When It Is Not Well With Your Soul

Sometimes, when I sing songs in church about God remaining faithful in hard times, I can’t relate at the moment. My life is good, and it feels almost dishonest to sing about how I can still love God in spite of suffering. Does “It Is Well With My Soul” mean anything on sunny, happy days? Maybe, but certainly not as much.

So you know what I do?

I sing those songs to the future. I say the words with everything in me, almost like I’m pouring them into a bottle and wedging in a cork. Saving them. Waiting.

Then, when the hard days come and I’m struggling to believe that God loves me and acts justly in a world that is very, very broken, I take them out again. Because on those days, I cannot sing those words and mean them. It is not well with my soul, the name of the Lord is not blessed, and while he may give and take away, I cannot praise him for it, not yet. I’m not strong enough, not brave enough.

Which leads me to think faith is not always what we think it is.

It’s not dispensing pithy Christian sayings or having an inspirational Bible verses to answer every question. It’s not a gritted-teeth determination to be happy despite pain. I don’t even think it’s always being serenely at peace with everything that happens, although that peace may eventually come.

Real faith sometimes has to use the bottled praise. It clings to the memories of a distant promise, even when nothing around it seems to fit with that promise. It tries to sing, but when only laments come, those laments are still worship, because they contain a courageous defiance that says, like the psalmist, “I will yet praise him.”

Faith is falling to the ground with worn places in your soul, exhausted from crying, and letting yourself be carried by your brothers and sisters. Carried to the throne of God when you’re too weak to come to him on your own or too angry to want to.

I call that “faith” and not “general emotional collapse” because the person being carried believes in the character of God even when she absolutely does not feel it or feel like loving God for it. And that’s a beautiful thing.

For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.”

“I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”

“And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”

These are the promises we hold on to when everything is falling apart. We don’t apply them like a smiley-faced Band Aid to a wound. We speak them, read them, pray them, and let them heal us. Sometimes, it doesn’t happen right away. If Job and the Psalms teach us anything, it’s that there’s a place in the Christian faith for lament. So we wait, and that’s faith too.

In a world that is so deeply broken, it’s hard to believe in a God who is not broken, who is perfect in justice and love. So we do the best we can, and it is difficult and it takes courage and I believe God, weeping with us, understands that.

Until we go to a place where there are no goodbyes, our partings are going to hurt. When we are living in a reality without death and suffering and pain, our praise will be more consistent. We’ll see the full story and experience the realities we once recited in creeds and confessions. We will be able to both give sincere praise and feel the truth of the words we sing.

But for now, we’re living in a broken world, trying to learn to be brave and asking for God to make it well with our souls. Waiting with bottles in hand.

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3 comments

  1. I love this, and think you said it really beautiful. It’s important to remember.

    Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote something similar in *Life Together*, about how when we come together as a church to sing those songs we may not be in the same place as the song, but someone there is. So we’re singing not only to our future selves but also to and for everyone else there who is in that spot, and maybe can’t sing it for themselves just then.

  2. This reminded me of C.S. Lewis, who wrote (from a demon’s perspective) in The Screwtape Letters, “Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy’s [God’s] will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.”

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