Does joy sometimes seem elusive?
Sure, we experience moments of happiness between the chaos of daily life. A particularly good scoop of ice cream might boost our mood after a busy day of attending office hours, labs, lectures, and study groups. But, is it possible to have that mood boost all the time, even in the midst of stress and sorrow? Don’t you crave something less fleeting than momentary happiness?
Life seems like an endless roller coaster ride of ups and downs, twists and turns. I’m getting a little motion sick because it all seems to be happening too fast.
The writer of one of my favorite songs had a life like this, a life of turbulent change, sorrow, and distress. Yet, his life yielded words that millions of people still sing today.
Horatio Spafford was an influential lawyer in Chicago in the 1860s. He and his wife had five children, and a comfortable life until tragedy struck their family. Their only son died at the age of four. And in the same year, a massive fire left the Spaffords ruined financially ruined. The pain of that year was not easily forgotten. They were burdened and broken by the sadness they had experienced. So Spafford decided they all ought to take a vacation.
He sent his wife and four daughters ahead to London by boat, where he would meet them a few weeks later. But tragedy came again. Another vessel hit their boat and it sank to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. The accident took the lives of all four of his daughters. His wife alone was saved.
On his journey across the Atlantic to meet her, he began crafting a poem. As he sailed near the wreckage of the ship that had taken his children, he wrote these words:
“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.”
The language is old, be the meaning is timeless. In the modern day, it might sound more like this:
“When life is peaceful,
or when life is painful,
whatever situation I am in, God has taught me
how to be content with whatever I have.”
A man who endured more grief and misery than our worst midterms, our anxiety over visas, our loneliness, and homesickness found the answer to our deep longing. The source of his joy is beautifully written in the second verse of his famous poem:
My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!
You see, joy is very different than happiness. Happiness is like a scoop of ice cream after a hard day, a temporary mood booster. But joy is different. Joy is deeper, unending despite the pain we experience as we endure this chaotic world.
Joy comes from the freedom of knowing we are loved by God. When we know that we are loved by the Creator of all things, the pain of our present trials cannot equal the bliss of knowing His love.
Horatio Spafford’s life is a beautiful example of this truth. Listen to the real hope and joy found in this song. Hear for yourself, joy is possible, even in the midst of deep sorrow. Joy comes from God who teaches us to be content in any circumstance!