I have stood at the bedside many times, praying as I hear the quiet sniffles or loud sobs of broken hearts. Hundreds of times, I have been the compassionate stranger in their midst… praying for peace, faith, hope and courage. It is then I am doing the task God has asked me to do.
I am a chaplain. This is part of what I do.
With tears in my eyes threatening to spill, I prayed a patient to the gates of heaven, the medical avenues exhausted and the physical body failing. I felt the emotional “billows” of the family around me. Wave after wave, relentless, uncaring, pulling the earth out from under our feet. Death had come too soon. The surf eroding what had been a solid reality. Faith was slipping away like sand dunes in a hurricane. I could not change reality, but I knew these were people of faith, and they, like me, were trying to hold fast to the Lord they loved so much. So I started to softly sing…
When peace like a river attendeth my way,
When sorrow like sea billows roll,
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say
“It is well, it is well with my soul.”
I was going to stop at the chorus, when a family member began to sing through tears,
“It is well… with my soul…”
And slowly, gently, we joined that one weepy voice. And there was a palpable shift in the room.
The sorrow was deep. The waves of the loss of this precious human life were looming and painful. But faith won out.
“It is well…”
Later that day, I visited another family. They were celebrating the birth of their baby girl. Joy bounced off the walls as parents and grandparents beamed at their newest family member, small, squirmy and with the slightly surprised look I see on many newborns’ faces.
I was asked to come and to pray for the new family and bless them. The baby’s baptism would be later at the family’s church. This was simply a moment of thanksgiving of the purest kind. So pray I did, and again heard quiet tears at the bedside. At the “Amen” the mother asked, “can we sing It is Well With My Soul? It’s one of my favorite hymns.”
And so we did, the irony of it all in the back of my mind. I had travelled the halls of the hospital, from death to birth… “Only a chaplain,” I thought… At the end of the last chorus, her partner smiled through tears and said, “After our three miscarriages, this is just an amazing day.”
The light dawned.
It is well with my soul, indeed.
Thanks be to God.