At this time each year, we set aside time to be grateful for our blessings.

For some that includes a great job, a healthy family and, for the first time in forever, the Dallas Cowboys are 9-1.

Some people seem to have a lot on their list of what they are thankful for each year. But the people I admire are those who are thankful even when everything isn’t going their way. They may have lost their job, their health isn’t what it was a year ago, or they are alienated from family. But they still remain grateful for what they have instead of bitter about what they might not have.

As the son of an organist in a Southern Baptist church, I have heard the hymn, “It is Well” more times than I can count.

It is a beautiful song with a great message. But when you hear the story behind the song, it adds even more to the meaning to the words.

Horatio Spafford wasn’t a composer by trade. He was a wealthy Chicago attorney.

When Spafford was riding at his highest, he suffered the sudden loss of a son and was a resident of Chicago when the fire of 1871 destroyed many of his investments.

Spafford wanted to get himself and his family a change of scenery and he was going to head to England to help his friend D.L. Moody with an evangelistic campaign.

He ended up sending his wife and four daughters ahead so he could finish some business. The ship they were on was involved in a collision and sank.

His daughters all died. Only his wife survived. She sent a tragic telegram back to Spafford, “…saved alone.”

Spafford now had to board a ship to cross the Atlantic Ocean to grieve with his wife.

Knowing the circumstances puts the words he penned on that journey to his wife in a new perspective.

The first verse speaks of his daughters’ deaths “when sorrows as sea billows roll.”

“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.”

How could he say it was well with his soul when he has lost all of his children and a great number of investments and most of his wealth?

The second verse sheds light on that.

“Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,

Let this blest assurance control,

That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate,

And hath shed His own blood for my soul.”

As Christians, our thankfulness should always be a little bit confusing to people who don’t believe. Regardless of our “helpless estate” we cling to promises that assure us of a better future even in the midst of our worst circumstances.

It is easy to be grateful when everything is going your way. But when everything isn’t coming up roses, you have to look a little deeper to find gratitude.

The apostle Paul was a great example of that attitude. In a letter to the people in Philippi., Paul told them at one point, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)

Paul didn’t write those words after a great Thanksgiving meal where he got to play flag football with his favorite cousins. He hadn’t just received a promotion or a big bonus at work.

He was in a Roman jail awaiting a trial that could end in his death.

Knowing the scripture as he did, Spafford could easily have been thinking of the words of the Apostle Paul when he penned those famous lyrics.

I hope this column finds you well, and being thankful at Thanksgiving is easy for you this year. If not, I hope you know that peace like a river is still possible even when the sea billows roll.