Finding Light In the Darkness: Refuge for the Weary

This series is named for a Latin term, post tenebras lux, which translates to "after darkness, light." It is an evergreen hope, that light that comes after darkness. It is seen in nature: the moon reflects the hidden sun. We may say the sun's reflection in the moon is the hope we feel in the darkness; the visible sun itself is the fulfillment of that hope. What was once foreshadowed arrives, and continues to do so day after day. Sometimes we see our hope clearly in a brightly lit moon and joyfully anticipate the arrival of the sun. Other times, we have to remind our despairing selves that the sun is still there despite clouds or storms that hide it, or distractions like wind and lightning. The sun is still there.

And so, we sing.

In the first post of this series, I wrote, "This new series is going to walk through songs of worship that the hurting heart needs to sing, the aching soul needs to feel, and the cracked, dried lips need to utter." We must consistently remind ourselves of this theme of light after darkness, lest we forget and falter. We do this through a variety of means: in corporate worship, on our own wherever we are, in our home, driving to appointments, maybe even in a hospital bed.

Why Should I Sing?

Scripture exhorts us not to neglect gathering together for worship, and while this post doesn't focus on the reasons we may not, community worship is meant to be an encouragement when it does happen. When we gather corporately, we can participate in worship, specifically through song, even if we ourselves cannot sing because we are weary. Our brothers and sisters in Christ around us sing not only for themselves, but also on our behalf, strengthening us by the courageous voice lifted next to us, or the harmonizing behind us. Music often expresses what our lips and vocal cords don’t have the strength or faith to utter or hum. Eventually, we may be unable to keep from singing a song that resonates in our soul.

The Bible has over four hundred references to singing, and fifty direct commands to sing. The longest book of the Bible, Psalms, is dedicated to song. The New Testament commands us twice to sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to each other when we gather together. It would seem that singing is pretty important to God. Even God Himself sings (Zephaniah 3:17). We can sing the mercies and grace of God when our soul needs to be renewed and reminded of His goodness. We sing to God to worship Him for who He is as Creator and Savior, and we sing to ourselves to strengthen the feeble hands that need desperately to lift and give to God that which we cannot hold ourselves. We sing to remind ourselves that the sun exists, and we will feel its rays of warmth yet again if we cannot feel it now.

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Dear Refuge of My Weary Soul

The next song in our series that has been a stronghold for my heart in all kinds of desperation, lament, and even thanksgiving. "Dear Refuge of My Weary Soul" is a hymn written by Anne Steele in 1760. Anne Steele was the "the pioneer female hymn-writer of the eighteenth century," often writing under the pseudonym Theodosia. She wrote so many hymns that she became the “all-time champion Baptist hymn-writer of either sex," penning 380 hymn-texts.

Anne's entire life was native to suffering. Her mother died when she was 3, and as Kevin Twit writes on his Indelible Grace blog, "by 14 it seems she was bothered by chronic recurring malaria which took a progressive toll on her health." She was thrown from a horse at age 19 and suffered serious injury. Her fiance died by drowning, and she remained single the rest of her life despite multiple marriage proposals. Upon her fiance's death, she penned the beautifully-written hymn, "When I Survey Life's Varied Scene." She lived with her father and stepmother and was completely bedridden for the last nine years of her life. After she lost her father in death, she never fully recovered from her grief.

The ailments and griefs in her life led her to write many hymns that expressed her doubts and fears, even questioning assurance of her salvation. Dear Refuge of My Weary Soul and other of Anne Steele’s laments are hymns we can sing as we too struggle. Lament assumes a trust in and need of the One to whom we are lamenting, knowing He alone can sustain us through struggle. Read the words and note the progression the words and emotions take:

Dear refuge of my weary soul, On Thee, when sorrows rise.
On Thee, when waves of trouble roll, My fainting hope relies

Is your soul weary? Do you seek refuge in the Almighty? We can take our sorrows to him, entrusting him with fainting, or decreasing hope.

While hope revives, though pressed with fears, And I can say, my God,
Beneath Thy feet I spread my cares And pour my woes abroad*

To Thee I tell each rising grief, For Thou alone canst heal.
Thy Word can bring a sweet relief, For every pain I feel

When we set our hope on God, our hope grows stronger, allowing us to share everything we are facing with Him. We can tell God each grief and sorrow we have, for He is the only one who can heal us. He is the only one to grant strength for enduring pain He chooses not to heal. His Word is an encouragement to us in everything we are going through.

But oh! When gloomy doubts prevail, I fear to call Thee mine.
The springs of comfort seem to fail, And all my hopes decline

Yet gracious God, where shall I flee? Thou art my only trust.
And still my soul would cleave to Thee Though prostrate in the dust

We are human, prone to doubt. We fear to place our hope in God: what if He doesn't come through? All the "what if"'s drown out our hope, and we lose comfort as our doubts rise. We are reminded there is nowhere else to go; the Lord is our only trust. Even though we are as low as can possibly be, our circumstances dire, still we cling to Him.

Hast Thou not bid me seek Thy face, And shall I seek in vain?
And can the ear of sovereign grace, Be deaf when I complain?

No still the ear of sovereign grace, Attends the mourner’s prayer.
Oh may I ever find access, To breathe my sorrows there

The Lord has asked us to call on Him. If He has commanded us to come to Him, will He disappear when we look to Him? Would He truly ignore the cries of His children when we call out to Him? NO. The Lord does indeed hear His children, "attending the mourner's prayer." He does listen and work on their behalf. We always have full access to the Lord to "breathe our sorrows."

Thy mercy seat is open still, Here let my soul retreat.
With humble hope attend Thy will, And wait beneath Thy feet,
Thy mercy seat is open still, Here let my soul retreat.
With humble hope attend Thy will, And wait beneath Thy feet.

The last stanza is repeated, which is noteworthy—no pun intended. The verse at first seems to be a reminder of our access to the throne in which we may find refuge, the refrain to be more of a conviction and active state, resolved to hope humbly and wait on the Lord.

Where I Sing

I've sung this song in broken melody in the shower, in the car, and on my knees on the floor of my room. I sang after we moved away from family and dear friends and I felt so alone in our new home in a new state. I sang this song when my best friend was dying from cancer after we moved away. I sang after losing my temper with my son with autism. I have sung when my heart was in despair, struggling to hold onto any hope, despite the sunshine dancing through the trees in my yard. I have sung in thanksgiving that the Lord is indeed my refuge and a very present help in times of trouble.

You can sing, too. There's no room for excuses; you're not on American Idol. Your Creator, your King, the lover of your soul desires for you to sing to Him in worship! In fact, singing is never about you, it’s always about Him and honoring to Him. Will you begrudge Him the pleasure of worshipping Him this way, singing that He alone can hear?

By day the LORD commands his steadfast love,
and at night his song is with me,
a prayer to the God of my life.
Psalm 42:8

The LORD your God is in your midst,
a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing.
Zephaniah 3:17

So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath,
so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie,
we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement 
to hold fast to the hope set before us.
We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul,
a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain,
where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf,
having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.
Hebrews 6:17-20

And so, we sing, making the words of our song a prayer to the Refuge of our weary souls.

There are now two versions of this song. My favorite is by Kevin Twit from Indelible Grace sung by Sandra McCracken, but I encourage you to listen to both, and sing along to whichever resonates most with you.

Kevin Twit/Indelible Grace Version:

Matt Merker/Capitol Hill Version:

For further reading on Anne Steele, check out Doxology and Theology by Matt Boswell or Hymnary.

*This verse is not included in some modern versions of the hymn.

Sarah Broady is a wife, and mother to three boys including one with autism. She is a writer, advocate, speaker, and podcaster for her podcast, A Special Hope, available on her website, Hope in Autism and any podcast platform. You can find her on Facebook at @HopeinAutism, @ASpecialHopePodcast, on Twitter @3boys4me and @aspecialhopepod, and Instagram @aspecialhopepodcast.