When Lent comes around, we think about the foods we stuff in our mouths, walking our feet to the gym, and putting our hands to good works… but what about our ears? Years ago, when I was really into concert going and new artists, I decided to go on a “fast” from my usual musical diet. That Lent, I resolved to only listen to Christian music (or classical music) during my commute or in my apartment.
Psalm 34:1 (NRSV) says “I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth.” And if praise wasn’t continually in my mouth, it was more frequent than usual, thanks to all the lyrics from Scriptures and hymns I was hearing. I have children now. This Lent, I relaunched this music fast as a family activity. (Not just because I was getting really tired of that one Disney CD, either. Really.)
And here’s a big bonus: listening to more musical Scripture and doctrine is a powerful opportunity for children’s faith formation. Words set to music convey truth in unforgettable ways. In actor John Lithgow’s children’s album The Sunny Side of the Street, he writes that he can recall few lines from the many award-winning dramatic performances of his adult career. He can, however, remember nearly everything he sang as a kid. How many jingles can you still belt out from childhood? Songs stick, don’t they? Why not harness that power and fill our ears—and the littler ears in our houses—with words that are true, pure, and noble this Lent? (Philippians 4:8)
You may agree that’s well and good, but wonder, “Is there Christian children’s music that won’t drive me bonkers?” We parents have probably all hit our quota of squeaky-voiced kiddy choirs, corny/saccharine lyrics, and insanely repetitive verses (Noah and your “arky,” I’m looking at you). However, we’ve found a few albums we all enjoy at my house, and here they are. (If you have some of your own, please share in the comments section!)
The Songs for Saplings album series by Dana Dirksen are solid additions to your family music library. This mother of six from Portland, Oregon began recording theologically-oriented original music for children several years ago, and the catalog now includes around eight albums.
Songs like “Will God Ever Die?” (surprisingly catchy!) and “What is Justification?” are based on Scripture passages and the Westminster Catechism. These songs have provided an entry point for some important doctrinal truths to worm their way into my kids’ hearts. God’s omnipresence is an enormous concept to swallow no matter your age, but it is a precious thing hearing my little girl sing: “Can you see God?/ No, God is a spirit/ But I know He always sees me.” She’s getting it.
Full disclosure though, the theology is definitely Calvinist and the occasional use of King James era language may be confusing and awkward. For example, the bluegrassy catechism song “Who were our first parents?/ Adam and Eve” exasperates my kids, who know for a fact their parents are not named Adam and Eve. But the music is fun, sometimes reflective, sometimes upbeat, and always good for starting a great backseat discussion about God on your way to the store.
The kids also enjoyed the recording Wee Sing Bible Songs, which has many Sunday School classics you will remember: “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands,” “Jesus Loves Me,” and “Deep and Wide” among many others. An illustrated companion booklet contains the printed music, lyrics, and hand motions or actions for each song, which are fun to do at home or with a Sunday School class.
The Psalty Singing Songbook series (which dates from my 80s childhood) has been a hit on road trips or during quiet times. The bright choruses are linked by a fun themed narrative (baseball, Christmas, the global family of God) in a radio show format.
Some groups and musical styles to consider for you or your children might include:
- Gospel music
- Anonymous 4’s medieval tunes and early music
- Indelible Grace hymns
- folk songs and spirituals
- Steve Green’s Hide ‘em In Your Heart albums
- Rain for Roots children’s albums
- The Donut Man albums (which feature songs for use with the liturgical calendar)
Do you think you’ll try a musical fast? Blessings on you this Lent as you turn your eyes—and ears—to God!
What music helps you grow in Lent?