Finding Peace Through Stressful Moments

Horatio and his wife and the French ocean liner Ville du Harve which collided with a powerful, iron-hulled Scottish ship, the Loch Earn in the Atlantic Ocean, November 1873.

The multiple disasters we’ve weathered this past week reconfirm Vanuatu’s status as ‘the world’s most at-risk country for natural disasters’, according to a UN University World Risk Index. We are powerless against these natural calamities.

But we do have control over howwe relate to crises and circumstances we can’t change – which will continue to escalate into the foreseeable future. Amidst all the heartache and pain we need to determine how our frayed nerves can find rest and how we can still keep smiling in the midst of the terrible storms of life.

How much longer?

We’ve been the subject of regional media attention again this week because of TC Harold, though the rest of the world seems to keep forgetting that we are possibly the most resilient people on the face of the planet too. As our climate change expert Dr. Christopher Bartlett writes, ‘throughout Vanuatu, from the northernmost Torres Islands of TORBA province to offshore Southern islands of TAFEA, people are showing the world what it means to be resilient and adapt to climate change’ (Island Life magazine, March 8, 2019). We’ve learnt to continue to smile at storms during tough times. But for how much longer do we keep putting on brave faces before these terrible storms take a complete toll on our lives and leave us utterly shattered and wrecked?

A story from history might help to bring peace and comfort to some who may already be faltering and who might be at breaking point.

Horatio G. Spafford

Christians enjoy a very popular hymn today entitled ‘It Is Well with My Soul’ pretty much unaware of the history behind the song: 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. The lyrics of that hymn were written by Mr. Horatio G. Spafford – a successful lawyer and businessman in Chicago – in the midst of a terrible crisis he and his family suffered.

Mr. Spafford and his wife (Anna) had five children (a son and four daughters). Their son died from pneumonia in 1871. Two years later, on 21{sup}st{/sup}Nov 1873 Horacio and his wife and four daughters were to travel to Europe. Horacio stayed back in Chicago to attend to some urgent business and join his wife and children on another ship a few days later. His wife and daughters departed on the French ocean liner Ville du Harve. About four days into the crossing of the Atlantic the vessel collided with a powerful, iron-hulled Scottish ship, the Loch Earn. Anna quickly gathered her four children to the deck, knelt and prayed that God would spare their lives if it was His will or that he might give them strength to endure anything that might happen to them. Within 12 minutes the Ville du Harve disappeared beneath the dark Atlantic waters, carrying with it the four lovely girls together with over 222 other passengers that were onboard.

One of the vessel’s sailors spotted a figure floating on a piece of wreckage and rescued her. It was Horatio’s wife, Anna. Another large vessel passing by picked them up and nine days later, landed them in Cardiff, Wales. From there Anna sent a telegram to her husband Horatio which began, “Saved alone, what shall I do?”

Horatio joined his grieving wife soon after receiving the telegram. Four days out of Chicago the ship’s captain called Horatio to his cabin to tell him that they were exactly at the spot where his children were killed. The grieving Horatio sat down and wrote the song – It is Well with My Soul. Instilled within him was an extraordinary level of peace, which could probably best be summed up in the following passage in scripture, ‘And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, shall keep your hearts, your minds through Christ Jesus’ (Philippians 4:7).

Finding peace through stressful moments

At times, we need to learn to reach beyond the prison of our troubles and grasp the hand of faith and inner peace, just like Horatio who despite being wealthy, his money couldn’t save his very own children who got drowned at sea. He experienced a deep sense of peace through the storm from trusting God – the very same God Heads of Governments around the world have looked to during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The virus aside, how do we deal with stress? Stress is not outthere, threatening us. It’s inside, threatening us. According to a renowned speaker and writer Mark Finley, the problem with stress is that ‘we generate emotions in the process that are often more harmful than the bad things we fear. Prolonged worry and anxiety produce serious wear and tear on the body.’ A short story will help to illustrate the point.

An officer, checking in for the daily shift at his factory, was warned of a small box that had been left on one of the tables. Printed on all sides were the words: “DANGER! DO NOT TOUCH!” Everyone had been told to stay clear of the parcel. The night shift officer didn’t even want to breathe near the thing. He was greatly relieved when the foreman arrived in the morning.

This man put on his gloves and safety glasses. Slowly, carefully, he opened the box. Inside he discovered twenty-five signs that read: “DANGER! DO NOT TOUCH!”

Imagine all the stress that mysterious box caused for those officers. They spent their time imagining the terrible, toxic compounds it might contain. The little box grew into a great burden of anxiety. But often, when we really analyze our problems, we realize they are a lot like that box – they look forbidding, but they aren’t so unmanageable after all. Stress usually strikes when our emotions get ahead of the facts.

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