The Low After The High: is it well with my soul?
Just in case it had passed you by, the Olympics and the Paralympics are over. And commentators in the UK media (who love to look on the dark side – it’s a national trait) are wondering how long it will be until the fuzzy haze of the feel-good factor evaporates under the harsh sun of economic austerity.
But it’s not just the spectators who face the prospect of post-Olympic blues. Apparently, psychologists are on hand to support athletes who will go from ‘feted hero,’ (cheered on by tens of thousands), to ‘Mr. Nobody/Ms. Anybody’, (unrecognized on the Clapham High Street).
Now, I make no pretense to be a sports psychologist (though sharing an office with Mark I would certainly get plenty of opportunity to practice!), but this got me thinking.
You see, there is an insidious danger in tying your identity – who you are - to that which is vulnerable to change. Consider the athlete – what does he do when he stops winning? Or the crowds no longer notice him? Or the sports funding dries up? Or he fails to make the cut? Or injury cuts short his career?
And it’s not just athletes who are vulnerable. We all are.
If we tie our identity to the changeable, what do we do when the changeable does indeed change? What do you do when you are overlooked for promotion, or lose your job, or your latest research paper gets shredded by the reviewers, or the funding application is refused, or that relationship fails, or your kids don’t turn out the way you hoped?
And pastors fare no better: what do I do if people think my preaching stinks, or they leave the church, or someone else’s church grows and 'mine' doesn’t?
If your identity is tied to what others think of you, or to status, or income, or ‘success’ or a million other things subject to change, you can find yourself in trouble. And the truth is, we only discover how much our identity is tied up with this thing in that moment it is taken from us.
Which makes Horatio Spafford’s words all the more amazing. Within the space of 2 years this lawyer’s four year old son died, he faced financial ruin through circumstances beyond his control, and he lost his four daughters in a shipping accident. Reviewing it all he was able to write (in the words of his hymn) – ‘it is well with my soul.’
How could he say that? He could say it because his identity, his security, who he was and the state of his soul, were not tied to things that are changeable – not even to the precious gift of children, or the grace of God-given financial provision. They were tied to the unchangeable and immovable rock of Jesus, who ‘hath regarded my helpless estate and shed his own blood for my soul,’ (his words, again). His soul’s wellbeing was tied to Jesus: and in particular, to Christ’s unshakeable love for him, demonstrated so incredibly at the cross.
And that is a better security than the applause of crowds or the insights of sports psychology. It gives a hope for the future they can never match.
As the writer of the letter to the Hebrews says, in Christ we have “a sure and streadfast anchor of the soul” (Heb 6:19). And that can never change.