I am utterly convinced that nothing quite assaults our peace like sickness and the reality of death. No matter how much money we have, how successful we are, how well-educated we’ve become, or how much we prepare, there are certain things we cannot protect ourselves from. In many ways, money is like the insulation in a house, and sickness or death is like a fire. Insulation can limit our feeling of heat during a warm summer day or cold in the depths of winter, but if the house catches fire, insulation doesn’t matter.
They say that money can’t buy you happiness, but it can buy you peace of mind. If only that were true.
In the late 1800s, Horatio G. Spafford was known as one of Chicago’s most successful lawyers and businessmen. Through the years his investments had paid off handsomely. In 1871 Mr. Spafford wrote to some of his friends that he felt that he was “sitting on top of the world.” He had a loving wife, four beautiful daughters, a profitable business empire, and a successful law practice.
But legend has it that one day a cow belonging to a woman named Mrs. O’Leary kicked over a lantern in her barn. This went on to trigger the Great Chicago Fire that killed many people, including some who attended the famous evangelist D. L. Moody’s church service that same Sunday night. While the fire raged from Sunday, October 8, to Tuesday, October 10, 1871, Spafford’s wealth was burned to ashes. He told his friends that all he had left of his business empire was his university diploma. Spafford’s financial fall affected his wife hardest of all. Her doctor suggested that a vacation might help her. So Spafford arranged for a trip to Europe, but just prior to the departure, he received news about a pressing business matter in Chicago. He told his wife and daughters to go on ahead and he planned to join them on a later ship.
Somehow, in the middle of the ocean, the ship carrying his wife and daughters collided with a British ship at full speed. In only twelve minutes, 226 people lost their lives. When the survivors reached Cardiff, Wales, Spafford received a two-word telegram from his wife that simply read, “Saved … alone.”
Spafford booked the first ship bound for England. As he was sitting out on the deck, the ship’s captain informed him, “Mr. Spafford, we are approaching the spot where your daughters now rest.” Instead of being grief-stricken as he had thought he would be, Spafford later recounted that a peace came over his mind as he remembered the words of his friend, D. L. Moody, who told him, “One of these days you are going to read that D. L. Moody of East Northfield is dead. Don’t you believe a word of that; I’ll be more alive than I am now.”
Imagining his daughters more alive than they’d ever been, Spafford’s heart began to explode with words that replaced tears of sorrow with confident joy. Rushing to his cabin, Spafford began to write the words that had suddenly filled his heart:
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.
In Spafford’s greatest moment of pain, he found the greatest peace. As a result, he began to worship Jesus, and the rest of us were given one of history’s greatest hymns. How is that possible? Because in a world full of uncertainty, doubt, fear, and loss, you find peace not by looking to yourself, but by looking to Jesus.