By Thomas Dorsey (1899-1993); Guideposts magazine, October 1987
Back in 1932 I was 32 years old and a fairly new husband. My wife, Nettie, and I were living in a little apartment on Chicago’s South-side. One hot August afternoon I had to go to St. Louis, where I was to be the featured soloist at a large revival meeting. I didn’t want to go. Nettie was in the last month of pregnancy with our first child. But a lot of people were expecting me in St. Louis. I kissed Nettie good-bye, clattered downstairs to our Model A and, in a fresh Lake Michigan breeze, chugged out of Chicago on Route 66.
However, outside the city, I discovered that in my anxiety at leaving, I had forgotten my music case. I wheeled around and headed back. I found Nettie sleeping peacefully. I hesitated by her bed; something was strongly telling me to stay. But eager to get on my way, and not wanting to disturb Nettie, I shrugged off the feeling and quietly slipped out of the room with my music.
The next night, in the steaming St. Louis heat, the crowd called on me to sing again and again. When I finally sat down, a messenger boy ran up with a Western Union telegram. I ripped open the envelope. Pasted on the yellow sheet were the words: YOUR WIFE JUST DIED. People were happily singing and clapping around me, but I could hardly keep from crying out. I rushed to a phone and called home. All I could hear on the other end was “Nettie is dead. Nettie is dead.”
When I got back, I learned that Nettie had given birth to a boy. I swung between grief and joy. Yet that night, the baby died. I buried Nettie and our little boy together, in the same casket. Then I fell apart. For days I closeted myself. I felt that God had done me an injustice. I didn’t want to serve Him any more or write gospel songs. I just wanted to go back to that jazz world I once knew so well.
But then, as I hunched alone in that dark apartment those first sad days, I thought back to the afternoon I went to St. Louis. Something kept telling me to stay with Nettie. Was that something God? Oh, if I had paid more attention to Him that day, I would have stayed and been with Nettie when she died. From that moment on I vowed to listen more closely to Him. But still I was lost in grief.
Everyone was kind to me, especially a friend, Professor Fry, who seemed to know what I needed. On the following Saturday evening he took me up to Malone’s College, a neighborhood music school. It was quiet; the late evening sun crept through the curtained windows. I sat down at the piano, and my hands began to browse over the keys. Something happened to me then. I felt at peace. I felt as though I could reach out and touch God. I found myself playing a melody, one I’d never played before, and the words– they came into my head and just seemed to fall into place:
Precious Lord, take my hand, lead me on, let me stand! I am tired, I am weak, I am worn.
Through the storm, through the night, lead me on to the light. Take my hand, precious Lord, lead me home…
As the Lord gave me these words and melody, He also healed my spirit. I learned that when we are in our deepest grief, when we feel farthest from God, this is when He is closest, and when we are most open to His restoring power. And so I go on living for God willingly and joyfully, until that day comes when He will take me and gently lead me home.
NOTE: Thomas Andrew Dorsey was at first ‘Georgia Tom,’ an African-American blues band leader. After becoming a Christian, he turned to writing Gospel music. He wrote more than a thousand Gospel hymns, including the “Peace in the Valley,” and has been called ‘the father of gospel music.’ He is not to be confused with Tommy Dorsey (1905-1956), a Caucasian jazz musician and big band leader of that same time period. “Precious Lord” has been translated into 32 languages and was the favorite of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. It was sung at King’s funeral.
Isaiah 41:13 — For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you. Do not fear; I will help you. (NIV)
Psalm 73:21-26 — When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered,
I was senseless and ignorant: I was a brute beast before you.
Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory
Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
Psalm 139:8-10 — If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide, your right hand will hold me fast.
Precious Lord, Take My Hand, Thomas Dorsey, 1932
Lead me on, let me stand I am tired, I am weak, I am worn Through the storm, through the night Lead me on to the light Take my hand precious Lord, lead me home.
When my way grows drear Precious Lord linger near When my life is almost gone Hear my cry, hear my call Hold my hand lest I fall Take my hand precious Lord, lead me home.
When the darkness appears And the night draws near And the day is past and gone At the river I stand Guide my feet, hold my hand Take my hand precious Lord, lead me home.
This great hymn can also make a great prayer. Print it and keep it in your Bible. It can be a comfort “when the darkness appears” in your life.