Friday, May 14, 2010

It Is Well With My Soul

Pain changes everything doesn't it.

The trials we face are often the ones we least expect. And they always hurt infinitely more than we ever imagined. I found myself blown away by the intensity of the pain of my daughters' deaths and even more surprised by my response to it.

I imagined myself coping so much better. I don't even know what that means exactly, but I do know that I didn't meet my own imagined expectations.

One month before Aubrey and Ellie were even born I attended a woman's retreat for a weekend. During that retreat I attended a short class about maintaining faith through trials. The speaker spoke of the death of her ten month old daughter and how she and her husband endured their grief with faith. Through their pain they triumphed in Christ. She was very real about her experience and very inspiring. I remember walking out of that class thinking to myself if I ever endure such hardship I hope I can do so with as much strength and faith as her.

Six weeks later I stood at the graveside of my daughters', broken and lost. I didn't feel strong at all. I felt hurt and scared and horribly disappointed. All my energy was being put toward simply waking up each morning. I wanted to persevere in theory, but in application I just didn't seem to have it in me. Real pain was more crippling than I ever imagined it and I couldn't seem to bridge the gab between my hypothetical expectations of myself through trials and suffering and the realistic ones. And for a while I lost my way.

I can only compare it to running on a wounded leg. Until you stand on a broken leg it is impossible to know how much it truly hurts, let alone have to run on that leg. It isn't like the movies where gritting your teeth and taking a deep breath gives you the pain tolerance you need to run. This was real life and real pain. And figuratively speaking I didn't have it in me to stand, much less run, in my brokenness.

I wanted to. But I couldn't. And I felt horribly guilty about that for a long time.

Perseverance seemed reserved for the stronger people. The ones who, when tested, ran on their broken leg regardless. Not the weak and overwhelmed like me.

Where was my strength, my unshakable faith, my relentless striving in the face of suffering and trials?

Losing my girls has not only been the most painful experience of my life, but it has been a giant magnifying glass on who I really am. My faith and character were exposed to the core. And it wasn't always pretty.

Even before losing my girls I have been extremely impressed with those who seem to be able to persevere through extraordinary pain and adversity. I am in awe of World War II vets who fought willingly for this country despite the hell they endured, especially those who reenlisted. I am blown away by athletes who put themselves through years of hard work and pain for the chance to compete in the Olympics or earn a championship. Some competing with injuries, in unimaginable pain, just to finish what they started. I marvel at people who have lost everything they love and find a way to continue on with meaning and purpose as an example to us all.

At my daughter's funeral we played the song "It Is Well With My Soul." My uncle played it for us on his saxophone. I don't know if you are familiar with that hymn and its history, but it was written by a man named Horatio Gates Spafford. His life was full of tragedy. First his only son died of Scarlett fever at the age of four, then he lost his entire fortune in the Great Chicago Fire, but ultimately it would be the death of his four daughters at sea that inspired the hymn. His wife and daughters were on a ship that sunk on its way to England and miraculously his wife was spared, but his girls were not. He immediately boarded a ship to join his bereaved wife in England and as he passed over the very spot where his daughters perished he penned the words to the hymn:

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

It is well, with my soul,
It is well, with my soul,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.

It is well, with my soul,
It is well, with my soul,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

It is well, with my soul,
It is well, with my soul,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul.

It is well, with my soul,
It is well, with my soul,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

When my girls died I could not say it was well with my soul. It was a long time before I could see through the pain. And honestly I am still striving to get to that place of authentic soul wellness...but I'm trying.

But no longer am I relying on my own strength. It hurts to stand on a broken leg ourselves. But when someone carries us the pain significantly decreases. The healing process seems so much more manageable with help and proper care, and how blessed are we that we get PERFECT care from the God who created us and knows us best. He is, after all, Jehovah-Rapha, the Lord your healer.

Soul wellness is available to us all. If we are willing, God can do a work in us that, despite the circumstances of our lives and the pain those circumstances cause, we can still be well in our soul. We can be transformed from the inside. And we can see with new eyes.

I know how hard it is trying to embrace the healing God can offer. I know that nothing I do, not even my faith, can bring my girls back to me. And at times I wonder how my pain can ever end as long as they are not with me. It seems like a horrible contradiction.

But it isn't.

It is a miracle.

Without God there is no hope. And he is not asking us to forget or to stop feeling or to make our hurts small. He is simply asking us to trust him.

He is big enough that our pain doesn't have to shrink one molecule for him to overcome it and bring wellness to our soul. His grace is sufficient regardless of the size of our pain. He has the power and the willingness to fix whatever is ailing us. And not fix in the worldly sense either, but in his ability to supernaturally instill joy and peace in a heart that is broken. He can mend any injury, physical and emotional, and does so willingly and completely when we ask him to as many times as we require.

I will always miss my girls and hurt that they are not hear. I bear that burden because I love them. And I don't want God to take my love for them away. But I do need to experience the fullness of God's love in every way to get me through.

It will be well with my soul, not when the pain goes away, but when, despite the pain, I can rejoice in the goodness of my God.

...when sorrows like sea billows roll, whatever my lot you have taught me to say, it is well, it is well with my soul.


  1. Whenever I hear that song I use it as a reminder to my brain. Despite how injured I feel, despite how dissapointed, despite how depressed, the reality is: It is Well With My Soul. My soul has been eternally redeemed. It is not is resserected! So I sing not because I feel "well" but because I "know" I am well!

  2. So beautifully written Rach! If I didn't know God already, I just might have meet Him for the first time reading this post. I rejoice in what God is doing in your heart and I can see it in your life! Love, your sister.

  3. What an incredibly difficult truth to come to terms with. As wonderful as it is that God has our souls in His hands, it is so incredibly hard to feel that "it is well". And when can we let go of the feeling that it's OK to be angry with God? When does it stop being OK to be angry with Him & necessary to start working on making our souls well?
    ... One of your blog followers ...

  4. That is my favorite hymn. I have loved it for such a long time.

  5. Thanks for the touching story, and the testimony of how the Lord encouraged your faith. "It Is Well" is the same kind of affirmation, as you know.

    I write a daily blog on hymns. I invite you to check out the story behind Mr. Spafford's song...

    God bless you, and encourage you today.

  6. We played "It Is Well" at my son's funeral as well. It is truly how I felt that day. And afterwards. I have my bad, sad days, and I miss him with every breath I breathe, but it is well with my soul. "Be Thou My Vision" was out other hymn picked....


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