A few years ago, when our eldest daughter Eliza was four, we visited a Christian school on the East Coast of the US. In the auditorium, the students, ranging in age from four to 16, gathered to perform a medley of hymns to showcase the songs they had been taught to help them learn the great doctrines of the Christian faith. To finish, they invited the rest of the kids in the auditorium, including our Eliza, to join them on the stage to sing In Christ Alone.
Eliza is an extrovert. She's tall. She has bright red hair and a big smile. And, of course, she was the only child on that stage who didn't know the words to the second verse of In Christ Alone. Not only did she not know them, she lost her concentration and started to look all over the place. Then she spotted us and started waving madly. Meanwhile, we tried to hide, hoping no-one would realise who her parents were.
It was funny at the time, but it also taught us an important lesson: we realised we needed to be more intentional about singing with, and to, our children – we couldn't automatically assume that they would pick up the words by osmosis just because their parents are Christian songwriters and musicians.
Since then we have intentionally set aside time for teaching our girls – we now have four, ranging in age from a few months to seven years old – the great hymns, old and new, of the Christian faith. It's become a treasured part of our bedtime routine. The early years of a child's life are so significant in shaping how they understand God and the world, and we've found singing hymns to be an effective way to help our girls build their lives upon God's Word. Hymns are so full of foundational scriptural truth and the melodies are so singable, and work so well a cappella that we find the words are almost effortlessly embedded in their hearts and minds.
To help us do this, we've taken on a fun challenge: to learn one hymn a month, so that, by the end of the year, we have learned 12 hymns – all songs that help us, as a family, to fix our eyes on Jesus. We've tried to focus on songs that teach the story of salvation and on songs that give a big view of God – God as creator, sustainer, redeemer, saviour and King. Songs that stand the test of time that our children can carry with them into old age.
We've found that as we are singing, the girls feel inspired to ask questions. They want to know more and to understand what they are singing – it opens up meaningful conversation about the gospel story. And it helps me as a mum, especially as a very sleep-deprived mum, to have lyrics to help me talk to my kids when I can't think of the words.
Recently, we have been teaching the girls the wonderful anthemic hymn All Creatures of our God and King – it's such a great song to learn as it's so full of the truth of God as creator. But we've been surprised at the impact it's had on one of our daughters. Singing is not her favourite thing to do and I'm sure she she wakes up sometimes and thinks: Lord, why have you put me in such a singing family? But we don't want to leave her out, so we've been trying to find ways to gently woo her in and help her engage. And we were surprised at how this song has been a catalyst: she has gained so much joy from singing the simple refrain 'Alleluia, Alleluia'.
I've had many parents tell me that they feel awkward singing songs or hymns with their kids. But children love to hear their parents sing – they never judge! And there is great power in you just being yourself. Singing your favourite hymns with your children is such a simple and unforgettable way to share your faith with them.
Many of us, no doubt, have memories of our parents or grandparents singing traditional choruses to us, and with us, when we were children. I remember my great grandmother, Nanny Burn, praying the words of the hymn Jesus, tender shepherd, hear me over my sister and me at bedtime. It's a beautiful, lullaby-tempo hymn that Keith, my husband, remembers his own family singing with him. It's a song I now sing over my girls at bedtime. I've found that as night time approaches many of their little fears and worries of the day become bigger and they feel able to express them more openly. It's wonderful to be able to sing these words over them, reassuring them of Jesus' presence and love for them as they drift off to sleep.
It's moments like this, and the songs we hear as children, that leave a deep impression that lasts a lifetime. I've heard so many stories particularly of men whose lives have been impacted because their mothers sang over them.
My prayer, as our daughters grow into young women, is that these timeless songs, so rich in truth and beauty, will remind them of the Lord's faithfulness, will speak to them and comfort them, now, when they are young, and through all the years he gives.
Kristyn Getty is a worship leader and songwriter. 'The Getty Kids Hymnal – Family Hymn Sing' released on September 13 is a collection of new recordings sung by Keith and Kristyn Getty to their four children.
The Gettys' latest EP, 'The North Coast Sessions,' was also released in September and was inspired in part by the Psalms.
Both can be ordered from www.gettymusic.com.