I recently heard a gorgeous new rendition of one of my favorite hymns, “It Is Well with My Soul.” As I was listening, I remembered a fascinating Library of Congress exhibit I came upon years ago about the song’s author, Horatio G. Spafford.
In 1871, Spafford was a successful Chicago lawyer. He had it all: money, power, fame, and a beautiful family. However, in October of that year, he lost most of his business to the Great Chicago Fire. Two years later, he lost his four beautiful daughters in a shipwreck.
In the weeks after his daughters perished, Spafford wrote “It is Well with My Soul.” Learning the tragic story of how it came to be, I couldn’t help but wonder how this 19th-century Job figure could find it within himself to pen the words of this hymn right after such tremendous losses? “When peace, like a river, attendeth 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.’”
What is this “peace” of which he speaks in the midst of such sorrow?
Everywhere we turn—television, radio, newsfeed—there is news of strife, tragedy, and devastation. The more news we hear, the more it steals our peace. So how can we keep our peace during these tumultuous times? How can we find the strength to sing, “It is well with my soul,” when it seems that things just aren’t well at all?
1. Dwell on the good.
One of the easiest ways to dwell on the good is to just shut off the stream of bad news. Shut off the TV. Shut off the radio. Shut off the newsfeed. Monitor what you allow into your mind. Guard your peace. If you keep the channel on or keep checking that newsfeed, more likely than not, you will find yourself saddened, angry, and stressed. Instead, dwell on the good. Wherever you find God in your day—in a pleasant exchange, the beauty of a flower, the glint of the sun, a beautiful seascape, or a child’s laugh or smile—stop and acknowledge the beauty and the goodness around you, and take a moment to thank God.
2. Have a “heart-to-heart” with Jesus.
St. Ignatius urged his followers to envision themselves sitting with Jesus and conversing just as one would with a friend. So talk with him; go to Adoration, go to Mass, and pray during the day. Wherever you are, take your concerns to Jesus. All that bad news is not for you to shoulder. He’s got it. Talk about what’s going on in the world, the nation, your home, and your life, and how it makes you feel. Let it all out and be honest! Why not? He already knows what’s in the depths of our hearts, right?
One of my frequent personal prayers these days, recalling Ignatius’s advice about prayer as conversation, is: “Really, God? Again? I thought we were done with this! I need your help. We need your help. God, please help us.”
3. Embrace peace.
As you talk with Jesus, let go of fear and trust that he has it all covered. When you do this, you make room for him to fill you with “the peace the world cannot give.”
4. Spread peace.
Pope Francis reminds us that when we know Jesus, “Moved by his example, we want to enter fully into the fabric of society, sharing the lives of all, listening to their concerns, helping them materially and spiritually in their needs, rejoicing with those who rejoice, weeping with those who weep; arm in arm with others, we are committed to building a new world” (Evangelii Gaudium 269). Centered in the love of Christ and the peace that he gives, each one of us has the power to change the world, one small action at a time.
Once we regain our peace, we are impelled, as stewards of his peace, to share it. All it takes is one flame to break through the darkness. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. reminded us that, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that” (A Gift of Love: Sermons from Strength to Love and Other Preachings). It is up to each one of us to share of that light and that love that inspired the anthem, “It Is Well with My Soul,” so that, together, we may again find our peace.