We all have songs that are special to us, that bring back a certain time in our lives, a person, or maybe a special event. Today’s hymn is special to me because it kept me alive during a period of time when I did not want to live. It was one of the hymns I listened to over and over on the night I was planning to kill myself at the age of 17. Once I had made the decision to not go down that road, I made it irrevocably.
However, I did not magically acquire the will to live. I was sent away from everything and everyone I loved and put into an environment that I found stifling and unbearably lonely. I was dealing with so much grief and loss and no one ever said to me, “You are suffering from severe clinical depression and you need help.” I woke up sad every morning and went to bed sad every night. But this hymn was what kept me doing it. When my roommates were out of the room, I would sing this hymn with tears streaming down my face. I had to believe that God would not let me go—and He didn’t. The day came when I was able to smile again. Eventually, I had days when I woke up actually looking forward to something. I didn’t need to sing this hymn to myself quite so often.
Fast forward a few decades, to a few years ago when my father-in-law died. My husband and his siblings were going through the papers my father-in-law had left with instructions for his funeral. There was a list of hymns he suggested, and they were discussing which ones they should use. Some hymns had a star beside them. This particular hymn had three stars. I campaigned to have it included, and it was. My father-in-law was a very formal, distant man in many ways, but after he died I found that he loved this hymn as I did. That made me feel closer to him than anything else had.
I figured the chords yesterday and we sang it in church today. I love the tune and the words. It still makes me cry. Every time.
O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go
by George Matheson
O Love that wilt not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee;
I give thee back the life I owe,
That in thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be.
O light that followest all my way,
I yield my flickering torch to thee;
My heart restores its borrowed ray,
That in thy sunshine’s blaze its day
May brighter, fairer be.
O Joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain,
That morn shall tearless be.
O Cross that liftest up my head,
I dare not ask to fly from thee;
I lay in dust life’s glory dead,
And from the ground there blossoms red
Life that shall endless be.