It Is Well With My Soul – The Cliché Series – Part 5
Of recent years, a cliché that frustrates me is:
It is well with my soul.
When things aren’t going right: It is well with my soul.
When I’m sick and struggling: It is well with my soul.
When financial difficulties are stressful;
When doubts are questions are loud and angry;
When I feel like I’m slowly dying and have no joy;
When I’m mistreated and persecuted;
In the face of poverty and racism and mysogny and governments misuse of power;
In the face of violence and abuse and treachery: It is well with my soul.
Hang on, what?
It seemed for a while there that this phrase was thrown to every challenge, big and small, that came along as a way to avoid dealing with it, sitting with the complexities of life, admitting fault, taking responsibility, discovering that we can do things and that we must.
It is NOT well with my soul that the refugee crises in Syria is now the biggest humanitarian crisis of our time.
It is NOT well with my soul that hundreds and thousands are starving in Africa and India.
It is NOT well with my soul that healthcare is becoming a luxury rather than a central necessity of our communities regardless of income.
It is NOT well with my soul that our planet is slowly being destroyed.
It is NOT well with my soul that some are used as collateral damage in companies and countries.
There are so many tragedies and challenges and crises around us that I don’t think God expects us to throw our hands in the air and say of them, “It’s OK, It’s well with my soul.”
The line in question comes from a hymn written by a grieving father. Horatio Spafford found his life spiralling out of control when a fire took everything he owned in 1872. Two years later, a financial crash was imminent, so he and his family decided to return to England. He sent his wife and four daughters ahead of him while he tied up loose ends only to hear a few days after they left that the ship had suffered a collision and all of his daughters perished in the crash. He sailed on to England, desperate to be reunited with his wife, and in his grief, during the journey, he wrote a hymn.
“When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
it is well, it is well, with my soul.”
These were not words a man used to gloss over his grief, to ignore his trial, to ignore the pain and reject his plight. It was the exact opposite. He wrote them as a way to fully enter into his pain, and deal with the trauma.
There are two ways to say this line. They sound the same, hold the same words, and it takes the same time to say it each way. But they are very different.
One way is to use them as avoidance, “Oh well, It is well with my soul.”
The other is to use them as responsibility. “I can do this.”
“It is well with my soul” doesn’t mean that it’s fine and dandy and unicorns and rainbows. It means; we can do hard things. My soul is carried, more than that, it has an inner buoyancy gifted from the divine to make it through.
Be wary of people who say this phrase too often. That’s how it has become a cliché. But people who say it the midst of absolute heartache and trial? With tears in their eyes, a shake in their voice, too tired to rise? Who take personal responsibility for the tragedies around them knowing that they CAN be part of the answer?
Listen to them with everything you’ve got.
Written by Lizzy Milani