It became one of my favorite hymns during my freshman year of college– half my life ago. We would gather together and my friend Jonathan would play his guitar and we’d all sing, and I’d close my eyes and sing the harmony and feel the peace of the words wash over me– “It is well with my soul.”
I had no idea what those words meant. Truly.
I guess I loved the music and the peaceful feeling it gave me as we sang together. But that’s not what those words meant. And they also aren’t a mantra, that if you repeat will eventually come true.
It is well, it is well with my soul . . . and that’s an order!
Sometimes I would feel guilty when I sang it, as I got older, and I knew things weren’t right with me; I felt like I was missing out on some kind of peace that every other Christian had found, that those words meant that it was well with my life.
And you know, sometimes it’s not well with my life.
Even in college, when my biggest problems were roommate drama and the boy I liked not liking me, I knew then it wasn’t always well with my life.
When I started spotting during my first pregnancy, and we feared miscarriage . . . when we had a bad phone connection and I was crying and yelling into the phone to my ob/gyn that I was so afraid– it wasn’t well with me. (That baby will be thirteen in December!)
When I found myself unexpectedly pregnant, when I was so very ill and afraid that I had hurt my baby with my arthritis medicine before I even knew he was coming . . . when I finally came to peace with the pregnancy and went to a routine exam and there was no heartbeat, no life . . . when I woke up from the blessed oblivion of my D&C and the memory of what had happened came back to me and I wept in the recovery room– it wasn’t well with me, though God was nearby.
For so many years I sang that song and loved it and yet at the same time didn’t understand it, because I thought it was saying that “no matter what happens, I’m good,” and I knew this truth– I’m not good all the time. And that knowledge left me feeling guilty and despairing when I faced hard times, because I felt this horrible fear that I was missing out on some important part of the Christian life.
And then, last year in Sunday school, we were studying John’s epistles, and we came to the little book of 3rd John, and I read this: “ Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul.” And I had this brain-lightbulb-epiphany thing when I realized that what John was saying is that he knew it was well with his friend’s soul, even though he had no idea what was going on in his friend’s life.
Somehow I had gotten this idea in my head that It is well with my soul meant It is well with my life. I’m doing good, you know? But that’s exactly what it doesn’t mean. It is well with my soul means exactly that– that my soul is safe. Nothing can harm it. The inner part of me– my true self– has been redeemed and sealed. It is “hidden with Christ in God” as Colossians 3:3 says.
Whatever is happening around me– when nothing is well with my heart, my mind, my circumstances– when I’m a complete disaster and everything is falling apart– it is well with my soul. Nothing can change that.
Two miscarriages can’t change that.
Financial difficulties can’t change that.
My rebellion against the King of my life can’t change that.
My foolish seeking after earthly pleasures can’t change that.
My lack of understanding can’t change that.
Grouchy kids, broken vehicles, expensive groceries– none of them can change that.
Discouragement and depression and physical pain and sleepless nights cannot change it.
The death of a friend, the loss we can’t explain, the ongoing recurring theme in my Facebook feed these days of cancer, cancer, cancer– cannot change this fact:
That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.
It is well, it is well with my soul.
My life is hidden, safe in God’s presence, in the hands of Jesus Christ. Nothing can pull me from Him; nothing can pluck me from His hands; nothing can separate me from His life. And if you know Him as your Savior, then it is true for you as well.
Take a deep breath, and let this understanding change your heart as it has changed mine. It’s okay to grieve, to recognize you’re not okay, to be in a bad, hard, miserable place, and to admit that. For so many years I thought I had to be strong, thought my negative emotions were somehow a sign that I was not right with God. That was a lie, and here is the truth: Regardless of what you face today, regardless of the sorrow, heartache, fear, desperation, agony, irritation, exhaustion– if you are in Christ then the most important part of you is held unmoving in the palm of the hand of the One who loves you more than His own life. And it may not be okay today, or tomorrow, or for a long time– not with your body or your mind or your heart.
But it is well with your soul. And one day, because of that, it will be well with every part of you.
Truly, it is well with my soul.