I don’t remember when we first sang it.
I don’t know when we decided to make it our weekly theme song. (It’s been years.) I’m told we don’t play it like the recordings, or like other churches sing it. I haven’t bothered to check. I can never remember who wrote it, and I don’t care, because it’s ours now.
[Friday Church at Highland Baptist in Louisville is amazing. I wrote this column for the church newsletter in 2014. For more about Friday Church, go to www.hbclouisville.org.]
“Trading My Sorrows.” There’s just something about it. For me, it starts with the stuff only the band sees and only the band gets. Back then, it was always the first song of the evening, and there’s that moment of anticipation as Pastor Joe transitioned from his opening remarks and says, “let’s trade our sorrows for joy.”
Then music minister Fred turns to the band, silently counts off “3-4”, and rolls across the keyboard. He exhorts the crowd as the singers draw a deep breath, the snare cracks on the 4 count as the drums kick in, and the bass rumbles down below like a happy beast.
And we’re into the verse-
I’m trading my sorrows I’m trading my shameI’m laying it down for the joy of the LordI’m trading my sickness I’m trading my painI’m laying it down for the joy of the Lord
Total word count is thirty-six. Complex theology and missiology it ain’t. It’s just wonderful.
It’s just four chords, all the way through. For you players, G-C-Em-D, or in standard terms, I-IV-VIm-V, as simple as it gets in rock and roll. Was it Hank Williams that said country music is three chords and the truth? “Trading My Sorrows” is four chords and the Gospel.
And that’s what Friday Church is. Simple, raw, and real. Once a week, at the end of the pressures and pains, stresses and strains suffered by people on the edge, we say yes to and yes with God. Goodbye to the sickness and pain of lost jobs, lost family, lives almost lost to addiction, crime, cancer, and poverty. Goodbye to the sorrow and shame that comes with that loss and humiliation. Yes to the weekly recognition as we remember again that we’re children of the God who actually does love us and still wants us.
Then back into the verse, we’ve sung it once, now we can sing it like we mean it. We really are trading it in. You gotta sing it twice, to even begin to get it. Black church pastors explain to white people like me why Black worship services last longer than white services. They say, because all week long, Black folk get dehumanized, and it takes an hour to be reminded and then believe we’re children of God. In the second hour, we can really celebrate.
That’s why we sing “Trading My Sorrows” twice. It’s a shortened version of the same truth. The first time we learn it and re-learn it, and the second time we come alive.
And then that chorus. 3 times through on “yes Lord”. Over and over, yes Lord. Yes Lord, yes Lord, amen. What an affirmation. God affirming us, and us affirming God. And we repeat it, still another time. The 3rd time through the chorus we sing a capella, with hands clapping high and fists bumps to the sky, as Fred sails on top pushing us farther and higher. People dancing in place in the pews, barely able to contain themselves as we end abruptly with “amen”.
A-men! Not ah-men, Aaaa-men. Ah-men is reserved, Aaaa-men is glorious. Amen. “Let it be so.” The thousand-year-old statement together that we agree, and we want it to be. Amen to a few minutes spent together every Friday evening coming alive again. Amen to hoping and believing that there is more, and it is love. Amen to trading in our sorrows, laying them down, and rising up again in the joy of the Lord.