In September it will be seven years since my father passed away. I miss him every day, all the time, but when he died it was a blessing. He’d been sick for a few years with some combination of dementia/Parkinsons/Alzheimers (the doctors never seemed to come to a conclusion). Whatever it was, it was mean. My sweet daddy withdrew into himself, losing the personality that made him him. He had trouble putting thoughts into words and it got worse as time went on. And then there were the hallucinations. I didn’t realize that’s what they were until much later, but he would have these “fits” where he would get very agitated and think that bad things were happening. I only witnessed them once or twice. “It was just terrible, terrible,” he said to me. It was awful to see him so distressed. I can’t even imagine what it was like for my mother, who kept him at home and took care of him until he went to the hospital and then, shortly afterwards, to hospice. Losing him was the greatest loss I’ve experienced thus far. The day after he died, one song kept playing in my head, “It is Well With My Soul,” an old hymn I’d learned growing up. It brought me peace. The lyrics, in part, are these:
When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say
It is well, it is well, with my soul
Just this week, in the middle of this frightening pandemic, my daily church devotional (pasted below) told the story behind the song. The condensed version is that a man named Horatio Spafford lost his fortune, he lost his son to Scarlet Fever, and he lost his four daughters who drowned in a shipwreck. In the face of what would make us all want to bury ourselves under a rock, Spafford took solace in the words of Paul: “I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content. I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” – Philippians 4:11-13 (NKJV)
It’s hard to be still. It’s hard to be out of our routine. It’s hard to miss our friends. It’s hard to have plans put on hold or cancelled. It’s hard to be so afraid all the time. It’s hard to hear the statistics that experts are giving us. It’s hard to hear about the supplies our hardworking medical professionals are lacking when we live in a land of “plenty.” It’s hard to hear the stories of the dying. It’s hard.
I think – I know – that God gets it. He knows how hard it is. It doesn’t fix anything, it doesn’t take away any of those hard things. It serves only to say that He who created the universe knows this is hard. And that He is with us in this hard time. We are not alone.
Coincidently – or not – a Nashville-based virtual choir’s rendition of “It Is Well With My Soul” was going around Facebook this week. It is beautiful. One of the things I like about it is that the members are introduced individually, and they are of every size, shape, and color, but they are united in one beautiful voice. If you haven’t listened to it yet, here’s the link. https://youtu.be/nDIJz6zzHNU
SHARING THE STORY
It is Well With My Soul
Scripture: “I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content. I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” – Philippians 4:11-13 (NKJV)
In 1871, Horatio G. Spafford, who had invested heavily in real estate in Chicago, lost a fortune in the Great Chicago Fire of that year. Subsequently, his four-year- old son died of Scarlet Fever.
In 1873 he decided to take his wife and four daughters to Europe, to participate in the great evangelical movement that was sweeping England at that time and also to have a vacation with his family. At the last minute, an urgent matter required that Spafford remain in New York for a time, but his wife and daughters boarded the French liner, Ville du Havre, and went ahead without him. On the night of November 22, 1873, in mid-Atlantic, the liner collided with another ship and sank, with 226 fatalities – including his four daughters. His wife was rescued and with 47 other survivors was landed in Wales, where she wired her husband: “Saved Alone.”
Tormented with grief, Spafford booked passage to join his wife in England. One night, the captain of the ship advised Spafford that they were then passing over the spot where the Ville du Havre sank. Spafford went to his cabin. Unable to sleep and distraught anew over the tragedy, he said to himself, “It is well; the will of God be done.” Later, remembering these words, he wrote this famous hymn, “It is Well with My Soul,” the first verse of which reads as follows:
“When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll,
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, it is well with my soul.”*
In the above scripture, Paul was speaking specifically about having abundant food and money at some times and almost none at others. But he undoubtedly had the same stoic viewpoint with respect to the times when he enjoyed the peaceful fellowship of Christians in some of the towns where his churches thrived and when at other times he was stoned and run out of town by angry people who rejected the Gospel. Paul was able to rely on the strength of Christ to get himself through the difficult times he faced. And Spafford undoubtedly drew from that same source.
With the coronavirus wave crashing down upon us, disrupting the lives of all and taking the lives of some, we too can survive only by leaning on the strength of Christ. It will enable us to do “all things” – to endure, to provide help, to be kind to one another, to comfort those who mourn, and to display God’s love and grace in a thousand other ways. We can also be content that God is with us and that “peace like a river” will return in good time. At the end of each day, we can then say to ourselves: Yes, “it is well, it is well, it is well with my soul.” Amen and amen.
Prayer: Holy Father, we confess that it is easy to be content when we are blessed with times of joy, peace, and prosperity. But we also confess, Abba, that it is very hard indeed for us to be content in times of danger, adversity, and persecution. And how can we be content in the face of this coronavirus thing? Forgive us, God, for our lack of faith! And help us to always remember that we can indeed do “all things,” including facing up to this danger with equanimity and steadfastness, with the help of Your Son Jesus, whose gentle arms are always there to reassure and strengthen us. In His name we pray, Amen.