“And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:7
Life is a fascinating school. Tucked in the corners of its dailiness are countless lessons, large and small. Some I’ve learned as a matter of course, almost unconsciously. Others have frustrated all my attempts to comprehend. I’ve raised my hand time and again in life’s classroom, longing for answers. I’ve scrutinized the pages of its textbook, yearning to understand. I’ve walked its hallways and climbed its stairs, searching for its meaning.
We learn many of life’s lessons when times are good and circumstances easy. Others, we learn only in seasons of hardship, loss, and great darkness. Although suffering can be the harshest of headmasters, its curriculum may open the door to freedom beyond our loftiest expectations. Sometimes it’s only in the adversity we dread that we begin to discover the kind of life we’ve only dreamed of.
That was the lesson God began to teach me in 1979…
I began my sophomore year of high school experiencing all of the usual teenage changes.
But there had also been one very unusual one.
Near the end of junior high school, I began to realize that my eyesight was deteriorating.
As I picked my way carefully through the packed hallways of Glades Junior High, I was amazed at how my classmates streamed through the crowd with such ease—even in dark stairwells. How could they do that without bumping into schoolmates or lockers? When we played softball in P.E., I couldn’t understand how my teammates could catch the ball so easily. I would stand out in right field, glove in hand, and stare intently at the ground, trying to see the shadow of the approaching ball. Then I’d listen to where it landed and hope I could find it.
My math grades were beginning to drop because, even though I didn’t know it at the time, I couldn’t see the difference between a 3 and an 8. My friends could see the numbers on the telephone pad, while I hadn’t been able to see the numbers on my locker for months.
Difficult as it was to admit… I began to realize that it wasn’t normal for me not to be able to see a softball in the air, the stairs in a stairwell, or the numbers written on a blackboard. As a result, I began to feel more awkward and self-conscious. At last I became so concerned that I told my mother, who (as you might imagine) immediately took me to an ophthalmologist.
The eye doctor tried to remedy my failing sight with prescriptions for stronger glasses, but they didn’t help. Eventually, he referred me to an eye hospital.
After several days of testing, the doctors at the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute met with my folks and me in a conference room. They told us that I had retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerative disease that slowly eats away the retina of the eye.
There was no cure, and no way to correct damage already done.
The doctors said I had lost so much vision that, at fifteen, I was already legally blind. And they told us that my retinas would continue to deteriorate until I was totally blind.
Blind… totally blind.
The words sounded so final. So certain. So cold. I felt a chill inside that I’d never felt before. Maybe that’s what finality feels like. It was almost surreal.
Nothing else was said. Silence fell upon that conference room like shadows fall just before night, and it shrouded us as we left the hospital, walked across the parking lot, got in the car, and journeyed home. I have often thought that it was probably much harder for my parents that day than it was for me. Yes, my eyes were being robbed of sight, but their hearts were being crushed. Can you imagine their heartache? Can you hear the sound of that door slamming in their souls? Surely one of life’s greatest sorrows must be to watch your child suffer… and to feel helpless to prevent it.
My dad gripped the steering wheel tightly as he piloted us home through the spidery Miami streets. I could only imagine the prayers he must have been praying. He had always been my source of wisdom, my counselor, my comforter, my rescuer, and the one man I trusted completely. And even though he had also been my pastor, not even more than twenty years of ministry could have prepared him for this moment. I wonder if he was thinking, Dear Lord, how can I fix this?
Yet on the ride home he was silent.
My mother sat next to him in the front seat. I could feel her broken heart. A mother’s heart is so tender. I don’t know any mother who wouldn’t willingly trade her own comfort to ease the suffering of her child. I wonder what her prayers were like on that day. My mom was my standard, my cheerleader, my encourager, my mentor, and my friend. I think she must have been wondering, Will she be safe?
Yet on the ride home, she too was silent.
I had always been strong willed, trusting, sensitive, and talkative. Yet sitting in the backseat on the ride home that day, I also kept silent. I remember the reasons for my silence as if it were yesterday. My heart was swelling with emotion, and my mind was racing with questions and thoughts. How will I finish high school? Will I ever go away to college? How will I know what I look like? Will I ever get a date or a boyfriend? Will I ever get married? I remember feeling my fingertips and wondering how in the world people read Braille.
And then it hit me.
I would never be able to drive a car.
Like most teenagers, I thought that having wheels was just like having wings. I couldn’t wait to drive! That was a step toward independence to which nothing else compared. But now it was a rite of passage I would never experience, and I was crushed.
After forty-five long minutes, we arrived home. Once inside, I went immediately to the living room and sat down at our piano. It was old and stately and had a warm, comforting sound. For me it was a place of refuge.
By then I had been playing the piano for several years. In fact, I’d had almost five years of lessons. The funny thing about my lessons, though, was that I’d managed to stretch them out over an eight-year period. I was one of those kids who would beg my mother to let me take piano lessons— and then after about six months beg her to let me quit! Three or four months later we’d start the whole routine over again.
I barely muddled through my lessons with many piano teachers, and I’m sure it wasn’t pleasant for the listener to hear me practice what I’d learned. Let’s just say that I was a little short on natural talent! I did, however, practice diligently every night after dinner. That’s because if I did, I was excused from clearing the table and washing the dishes.
But this time was different.
I wasn’t seeking refuge from chores, and I didn’t play just the few songs I’d memorized. Instead, I began to play by ear, and the melody that filled the living room that afternoon belonged to a song I’d never played before. My fingers followed a pattern along the keyboard that was new to me, yet…somehow familiar.
The song I played was “It Is Well with My Soul.”
I think God guided my heart and hands to play that hymn. Some people have told me it was a miracle that I could sit down at the piano that day and begin to play by ear for the first time. Perhaps it was. Who knows? But to me, there was a bigger miracle that day, that dark day of shock, loss, and quiet sorrow.
The real miracle was not that I played “It Is Well with My Soul,” but that it actually was well with my soul.
On that day more than twenty years ago—in the hospital, on the ride home, and at the piano—even as I mourned my loss, I looked into the heart of my Teacher. I knew His Word and His character, and they were what allowed me to say, “Whatever my lot… it is well with my soul.”
Today I still sit at the piano and play by ear. I listen to books on tape. I walk with a cane and rely on others to drive me places. I know well the trappings of blindness. I understand the isolation and hardships it can bring. Yes, blindness can be painful—all life’s heartaches are—but through it, God has taught me the greatest lesson to be learned in the school of suffering: Even when it is not well with our circumstances, it can be well with our souls.
That is the first and greatest lesson I learned in the dark, and the foundation for all the lessons that have followed.
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
“Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim you, who walk in the light of your presence, O LORD. They rejoice in your name all day long” Psalm 89:15-16
Lord Jesus, in humble adoration I praise You for being my Prince of Peace! Thank You for Your faithfulness and Your promise to keep in perfect peace all who trust in You. May Your Spirit empower me to walk by faith, not by sight, through every uncertainty, distress, and affliction that comes my way. My heart shall rejoice in You forever. Amen.
Taken from Experiencing the Great I Am
© 2005 compiled by Bryant and Cindy Heflin.
Published by Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, MI.
Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.