basically bawl in church every Sunday. I honestly rarely wear make-up to church anymore. Amazing Love always brings me to my knees, tear stains and all.

    Reply
  23. Greg Gilbert

    Through the fire-Crabb Family-Midnight Cry- also I’ve written two songs that I recently recorded that I struggled with-What Are They Leaving With? Is about our children growing up and “With What They Died For” is a tribute to our military, fire and police. You can hear a sample of both at http://www.WithWhatTheyDiedFor.com

    Reply
  24. Laura

    I love hearing about your “daughter moments.” With boys, you just don’t get that kind of question! But I know what you mean — that lump you can’t sing past? It comes for me when I hear my dad’s favorite hymn, “The Old Rugged Cross.” I can just hear him singing off-key, but heartily as can be!

    Reply
  25. Megan Willome

    I’ve been busy this month doing a story on the founder of the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project, so I’ve been listening to some really, really good music that was almost lost forever. And yes, “Old Ship of Zion” makes me cry.

    Reply
  26. Carolyn Counterman

    So Jennifer, do you think is was the Psalmist(s) who invented the phrase “smack dab in the middle”? It is useful phrase, but at the same time makes no sense. For some reason, making at least a tiny bit of sense is important to me right now. It might be a control issue.

    The song that has been on my mind for months now is “In Heavenly Love Abiding” (sung how it is sung in the South, not the UK version so much). A song from 1850, but I love it. There are many very old hymns that shake my core – in a good way.

    Reply
  27. Monica Sharman

    And you know, that loving a good song is way more important in leading worship than what kind of singing voice we have. You all will raise the roof, I bet.

    “Mercy Came Running” is frequently playing somewhere in my head…
    (“When I could not reach mercy,
    mercy came running
    to me”)

    Reply
  28. Sheila Lagrand

    One of my earliest church memories is standing beside my mother in the sanctuary. She is holding the hymnal down low so I can follow the words to “Holy, Holy, Holy.”

    Now that she’s gone, every time I hear or sing that song, that early memory floods me right up to (and out) my eyeballs.

    And there’s that more contemporary song, Beautiful Things. I have no idea who recorded it, but our young worship leaders did it at church a few weeks ago. Totally undid me. Because He does make beautiful things out of dust.

    Sorry to be so late to this conversation!

    Reply
  29. Margaret Kirk

    Hmmm….I am a worshipper…have been all my life….any kind of music can get me goin’. The songs that have meant the most to me these past few months are “Pour My Love on You” and “Here in Your Presence”….both express as succinctly as possible my love and gratitude for the Lord…both get me welled up and overflowing…thanks for this wonderful blog!! ♫♫

    Reply
  30. Hazel I Moon

    I read Sheila’s post today as she followed you, and I sang with her “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God almighty!” Maybe not tears, but chills did run down my spine as I sences the Holy Spirits presence as we sang together – –

    Reply
  31. Sheila

    Dropping back in to thank you for taking me “There and Back Again” this week, Jennifer!

    Reply
  32. mike

    …interesting post..have you ever pondered how (or why) we equate God or the Holy Spirits presence with a particular feeling or emotion?…im thinking of the times i’ve been in churchs where near the end of the service suddenly the soft music starts and the pastor begins to speak in a soft/weepy somewhat superficial tone designed to elicit an emotional response..is that really God your feeling? or have you fallen prey to intentional emotional manipulation under pretext of “Gods moving”?…can God be summoned on the spot with just the right sounding music?…”God knows what He can do to us with a good song.”..surely you meant jest..

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      Hi Mike,

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts here. I have no doubt that someone can manipulate a person with a song or a the right tone of voice. Since I don’t go to a church like that, I don’t have firsthand experience. For me, I can tear up when the lyrics come alive out of my Grandma’s hymnal, when I’m singing alone, when I’m playing piano, when I’m listening to an old favorite on the radio … And it’s not always a “Christian” song. Like my daughter said, sometimes, it’s just a slow song that tugs at a heart. I think it’s safe to say that music is an important vehicle to connect with God. The Psalms would suggest that. So yes, I do believe God uses music. I do not jest. 🙂

      Thanks again for sharing.

      Reply
      • mike

        …thanks for the warm welcome

        Reply
  33. Glenys Hicks

    I too often cry when listening to music- especially during worship. God is so good to us… I believe He is preparing us for eternity praising Him with the angels… I look forward to that! Blessings!

    Reply
  34. Kristi

    One of the most beautiful things I’ve ever read. Ever.

    Reply
  35. Graceyjo

    I believe when I get those good “tingles”, or feel emotional and teary from a beautiful hymn, song, story or sermon, it’s because it’s the Holy Spirit brushing over me.

    Reply
  36. Ashley

    I cry when I sing a lot of songs. I help lead worship at my church and sometimes it is super hard not to cry in front of the whole church. But who cares? We are there to worship God and if we cry it is okay. But right now I am listening to “Everything” by Lifehouse and it keeps making me cry.

    Reply

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  1. There and Back Again: Holy, Holy, Holy | Sheila Seiler Lagrand - [...] post came to me after I read my friend Jennifer Lee’s post, Why We Cry When We Sing. So I’m…

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