Suffering: A Double Edged Sword
FEBRUARY 5TH, 2017 (IN REFLECTIONS) By Msgr Anselm
One of the most influential and enduring hymns, a constant repertoire of choral models, and published in a wide variety of Christian fellowship hymnals is the song, “It Is Well With My Soul” This particular song was written by Spafford after a series of seemingly, unending biblical Job-like events in his life. Spafford was a successful lawyer and heavily invested in real estate in the Chicago area. In 1871, the great Chicago fire destroyed all his downtown investment properties while claiming the life of his two-year-old son.
The economic downturn of 1873 further weighed down on his financial interests to the extent that he made plans to travel to Europe with his family for a vacation. Part of his intention was to stop in Great Britain and help out his good friend Dwight L. Moody and Ira Sankey, whom he had financially supported, with their evangelistic tour. Because of issues arising from the Great Chicago Fire, relative to zoning matters, he sent his wife and four girls—ages 11, 9, 7, and 2—on the vessel, S.S. Ville Dur Havre, ahead of him, with plans to join them later, after dealing with this matter. Unfortunately, on November 22, the S.S. Ville Du Havre struck another ship—the Loch Earn, and sunk, killing all four of Spafford’s daughters. His wife survived, and sent him, the now famous telegraph, “saved alone…”
Shortly after receiving this telegraph, Spafford set sail to meet with his grieving wife. Some say that he wrote the lyrics of the song, “It Is Well With My Soul” as he passed the very spot where his daughters perished. Others believe he wrote the lyrics after a few years with other sad events interjecting into his life. After this tragic incident, the Spafford's had three more children. On February 11, 1880, one of the kids, now their only son, Horatio Goertner Spafford, died at the age of four, of scarlet fever, leaving them with only two daughters out of seven children. To add salt to injury their Presbyterian church regarded these tragedies as divine punishment upon the family.
But the Spafford's were not about to let others determine their destiny in life. Therefore in response to this negative proclamation, they formed their own sect, which the American press dubbed: “The Overcomers”. They eventually moved to Jerusalem where they found a group called the “American Colony”; an evangelical ministry that was totally devoted to charity without any proselytizing intent. They were widely welcomed and accepted by the various religious denominations, and they played a critical role in supporting various communities in this area during and immediately after World War I, to the extent that the activities of this colony as depicted in the novel, “Jerusalem” became a Nobel Prize winner for the Swedish novelist, Selma Lagerlof.
A powerful lyric in the song: “It Is Well With My Soul” is: “whatever my lot, you have taught me to say, it is well with my soul”. Scripture says: “If God be for us, who can be against us” and further it says: “Nothing can separate us from the love of God that has come to us in Christ Jesus.” (Ref: Romans 8:35-39). I truly believe that Life is all about attitude! Think about it! If we cannot change a situation what does anxiety and fussing, and killing oneself produce? When all is said and done, it is our attitude that will determine our altitude in life—how we chose to operate; how much energy we have in reserve to move on; how to keep the outlook, how to work the strategy, how we hope for breakthroughs, how to negotiate detours, and the ability to embrace the outcomes of tomorrow.
Nothing can stop the man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal; nothing on earth can help the man with the wrong mental attitude. There is little difference in people, but that little difference makes a big difference. This little difference is attitude. The big difference is whether it is positive or negative.
My purpose in telling this story is to amplify the part that attitude plays in our lives. Life seems to testify that, with the right attitude, we are unstoppable in the achievement of objectives, while with the wrong mental attitude, no amount of help is sufficient to counter the obstacles to successful living. Many a time, we may overlook the importance of attitude, but when it comes to human survival, believe me, attitude is of utmost importance if it is positive or negative. Positive attitude is a continuously creative activity while negative attitude is a poisonously degenerative and depletive activity. This is why moments of suffering are good times to focus on gratitude—a very positive attitude.
The way I see it, the spirit of gratitude is “coup d’être of Blessed Intention over Fruitless Anxiety”. The fact is that the more we are focused on gratitude, the more our mind is focused on blessings, and the more our mind is focused on blessings, the more our intention (which is a spiritual power) is focused on manifesting more of it; the more our intention is focused on manifestation, the more it calls forth that manifestation into reality. This is how being an “Overcomer” works.
Here is the theory as I formulate it: “In situations in which the human mind is focused on a goal or a situation, be it positive or negative, the primary thought of mental focus becomes an intention of the mind, causing the mind and drawing the heart into environments of thoughts conditioned by the intention. Such thoughts call forth into reality situations that satisfy the aggregates of the original intention thereby manifesting into reality the original intention in some sort or form that fulfills in part or in whole, the basic obsessions of the original thought process.” In simple language, we need to be careful what and how we think during moments of suffering and tribulations, for our thought is the mother that gives birth to our lived future experiences.
An attitude of gratitude toward God during difficult moments in life is a necessary attitude for the perfect altitude needed to counter-punch the vicissitudes in life. We might think it a crèche, but it is nonetheless true that it is I, not events, that have the power to make me happy or unhappy at any given moment, if only I can truly come to terms with the fact that yesterday is toast, tomorrow is a dream, and today is all I have to determine what state of mind I need to be in, knowing that our greatest fears never come to past as we think them, and even if they do, if there is something that can be done about them, then that should be my focus; if there is nothing that can be done about them, to waste is the negative condition of unhappiness into which I plunge myself. At the end of the day, what is helpful to be done is to assume that something good is hidden within each difficulty or challenge that I face. Many a time, our blessings lie on the side of our pain. Look for the gift in any difficult situation and you will most probably find it.