Peace like a river... attendeth my way...
[Yet, simultaneously, imagine]
Sorrow like sea billows that roll.
The imagery of Horatio Spafford’s well known gospel dirge, It Is Well With My Soul, is surreal and haunting, yet it is God’s promise of the dualist outcome of a grief journeyed with – with the Lord God – to know peace even in sorrow.
Having previously experienced grief, including in the form of a major loss of property because of fire, Spafford, the following year, sends his wife and four daughters onward without to England, for business had held him back. The ship tragically sinks. Later, he receives the two-worded telegram from his wife, “Saved alone.” His four daughters had gone down with the ship – their resting place, the icy Atlantic. On his way over to England, as the ship he was on sailed over the very area his daughters lay, he penned the words of the song.
Spafford was a man who had lost all his children. What must grief have been like for Spafford? We can, and should, but wonder. For, a Joban type grief can strike any of us at any time, though the odds are so rare.
But grief is grief; there are no levels better or worse that are relevant.
Three States of Grief and Their Role in the Healing Process
There are three states of grief that I think Spafford was trying to communicate:
1. Peace like a river – there is a state for a believer where, even in the grip of mind-bending and heart-rending grief, there is the experience of peace like a river. Of course, this cannot be explained, but the gifting of the Spirit is made manifest to experience a shalom-type of peace to transcend the individual’s understanding.
2. Sorrow like sea billows that roll – imagining being atop the high seas, where the swell gently pitches the vessel, or where the seas toss the vessel more violently, such is the place of grief where sorrow swarms and overwhelms and remains to stir up the depressive senses. Inconsolability is the result; for an hour, a day, and longer.
But, even in sorrow, there is possible... a peace.
3. A peace-contained sorrow of calm, but shifting seas – this is a combination of the above – peace and sorrow – experienced at the very same time. This is surreal. Strength is borrowed from God as a continual transaction of surrender. A dramatic accord of acceptance glistens from within the believer who delights in the fact they can take their sorrows directly into the Father Heart of God.
The third state of grief is the evidence we are looking for that we have found peace in establishing, in our discipleship journey, a routine surrender before God – that requires no matter of thought.
It is no longer our own lives we live. We live, quite fundamentally, for God.
Oh Glorious God of Eternity,
Who is forever here on Earth,
Gracious and holy Paternity,
Make me more of divine rebirth.
Help me see the beauty and peace,
Grant me grace to more willingly surrender,
For, only through surrender is there release,
In grief, heal me and make me tender.
© 2014 S. J. Wickham.