The perfect cup of coffee. The mountains. Sitting with my husband. Crossing a task off my list. Children asking for second helpings of a new dish. Those are places of peace and prosperity for me. Those are places of tranquility and safety, where everything is right in the world. Those are my “peace like a river” places.
Potty training. Broken cars. Unreturned phone calls. Failing health. Heartbreak. Sleepless nights. Failure. Relational distance. Those are “sorrows like sea billows” places. The mental, emotional, physical exhaustion of being spent for the needs of others is where I seem to live these days.
Yet the Lord is teaching me to say, “It is well with my soul.”
Horatio G. Spafford learned this lesson too. I don’t think he liked it any more than I do, but the Lord, in His loving kindness knows that hardship brings to light the reality we hold in our hearts. In the 1870, the Chicago fires brought great loss to the business operations of this godly Christian man. Yet even with a failing business, Spafford maintained his trust in the Lord and the story that God was playing out in the world. To give him space to clear his head and also to help with the revivals happening in Great Britain, Spafford planned a family trip to see his friend D.L. Moody. Business delayed him, but Spafford sent his wife and four daughters ahead of him by boat. A little over a week later, Spafford received a telegram from his wife “saved alone”. The ship that was transporting his beloved girls had crashed into another vessel and sunk; only his wife survived. Mr. Spafford’s trip across the Atlantic must have been so overwhelming for this man as he pondered what the Lord was doing and why this tragedy had befallen him. Yet it was on the very waters that engulfed his family, Spafford wrote the words “It Is Well”.
This well-loved song has always been a sort of anthem in the midst of hardships, but it has taken on new meaning for me as I attempt to personalize and particularize it for my day. What started as a joke for my son has begun to really sink into my heart. This learning to not be defined or even swayed by current situations but to find comfort in knowing that nothing can separate me from the love of my Savior.
Somehow it is almost easier to cling to this hope when things are hard. When there is desperation or temptation, the dire situation seems to drive us to the foot of the cross of Christ. Sure, it’s not easy to trust that the Lord is good or that His plan is good, but when He is all we have, we can simply find that He is all we need.
But what about in those times of peace? It’s easier still to forget the Lord all together when life is going well. When things are “business as usual” or we are in times of prosperity, our frailty seems further away. It’s easier to mentally check out at church, just skim the Scriptures quickly, or allow the mind to wander during prayer.
So where can we find that hunger for the Lord, whether in times of need or times of success? I think the third stanza of this great hymn of the church can provide us some direction.
When you consider your sin, what comes to mind? What is your knee-jerk reaction when you talk about sin? Likely, it’s dark, negative, a minor key. But Spafford provides us such an unexpected association when he considers his own shortcomings. Consider this line: “My sin – oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!” Spafford is so excited to talk about his sin because we can only know the greatness of our Savior when we understand how horribly lost we are without Him. Talking about sin is so great because it is an immediate reminder of our need for Jesus Christ.
As we chose to focus on the person and work of Christ in our lives, the peace and the sorrows all seem to fade toward the backburner. There is a contentment that sets in because of the freedom we experience in the shadow of the cross that cannot be taken from us. There is liberty that is a direct result of something entirely outside of our control. We are set free from the burden of perfectionism and the guilt of our failures as we focus on the Christ who has regarded our helpless estate and has shed His own blood for us.
The Lord pays attention to me. Not because I am doing great, not because I am a hot mess. Jesus loves me because Jesus loves me. It is His love that makes it well with my soul. Even as we wait for the Final Day when all that we have done will be weighted in heavenly measurers, what will remain is the work of Christ.
It is this work that must be taught to my soul. It is this blest assurance that must control. It is this love that must be the source of my praise. It is Jesus that makes both the good days and the bad days well with my soul.