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. -Horatio G. Spafford “It is Well with My Soul”
If you grew up in church like me, I’m sure you have heard or sung this famous hymn on many occasions. When these words were written, the author Horatio Spafford had just suffered an unbelievable tragedy. His wife and four daughters were on a ship crossing the Atlantic when it collided with another ship. His four daughters were lost at sea and his wife miraculously survived. When Horatio and his wife were reunited, they once again set out to cross the Atlantic by ship, this time together. As they sailed over the place where their four daughters were lost, Horatio wrote the famous hymn “It is Well with My Soul.” If you’re interested you can read the full story here.
Throughout our first battle with infertility and as we are in the midst of our second, I’ve found one of the hardest things to cope with is this extreme dichotomy of the desire to build up hope each month and the need to taper expectations so that we are not completely crushed every time there is bad news. As a husband, my instinct is always to try to fix things for Katie. When she is sad or stressed, I do or say whatever I can to make her happy or less stressed. When we were going through our first battle with infertility, this usually meant spouting off a million reasons why the new thing we were trying was 100% guaranteed to work. This was great in the moment, but when we got yet another negative test or doors kept closing on us, all that hope that I built up actually ended up making the disappointment worse.
After Katie’s recent surgery, the doctor told us we have a 3-6 month window in which we have the best chance to get pregnant. In one sense, this is kind of exciting news. For the first time in our whole journey we know what has been causing our struggle and we even were able to take steps to make it better. To be honest though, my initial reaction to this and many opportunities in our second battle has been to try to lower our expectations. Our first journey left my callused and conditioned me to expect and prepare for the worst to lighten the blow when the disappointment does happen. This attitude seems logical, but honestly it has not been sitting right with me and I have been reflecting on whether or not this is the right mindset to have. Romans 15:13 says “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” This verse clearly tells us that my mindset of lowering expectations and expecting the worst is completely contradictory to what God wants for us.
Why would God call us to a spirit of hope, when that hope is often times the very thing that causes disappointment and loss through infertility to hurt worse? I have realized that the majority of the time I place my hope in things that are tangible to me and I think many people do the same thing. We place our hope in the next cycle or next test results. When the next cycle ends up in disappointment or loss or the test results have some horrible news, that hope is crushed. We search for the next thing to put our hope in and the spiral continues. It’s exhausting; it beats you down.
God calls us to hope, but I think he calls us to hope in Him and His promises rather than finite or tangible things. In Romans 8:28 God promises this, “… in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, and who have been called according to His purpose.” What if we placed our hope firmly in that promise? So that when another cycle fails or when test results aren’t what we had wanted, our hope is not crushed. Our hope remains because it is rooted in the fact that God will use this disappointment or tragedy for our good. This doesn’t mean that we are not allowed to be disappointed or mourn for our losses. Jesus himself mourned loved ones who passed away. Disappointment and heartache are natural and legitimate feelings to have. When our hope is in the promises of God however, that hope remains intact throughout that mourning period and beyond. We may mourn, but in our hearts we, in full surrender and trust, can genuinely say, “It is well with my soul.”
The Hymn “It is Well with my Soul,” is an incredible example of this. Horatio Spafford wrote his hymn from a place of deep mourning. He must have been devastated, angry, confused and a thousand other emotions one would experience after losing four children. And all of those emotions were legitimate and okay. But his base, his foundation, his soul or whatever you want to call it was focused on God’s promises. He didn’t understand why it happened and he probably never did on this earth, but his hope was in something bigger, in something eternal. Because of that, in the middle of the worst circumstances anyone could imagine, through his mourning he continued to worship and trust God. I wish I could sit here and tell you that this is exactly how I feel and behave each disappointment Katie and I face. I almost feel guilty writing the sentences above because I am not even close to the standard that Horatio set. So how do we get to that point? How do we get to a place of being able to say and truly believe that each tragedy and each disappointment “is well with my soul,” and continue to hope and trust in God’s promise that he is working all things for the good?
The answer: we can’t. There is no way that we as humans can suffer through what we suffer through and still have that attitude. We can’t go through month after month of negative tests, miscarriages, insensitive relatives, friends getting pregnant without trying, surgeries and countless medical tests and still have the peace and hope to say and believe “it is well with my soul.” Thankfully, God doesn’t expect us to have this attitude by our own power. Romans 15:13 says “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” This gift of unwavering hope comes only from God. This is something I know I need to start praying for on a regular basis. I pray that wherever you are in your journey, no matter how battered or worn down you feel, no matter what tragedy you just suffered or what door has closed that you would ask God for the peace to say, “it is well with my soul” and continue to hope in his promises.