In 1871 Horatio Gates Spafford, a well-known American lawyer and church elder, lost everything he had in the Great Chicago Fire. Two years later an iron sailing vessel struck the steamship Ville du Havre, which carried Spafford’s family, and it sank. Spafford’s daughters, ages 11, 9, 5 and 2, were among the 256 people who perished. He immediately set out for England to join his wife, who survived the disaster. It was on that voyage, at the very site the Ville du Havre went down, Spafford penned the words of the well-known hymn “It Is Well with My Soul.” Seven years later, his only son died of scarlet fever at the age of four.
A fire that destroyed all he owned. A shipwreck that claimed the lives of his children. An epidemic that took the life of his only son. Sure sounds like a nineteenth century Job. Yet Spafford, like Job, refused to let these tragedies diminish his faith in a God that promised never to leave or forsake him. He may have questioned God about the tragedies, but he blamed neither God nor others. He knew blame only led to bitterness, another of the subtle sins. He knew a bitter spirit poisons itself and spews that poison on everyone with ears to hear. So he allowed these seasons of trial to make him better.
A year and a half after his son died Spafford, his wife, and two daughters (born to them after the shipwreck) headed to Jerusalem to minister to the people there, regardless of their religion, without trying to convert them. In doing so, he established what later became known as the “American Colony.” It was here in 1881 that Spafford died from malaria and was buried.
Trials are often called “the winter of the soul.”
In the winter, the ground freezes. The harsher and colder the winter, the deeper the frost level. In the spring, the earth leans more and more toward the sun, the temperatures warm up, the sun shines longer each day, and warmer winds begin to blow. The frozen earth begins to thaw. At first the ground is muddy and mushy, but still unyielding in places. Water, like tears, seeps from the earth and shows where the frost is coming out of the ground. Eventually the frost leaves the ground completely, the sun and the wind combine to dry up the mud and mess, crocuses and daffodils pop up, and the grass turns green again.
We’ve all endured at least one “winter of the soul,” a prolonged period of time that can cause our spirits to grow cold and to harden. No one, not even the strongest Christian you know, not even those who have dedicated their lives to serving God, is immune from the heartbreaks of life. Indeed, these are the very times that will make or break our faith.
Winter, though, is only a season. When we, like the earth, lean more toward the Son and submit our hearts to the wind of the Holy Spirit, the frost of bitterness seeps out of our spirits, and we, too, can sing, even with tears, “It is well with my soul.”
When peace like a river attended 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.* Thank you, Lord. Amen.
*From “It Is Well with My Soul,” words by Horatio G. Spafford. Public domain.
Special-Tea: Job 1:13–2:10