This morning I went through the program for this Sunday evening’s Black History Celebration just to prepare myself for my part and to get a feel for how the program will flow. I was familiar with most of the songs, readings and other elements. There was one song listed I wasn’t familiar with, so I decided to check it out. It’s entitled, “Can’t Give Up Now,” and here are some of the lyrics:

There will be mountains that I will have to climb,
And there will be battles that I will have to fight.
Victory or defeat, it’s up to me to decide;
But how can I expect to win If I never try?

I just can’t give up now;
I’ve come too far from where I started from.
Nobody told me the road would be easy,
And I don’t believe he brought me this far to leave me.

I went online (I’m getting pretty good at this!) and found that this song was written by a man named Curtis Burrell. I discovered another song written by him, entitled, “I Don’t Feel No Ways Tired.” Here are some of the words:

I don’t feel no ways tired,
I’ve come too far from where I started from.
Nobody told me that the road would be easy,
I don’t believe He brought me this far to leave me.

Wait a minute, those are basically the same lyrics. There are two different lead lines, “I Don’t Feel No Ways Tired.” and “I Just Can’t Give Up Now.” The first version was popularized in the 1960s by Rev. James Cleveland, the father of modern gospel choir music, and the second seems to have evolved from it over time. Actually, both versions are commonly attributed to James Cleveland, with Curtis Burrell sinking into obscurity.

So, I got to thinking about a feature these two lead lines have in common. You say you’re “no ways tired” because, in fact, you’re feeling really tired, weary of it all. And you say you “can’t give up now” because something deep within you desperately wants to give up. You’re encouraging yourself to go on against the current. You’re giving yourself a pep talk.

I thought of some real life situations where this attitude is essential. First I thought of myself (of course) and of how I had to keep pushing myself during last week’s move out of our home of 45 years. Every box seemed heavier than the last, but I kept saying, “I don’t feel no ways tired.” And, in fact, my energy was renewed by my “no ways tired” affirmation.

The second example that came to my mind was a young mother, just home from the hospital after the birth of her first baby. Her body, her mind, her emotions are all worn out. She tries to get some much-needed sleep, but it’s feeding time again. The baby’s cry renews her determination, and she tells herself, “I just can’t stop now.” And she keeps going.

The third picture that came me was from the distant past, when the roots of gospel music took shape in the cotton fields of the South. An old slave, feeling he can’t go on, calls out his troubles and trials in a mournful chant. What’s that he hears? A response from the next field over, his friend encouraging him to keep moving, keep working. Strengthened by the knowledge that his friend is alright, the old man urges himself on, “I don’t feel no ways tired; I just can’t stop now.”

— Pastor George Van Alstine