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How “It’s a Small World” Reminded Me Hymns Matter

This week we are taking our annual pilgrimage to Disney World (thanks to a very generous set of grandparents).

I love this place. Expensive, yes. But, totally worth it when someone else is helping pay for the adventure. It is, after all, the only place where someone will gladly pay $8 for a mediocre Rice Krispy treat.

There isn’t much I dread about this trip. I even enjoy the road trip and the waiting in line. The time where work and the busyness we left in North Carolina are pushed aside for uninterrupted time with my tribe. I just love it all.

Well, except It’s a Small World!

It’s not just the song. It’s the whole package.

In fact, it’s the stuff of a 1980’s horror movie. Thousands of child-size dolls all rocking back-and-forth and back-and-forth with a series of different wigs and overly stylized costumes.

But, worst of all is the song. A never ending campy round of “It’s a small world after all” fills the creepy boat ride. Exhibit #1: here’s the first verse alone!

It’s a world of laughter, a world of tears
It’s a world of hope and a world of fears
There’s so much that we share, that it’s time we’re aware
It’s a small world after all

Well, they got the tears and fear right!

I totally get what they were aiming for, but instead of precious and globally minded it becomes the theme song for a long, hot day. This “song that never ends” gets stuck in your head, and the next thing you know you’re humming it as you skip through the park!

It never goes away. It’s the gift that keeps on giving – kind of like a Nicholas Cage pillow case (a gift I actually received from a game of Dirty Santa).

But, because God turns that which the Devil meant for my destruction for my good, I did learn a lesson from the song this week. It reminded how much music can mark a moment.

When my parents divorced I was six. I didn’t really understand the depth of how much my life would change, but I know I felt sad. The most vivid moment from that season of my life was from a rather normal Sunday morning. I was at church with my dad and grandparents. At some point my sadness (or the length of the sermon) overwhelmed my attention span and I laid my head in my grandmother’s lap. I found rest and safety with her. I still do. She is a steady ship.

As the service came to an end the congregation was invited to sing “In the Garden.” I continued to lie in my grandmother’s lap and somewhere around the third singing of the chorus I found a new sense of peace in the lyrics of the song.

And He walks with me, and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own;
And the joy we share as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.

To this moment, anytime I hear this song it is joined with a sense of peace that surpasses any real human understanding.

Now a confession: I lead at a church with contemporary worship. We are committed to including the hymns of the church in our worship, but no one would accuse us of being traditional.

I would never advocate for all hymns or traditional worship, but I do think something is lost in the simplicity of much of contemporary worship music.

Here is what I learned from my days of singing “It’s a Small World” in Mickey-land.

Rich Theology
The songs that fill the Church’s history are rich with theology. This is not a rebuke of modern worship, which values singability. This is important and as a leader in Jesus’ church I FULLY support the move; however, most modern songs don’t include the depth of theology that I think would benefit us today. As example, Abolitionist activist Horatio Spafford was living a peaceful life in suburban Chicago in 1870 when his 4-year-old died of scarlet fever and his wealth was destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Instead of despair, he found hope in Jesus and penned these words:

When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say
It is well, it is well, with my soul

I don’t speak of my Jesus with such assurance very often – it would benefit us all.

Connection to History
This one is simple – it is nice to know that the words we sing echo through the cathedrals of church history. When we sing “All Creatures of Our God and King,” we are joining our voices with those who have sung these lyrics since it was written in 1225! Christians for eight centuries have loudly proclaimed:

All creatures of our God and king
Lift up your voices and with us sing
Alleluia, alleluia

Echoes of Our Story
The hymns of my childhood are the soundtrack of my life. When I hear the lyrics, or even just the melodies, it pulls me back to moments where Jesus was present in profound ways. I love 10,000 Reasons, a lot actually, but it pulls me back to last Tuesday. Whereas, “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” reminds me that when my family was falling apart, God was always faithful to give me, my brother, and my dad what we needed. What we needed was this: “Morning by morning new mercies I see. All I have needed Thy hand hath provided, Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!”

Every time my heart longs to know Jesus in new ways, I return to the garden where Jesus continues to meet me and bring me peace.

NOTE: This piece was originally published in October 2016. 

Chris Lawson

Founder of, husband to Merri, father to Adam, Ellie, and Zachary, and executive pastor @reynoldachurch. Lives to make Jesus famous. He enjoys watching the Atlanta Braves and UNC basketball, as well as demeaning and insulting whatever sports teams you root for. He knows a disturbing amount about television and movies.

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