I have four “children”. They’re all grown now, but I specifically remember the period of time when they were teenagers. How can anyone forget that?
As a parent, sometimes we can see into the future of our children’s lives by looking into the past of our own. And we can try to prepare them by giving them tools to stand firm against the inevitable struggles they will face.
When it came time for our kids to start dating, we tried to instill in them the fact that they needed to set boundaries and expectations before they ever actually went out on a date. They needed to know how best to navigate a difficult situation, and to be sure of their convictions ahead of time. That way, when they were in a tough spot, they already knew what truth was important to them and they wouldn’t simply get tossed around by their feelings.
Feelings aren’t always the best indicator of truth. We need to know truth BEFORE challenges come. When we firmly grasp truth now, it anchors us for later, when we need it most.
In 1871 a man named Horatio G. Spafford was a successful lawyer and businessman in Chicago. He and his wife Anna, had 5 children. He was a devoted father and faith filled Christian. Tragedy began to strike his family in 1871 when their four year old son became ill and died of pneumonia. The sorrow and grief they must have felt! Later that same year, the great Chicago fire ripped through their city, destroying much of Horatio’s business, all of his investments, therefore taking the family income. Two big blows back to back. But God’s kindness allowed the family to recover from the fire, and for the business to flourish again. But Anna still struggled. Of course.
Seeing that his wife desperately needed some rest, the family planned a trip across the sea to England. It’s now November 1873. Just before the ship was to sail, a business issue developed and Horatio needed to stay behind a few days. Anna and their four little girls went ahead with the promise that daddy would join them shortly. But four days into their trip across the ocean, their ship collided with another vessel. In just 12 minutes, it slipped below the sea taking all 226 passengers, including Horatio’s family, with it. Miraculously, Anna was rescued and telegraphed her husband (the only way to communicate quickly over large distances) “saved alone. What shall i do?” I for one cannot begin to imagine this mother’s grief. Unable to save her four sweet little girls from drowning. Still suffering the loss of her young son before that. Now alone to grieve and undoubtedly suffering from being rescued at sea, she waits for her husband to make his trip across the ocean to be with her.
Horatio is grief stricken himself. Unable to get to his wife quickly. Bearing the weight of all 5 of his children now gone. Not knowing why tragedy struck or what his new life will look like, he looked to the anchor of truth in his life. His faith in God was firm and established before tragedy took his children. Horatio knew that nothing could separate him from God’s love, though certainly many things would try.
He wrote the lyrics to the well known hymn “It is well with my soul” as the ship he sailed on to be with his wife passed over the very place where the sea took his children. But those words did not start that day. They started long before as he deepened his faith in God’s love. As he spent time in the word. As he prayed and trusted God in other situations. As his strength and hope in God was developed along the way. His faith was alive and well when he needed it most. He had the tools to stand strong in difficulty.
The familiar words “whatever my lot, thou has taught me to say, it is well, it is well with my soul” are comforting for us when we hurt too. If Horatio can endure all the pain he suffered and keep both his sanity and his faith, maybe we can too. Most of us have not dealt with the kind of deep suffering that Horatio did, but our pain is our own. We still feel it deeply and we wrestle to give pain its proper place.
Big Daddy Weave has a beautiful song on Christian radio right now called “I Know”. At the beginning of the song, they are singing to the lord out of hurt and questioning. They sing “you don’t keep my heart from breaking, when it does you weep with me” I encourage you to give it a listen. It will speak to you heart if you’re hurting at all today Long ago I heard this phrase, “When you’re happy you hear the music, and when you’re sad you hear the words”. Horatio gave us beautiful words of faith from his own heart, that speak truth deep into the painful places of life for us today.
God says the same things to us repeatedly in scripture. His promises are sure. He will never leave us. He is our ever present help in trouble. (Psalm 46:1-3) He weeps with us. God never intended for life to be like this, but sometimes it is. And when that’s the case, I want my faith to be sure ahead of time. I want to know God’s presence in my life before that pain, so I can let it anchor me when pain comes.