Each month, I try to look at the hymn I’m working on in a new way. A new perspective.
“A Child’s Prayer” is a beautifully simple hymn. It’s also one of the most popular children’s hymns that we have. Nearly everyone knows it by heart. I’ve sung it many times since I was a kid. I’ve had the imagery of a parent kneeling next to their child as the child prays and the parent encourages them.
So when this hymn was chosen, I felt like it would be a month where I just do a pretty rendition of it and move on. It’s so simple and well known that I didn’t think there was anything new to learn or personal insight to gain. Otherwise, I would have discovered it by now.
I was wrong. I was so, so wrong.
As many of you know, I injured my left index finger a few months ago. I have no idea how it happened, or if it even really was an injury or not. A cyst began growing on the inside of the base of the finger, right where it hits the fretboard when playing.
It was incredibly painful. My hand became weak and I started losing coordination. I couldn’t play at all. That’s the real reason why I decided to redesign the site and take a few months off from the hymns this past winter. I could barely play.
I went to the doctor about two months ago and they got rid of the cyst, but the finger was still unusable. Now the whole finger was in pain. I could barely even touch a string without it shooting pain.
While I was able to get away with not using that finger in last month’s arrangement of How Great Thou Art, I knew I couldn’t do that forever. And I was worried that it wouldn’t get better in time for this month. But I felt like I needed to try.
And then you picked this song.
And then I watched a video of Janice Kapp Perry giving the backstory of it.
And then I bawled like a baby.
This song is based on a song she wrote out of frustration… from losing the use of her left hand.
It wouldn’t work. She had difficulty controlling it. It was becoming weak and she was losing coordination.
This was early in her songwriting days and she was frustrated that she felt the desire to write, but couldn’t even use her left hand to play.
And that’s what this song really is about. It’s a plea out of frustration, wondering if Heavenly Father is really even there and listening to our prayers.
When she started writing for children, she repurposed it as a children’s song. While the reason for frustration is probably different for kids, the plea is still the same. “Heavenly Father, are you really there? Are you even listening?”
That was my new insight into the first verse.
Now the second verse …
It wasn’t originally written in the voice of a parent, encouraging their child to pray to Heavenly Father. Instead, it was the response verse.
It was coming from Heavenly Father.
When she submitted this song to the church, they asked her to change the second verse because they didn’t want to put words in Heavenly Father’s mouth. I get that. Totally makes sense to me. I would have done the same thing, especially since it’s still so beautiful with that change.
But take a moment and think about how this song changes when you replace “He” with “I”.
“Pray, I am here.”
“Speak, I am listening.”
It was a powerful moment for me when I first did that. This song became personal. Deeply personal.
And that’s what I tried to do with this arrangement. Keep it simple, but make it personal. Instead of having it be two conversations where the first verse was the child speaking to Heavenly Father and the second verse was the parent speaking to the child, I wanted to make it feel more like one conversation just between the child and Heavenly Father. That’s why it fluctuates in tempo and dynamics so much. I’m thinking of the words this child is saying and how they might be saying it, and how Heavenly Father would respond.
Since the first verse is the child, it’s very simple and stays on the higher notes. The second verse, being Heavenly Father, is all down low with as many bass notes as I could play. Too me, that’s how the spirit feels. Bass. Lots and lots of bass. This is also why the only time bass notes are played in the first verse is when it talks about heaven feeling close around you when you pray.
The third verse then locks both of the voices in and you hear how beautifully intricate the melodies are.
Now that I’ve rambled on long enough about what Janice Kapp Perry said about how she wrote this song, just click here to go watch the video for yourself and listen to how she tells it.
Thank you, all of you, for picking this song. I needed it.
He is there. He is listening.
And BTW, my finger is feeling much, much better now. :)
Here are the lyrics so you can sing along in your head. I’ve taken the creative liberty and replaced the He’s and His’s to I’s and My’s in the second verse for the full effect.
Heavenly Father, are you really there?
And do you hear and answer every child’s prayer?
Some say that heaven is far away,
But I feel it close around me as I pray.
Heavenly Father, I remember now
Something that Jesus told disciples long ago:
“Suffer the children to come to me.”
Father, in prayer I’m coming now to thee.
Pray, I am here;
Speak, I am listening.
You are My child;
My love now surrounds you.
I hear your prayer;
I love the children.
Of such is the kingdom, the kingdom of heaven.