It was one of the most terrifying moments of my life. I had successfully sung it countless times with my quartet to open our university’s hockey games. Even though I wouldn’t have the crutch of my quartet, I decided I would try it alone. But when I stepped on to the court to sing the national anthem for the opening university women’s basketball tournament, I suddenly became very nervous. This was easily the biggest event in the women’s basketball program as they were hosting teams from all over the country (the university has recently gone to two NCAA, division II championships).
I started out strong, beginning in a key I knew I could sustain throughout. And then…I froze mentally. I didn’t stop singing, however. I don’t quite remember what came out; I just remember that it was in English and that it was wrong. All wrong. What I do remember is, though, is the looks: the heads turning from the flag to the center court where I stood, the lack of applause and cheering for the game to begin, and the feeling that I just wanted to bury myself under a rock somewhere.
But I couldn’t. I had to sing it again for the next game. But for that game, I came prepared. Whether it looked bad or not, I brought the words of the Star Spangles Banner with me. And I nailed it, then went back to my dorm. I never sang it alone again, and still haven’t to this day.
What made the difference between those two very different outcomes just hours apart from each other? The fact that I kept the words close. It’s not as if I didn’t know the words to the national anthem before, I did. I practiced for this day at least a couple dozen times. But the second time was different because I kept the words close.
What if, as Christians, we rehearse the words of the gospel for years, and yet come game day we forget the words? It happens when the call comes that we never expect, the diagnosis that we never want to hear is given, the person who we banked all our trust in lets us down, when temptation creeps in at a moment of weakness, when we are clouded in guilt and fear, or when we are frozen in the darkness of depression and anxiety. It is at those times we find out whether we have been merely rehearsing or we have kept Jesus’ words close to us.
This is why, at every deathbed that I have sat at, I have told the person the same thing, “Remember, Christ is your righteousness.” I don’t want people to forget these words at the moment of greatest importance. This is why knowing God’s words, truly trusting in them, and acting on them is so crucial in the moment of life-changing news, subtle temptations, or deep depressions.
Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passion (Romans 6:12).
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us (Romans 8:31)?
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).
Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good (Psalm 103:2-5).
The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord (Job 1:21).
The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. The Lord is good to all (Psalm 145:8-9).
Why are you downcast, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God (Psalm 42:5)
I was terrified when I realized I was singing the wrong words. But I can’t help but think of how much worse it will be on that day, when I need not lyrics, but the gospel. May we never forget the words. May we sing it with all gusto and confidence as we trust the Holy Spirit to keep the words close to us.