These Lives We Lead
There was a gentleman once,
his last name, Spafford; his first, Horatio,
Who penned a song, It is Well with My Soul,
in the midst of his own tragic woe.
The Great Chicago Fire of 1871 had ruined him financially
and left him broke.
He sent his daughters and wife ahead to Europe,
not knowing the pain it would evoke.
The sailing ship hit another and sank too quickly
for his daughters to be saved.
His wife survived and sent a note:
“Saved alone” was all she engraved.
As he travelled to meet his grieving spouse,
over the spot of their deaths he sailed.
As grief warred with faith, haunting words he wrote,
to show that hope still prevailed.
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
“It is well, it is well, with my soul.”
I thought of these words as you shared the year’s struggles
over which you had no control.
A serious accident, wounding one of your children;
a freak storm damaging the house;
the children grieving deaths of young friends;
an opportunity for work meaning separation from your spouse;
taking your brother’s sister’s children into your care
after she tried to end her life in despair;
new cars being totaled;
and a rare illness sapping your strength and might:
I wondered how God expected you to bear up
under burdens so heavy, not at all light.
You must have read my mind because you asked
that question we often say,
“Just what is it that God expects me to reap
and come out with at the end of day?”
When the hardships and difficulties have finally ceased,
and we’re on the other end,
are there really lessons and truths we’ve learned
which only suffering can extend?
Why can’t our lives be sunshine and blue skies
and peace all the time?
If God is so good, why does tragedy continue
to mar the sublime?
There are both many answers and none at all
to questions such as these.
The words that we rationally speak
so very rarely affect the emotional unease.
But I wonder at our experience, that knowledge
we hold in our hearts alone.
Aren’t there truths about this life
which we know to be sown?
To learn how to love, you need to be shown love;
to be able to forgive, you must know what it’s like to be forgiven;
compassionate natures are bred by kindhearted souls;
mercy is taught by folks who are mercifully driven.
If we never experienced suffering,
whether physical, mental or heartache,
could we ever truly learn
to be empathetic for another’s sake?
Could we fully embrace
those moments of great joy
if we’ve had no sad moments
as a contrast to employ?
What about attaining peace and strength,
growing in character and perseverance?
Experience teaches that during the struggles
is when these traits gain coherence.
Would I have been able to cry
with my friend who was in pain
if the grief of losing my own babies
hadn’t been a part of my own life’s refrain?
Would that young woman
who needed to know that life can go on
received such care from me if
my own depression I’d not undergone?
How about the girl who wanted
nothing more than to escape
from a life she deemed now over
because of what happened, that horrible rape?
Would she have completed college
and married a wonderful man
if God hadn’t put me into her life
at just the right time, according to plan?
A once or twice occurrence,
maybe I could explain away,
but when time after time
shared experience saves the day,
I have to wonder whether
there isn’t truth to the thought
that it’s through the struggles in life
where goodness can be caught
if we remember in those times of pain
that God does indeed take heed
and works in both the good and the bad
of these lives we lead.