In 1871, Horatio Spafford, a successful businessman and lawyer from Chicago, mourned the death of a son to pneumonia. The same year he lost much of his business to the Great Chicago Fire. Then, in 1873, his four remaining children and wife boarded a ship bound for Europe. Fifteen days later he received this telegram from his wife: “Saved alone, what shall I do?”
Mr. Spafford immediately booked a passage to join his wife. Four days into the crossing, he was summoned by the captain, who informed him that the ship was passing over the very spot where only days before his children had descended three miles down into their watery grave. Horatio quietly entered his private quarters and penned a beautiful hymn of faith.
When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
What an epic monument to one Christian’s great faith!
Except that this “happily ever after” story is actually tainted by several awkward facts we rarely discuss. Horatio Spafford's soul did not remain “well” for long. Soon he became disillusioned with traditional church and started a group labeled “the Overcomers,” a cult that rejected all medical help and forbad mourning for lost loved ones (a horrible combination). Mr. Spafford also contracted a mental illness in which He believed he was a second Messiah.
But we don’t talk about that. We like to look at the good Christians who successfully deal with all their emotional problems and get all their prayers answered. “Stay positive!” Right? Don’t worry about the people who just aren’t “mature” enough to “get over it.” Enjoy your status as someone who has their life together and don’t worry about the few stragglers who just haven't figured it out yet—they just need to read their Bible and pray more. As for unanswered prayer? Don’t worry about it. Hey, God isn't a vending machine, right?
Unfortunately, in real life, the shockwaves of the Curse affect even the Godliest saints:
Many godly people today deal with similar problems today. Oslawd Chambers, the man known for writing My Utmost for his Highest, experienced a four-year-long near-nervous breakdown. In what he described as “hell on earth,” he found himself joyless and completely unsatisfied with life, despite continually preaching, praying, and studying the Bible more than ever before. He is not an outlier; according to Lifeway Research, “23% of pastors indicate they have personally struggled with mental illness of some kind.”
Meanwhile, the pews are filled with people struggling with depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorders, eating disorders, and hosts of other inner turmoil that we cannot understand unless we actually experience it ourselves. Mental illnesses affect 1 in 5 U.S. adults each year. Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among the demographic filling youth groups and singles' classes. And yet, one study found that when they opened up, only half of people with acute mental illness found their church “supportive”—whatever that means.
God sanctifies His children on His timetable. He doesn’t often give the instant gratification of deliverance we desire. If, in His omniscient Grace, He delivers us more quickly than other people, we should be thankful but not judgemental of others less privileged (1 Corinthians 4:7). Instead of self-righteously congratulating ourselves for “arriving,” we must wrestle with the real life consequences of living in a sin cursed world.
It’s time to stop the cliches and ignorant oversimplifications. This world is full of millions of hurting, suffering, and lonely people—people we marginalized and “socially distanced” ourselves from long before federal action forced us to literally separate. In ignorance we quietly overlooked the people who need us most.
They suffer alone because too often, they fear that telling the truth would only lead to gossip, judgement, exclusion, and trite exhortations to “trust God.” Instead of judging these people and pretending we know “what it comes down to,” maybe we should just listen to them and be there for them—now and tomorrow. And the next day. And the next year.
Instead of “socially distancing” ourselves, here are four ways we can begin to reach out to the hurting people around us:
“For who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?”
P.S. In case you are worried: No, I don’t have a mental illness.
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About Nathaniel Hendry
I blog on common social issues from a reasoned, conservative Christian perspective in easy to understand writing. I am committed to academic excellence in writing and supported by solid reasoning and research.
About A Worthy Word
The Worthy Word isn't mine, but God's. I just try to explain the truly Worthy Word and encourage you from it.