Aging with grace

Come, thou Fount of every blessing,
tune my heart to sing thy grace;
streams of mercy, never ceasing,
call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet,
sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount! I’m fixed upon it,
mount of thy redeeming love.

This morning , I was listening as usual to the 7 am rebroadcast of last week’s “Music and the Spoken Word” on BYU TV (I’m usually at church when the 9:30 am live broadcast comes on). The closing number was “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing”, always one of my favorite hymns (and one that needs to be in our LDS hymn books). By the end of the performance, I was weeping — and not (just) because of the beauty of the arrangement and the singing. This hymn, like few others, speaks to my deepest struggles and frustrations in my own personal life.

I joined the Church at age 14, some 41 years ago. Through those four decades, I always assumed that by, let’s say, age 55 I’d be a lot more perfected than I am. As I have stated any number of times in talks and lessons at church, including just last week, the power of the Atonement is not just the power to cleanse us — it is also the power to perfect us, to change our hearts, to receive Christ’s image in our countenance.

Yet a few months ago I ran across some note cards I had written on twenty years earlier listing goals and areas for improvement in my life. With no little dismay, I saw that I could just as easily have written them just a week earlier instead of nearly half a lifetime ago. Where the change of heart, where the progress, where the perfection?

Here I raise mine Ebenezer;
hither by thy help I’m come;
and I hope, by thy good pleasure,
safely to arrive at home.
Jesus sought me when a stranger,
wandering from the fold of God;
he, to rescue me from danger,
interposed his precious blood.

It may just be me, but I wonder if we as Latter-day Saints generally tend to shift from focusing on works to relying on grace as we grow older. This doesn’t mean that we abandon our efforts at service to others and personal righteousness — quite the contrary — but that we realize how far short we will always fall from where we need to be. We struggle with the trivial and the mundane, and wonder how we’d ever deal with the wrenching and the profound — not always realizing that it is the starkness of the latter that often makes those decisions easier. It is in the day-to-day things that we often trip up.

As I grow older, I understand better the repetition of the phrase “endure to the end” in the scriptures. A large part of that enduring is, I think, enduring ourselves, particularly our own imperfections, and not becoming discouraged thereby. I think we run the real risk of giving up in frustration at our own failings, at the messes large and small that we’ve made in our own lives and the lives of those around us. It is why I think Paul and Mormon placed “hope” right between “faith” and “charity” — it is hope that keeps us bound to Christ, even when faced with our own sins, errors, and weaknesses.

O to grace how great a debtor
daily I’m constrained to be!
Let thy goodness, like a fetter,
bind my wandering heart to thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
prone to leave the God I love;
here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
seal it for thy courts above.

This last verse is the one that makes me weep. It captures my fears, my frustrations, my hopes, and my pleas to God. The foundation of my hope is that I’m pretty good at enduring; beyond that, I simply have to trust that God’s grace will do the rest.  ..bruce..

[cross-posted over at Mormon Mentality]

2 thoughts on “Aging with grace

  1. Dear Bruce,

    Your feelings expressed here are my feelings also. I will turn 55 this month. Nine months ago I was ordained to the office of Patriarch in our Stake. I now pray for mercy as never before! Thanks for sharing your experience.

    Faithfully yours,
    Ray Moore

  2. Great post. Your post was timely as I am reading Stephen Robinson’s “Believing Christ” with my wife nightly. My wife is a foreign convert, so reading about the role of grace and mercy is enjoyable for us as it is something new for our marriage.

    Your post is especially enlightening as I am on the other other end of the spectrum than you (I’m 27) and it is fascinating to hear from someone comment that he feels like he is still working toward the same goals. In a way, it is comforting to know, while I suppose I already did, that I will be just as needy when 55 as now. This is a good lesson to learn now to not be disappointed if I am not where I want to be but to endure with myself.

    Come Thou Font is one of my favorite songs and miss it from the hymnal. If there is a revision in the future, I would love to see it. Personally for me, I wouldn’t mind seeing it take the place of “In Our Lovely Deseret”, though I do like the “eat very little meat” verse. There is nothing like a Men’s Choir and Come Thou Font.

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