Singing songs of faith, meditating on God's word can carry you through hardships.
“Bind them on your fingers; write them on the tablet of your heart.” Proverbs 7:3
I live by lyric. Perhaps we all do.
When I was in a hospital recovering from a traumatic brain injury, trying to graduate from the Rancho Los Amigos scale of coma, I remember not being able to tell doctors what town I was in or what I did for a living. What I could remember without hesitation? Lyrics to nearly every ’80s song that came on in my room.
After leaving six weeks of hospitalization and continuing with recovery at home -- listening to more music and singing songs from memory in the shower-- I remember thinking, “Oh, no! My generation probably could have cured cancer. Instead, all our brain space is taken up by Depeche Mode and George Michael!”
The brain remembers music. There’s no way I would remember a middle-school history test, but the words to a favorite Prince song? You bet.
“How can you just leave me standing?
Alone in a world that's so cold (so cold)
Maybe I'm just too demanding
Maybe I'm just like my father, too bold”
Alliteration, rhyme and repetition: Music has sound patterns that help the brain remember. So much so, music is being employed by nursing homes to help treat patients with dementia. Often, a patient who has been unresponsive to general questions or conversation lights up if talking about music he loved. A patient can become animated and sing along with a tune that comes on the radio, able to answer questions about life. Music therapy is also being used to help bring my brain-injury peers back to the land of remembering. It can also give them some peace from the confusion and frustration of not having your brain functioning as normal.
Leading theories among those who study the brain suggest lyrics even have their very own filing cabinet in the brain, one with strong memory paths leading to it.
“Celebrate good times, come on!”
A BBC.com article says, “So why do lyrics stick with us? It might be all to do with how your brain processes audible information, and where it compartmentalises that information.” It continues, “The leading theory suggests lyrics have their very own storage section in the brain, and one that is separate from where melody is stored.”
Even if the brain wasn’t or isn’t sending lyrics to their own room, music psychologist Vicky Williamson explains to the BBC that there are at least three other factors helping people remember lyrics so well. First, music is everywhere. The BBC writes, “Most people have no idea how often they have listened to their favourite songs, but it can add up to hundreds even thousands of times.”
Repeated exposure always increases retention, especially when the information is the same time after time.
“If you're lost, you can look and you will find me
Time after time
If you fall, I will catch you, I will be waiting
Time after time”
That repetition is so effective makes it mysterious to me why my kids don’t remove their shoes when they come home from school.
Emotional triggers are another factor. Emotional memories are usually easily recalled even without repeated exposure, experts say. Third, motor memory is at play. Singing along with a song can cement lyrics in the brain, just as motor memory is involved in recalling how to walk, drive or ride a bike.
All this current-day interest in using music memory for brain injuries and diseases impacting an aging population makes me more aware of how the Sunday school, church-camp and house stereo songs of my youth help me still today. I’m so grateful for the gift of so many songs of faith being stored in that special storage section in my brain.
When I wake up each day, I sing in my head (or to my kids):
“It's a happy day, and I thank God for the weather
It's a happy day, and I'm living it for my Lord
It's a happy day, and things are gonna get better
Living each day by the promises in God's Word!”
When I exercise, these lyrics often stream in my head:
“Lord, I'm keeping my eyes on You
Following You, following You
My Lord, I'm keeping my eyes on You
Following You, my Lord”
(While writing this for Wall of Faith, I looked up who sang that song. It was Twila Paris. I didn’t remember her, but I have her lyrics rolling off my tongue at least once a week!)
When I sit staring at the ocean or try to get my mind to ignore a running to-do list in my head during a yoga class, my thoughts sing:
“Organ stopped its playing
Everyone's gone home
But I'm here
wishing that somehow we could meet …
You and me, all alone in Your house
Don't know how to say it
I guess that I'll just play it
I'm here --
Meet me here”
(Thanks Evie. You played on my mom’s turntable when I was a young girl. A lot.)
When I watch a sunset or my family drives through the gorge, I can’t help but belt out:
“Oh Lord, you're beautiful,
Your face is all I see,
For when your eyes are on this child,
Your grace abounds to me”
(I. Love. Keith. Green.)
I wish I could say I had as many Bible verses floating effortlessly around my head as I do lyrics. I don’t. I usually have to look up Bible verses to get them right. I do paraphrase them with reckless abandon. Sorry, Paul. Maybe if you’d put them to song? That’s why this one isn’t going anywhere!
“Beloved, let us love one another
For love is of God
And everyone that loveth is born of God
And knoweth God
He that loveth not knoweth not God,
For God is love
Beloved, let us love one another
1 John 4:7 and 8!”
I want to pass on the strength of lyrical motor memories to my kids. One day, I hope my sons will wake up on their own with a joyful song running through their heads and focusing the day’s first thoughts on the one who can help them get through it best.
Read more about music and memory at http://www.bbc.co.uk/guides/zgqqrdm,
https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/how-be-brilliant/201206/why-we-remember-song-lyrics-so-well and https://www.brainline.org/article/music-healing-tool-after-brain-injury. Watch these fascinating, heart-tugging videos about how music is being used to help those with brain injuries, dementia and other brain impairments:
I love Jesus. I think my two daughters can change the world. I think you can too.
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