It Is Well

“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.” ~Horatio G. Spafford, 1873

Horatio G. Spafford 1828-1888I grew up as a well-loved kid in the 70s and 80s, the second child, and only daughter, of a Methodist evangelist and a homemaker. (Props here to my most awesome parents, John and Betty Jo!  Love you!) Most of my memories of childhood are bookended by family, love, friends, church and Jesus. Throw in a little sibling rivalry and some summer camp, too.  In the midst of all of that, music has impacted me a great deal throughout my life—basically, everything makes me think of a song.  Just ask my kids.

I remember standing in church as a child and singing those good old Methodist hymns that, for the most part, made no sense to me whatever.  When we weren’t singing hymns in church, my older brother and I were sitting in the pew cutting up, laughing at the blue-haired old ladies and getting the death dagger stare from my mom as my dad was in the pulpit. Oh, how my brother did enjoy making me laugh in church.  He was good at it too.

Those were also the early days of what we now call “contemporary Christian music”. My mom had her shoebox of cassettes that she kept in the car filled with artists like Keith Green, Dallas Holm, Amy Grant and Andre Crouch. Y’all remember cassette tapes, right? Of course, at the time, I was trying to get her to listen to the radio in the car so I could sing along with Debby Boone. I did not have the wide musical appreciation that I have now.  Let’s face it, I was just a kid, after all.

As an adult, though, I have a great love of the old hymns.  In fact, not only do I love them, but I take great comfort in them.  What I love even more, is knowing the stories behind some of them and the joy and pain that the composers brought to those beautifully written lyrics and music. There are so many wonderful hymns, but my most favorite hymn of all time is It Is Well With My Soul. (Second favorite would be How Great Thou Art.)

It Is Well With My Soul was written by a man named Horatio G. Spafford in 1873. He and his wife, Anna lived a fairly well-to-do life in Chicago with their five children, and they were very generous to many causes with their time and their money, thanks to Spafford’s successful law practice. But in 1870, their only son died of scarlet fever.  I can only imagine their devastation, yet they pressed on. In 1871, there was the Great Chicago Fire, which left the Spaffords their home, but little else.  They had invested much of their wealth in real estate and most of their holdings had been destroyed.  They pressed on and ministered to those in Chicago who had been left hungry, homeless, sick and injured as a result of the fire.

Fast forward two years to 1873 and the Spaffords were in need of some time away. They had planned a trip to Europe and intended to meet up with the great evangelist Dwight L. Moody at a revival he was holding in England.  Spafford had some loose ends to tie up before he could get away, but he decided to send his wife, Anna, and their four daughters on ahead on a steamer ship heading to Europe. He planned to follow soon after.  Tragically, while crossing, the ship that carried Anna Spafford and her daughters was struck by a British iron sailing ship.  The Spafford’s ship sank in a matter of 12 minutes in the Atlantic Ocean.  Anna Spafford was one of the few survivors. However, all four of their daughters were lost. When she was taken to safety, Anna sent a telegram to her husband, which said, “Saved alone.  What shall I do…” Of course, Horatio left right away to go meet his grief stricken wife and bring her home.  It was while sailing across the Atlantic on the way to meet his wife that Horatio Spafford penned the words to the now famous hymn It Is Well With My Soul. It has even been said that it was written even as he passed over the place where his daughters had drowned.  And yet, he pressed on, his faith intact.

Anna and Horatio Spafford eventually went on to have three more children, two girls and  another boy.  Sadly, the little boy died as a small child just as his older brother had, of scarlet fever.  But they pressed on.  They left America and settled in Jerusalem where they helped the poor and the needy, the sick and the homeless.  They existed to show the love of Christ to everyone…even in the midst of their own personal profound tragedy…until their deaths.

Is it well?  Is it well when the world seems to be going crazy?  Is it well when you feel isolated and discouraged?  Is it well when you lose your job, your home, your health, your children, your security? Even your very life? Can I truly say, “It is well.”? Do I choose to say, “It is well.”?

Sometimes I find this refrain swirling around in my head and my heart.  …It is well.  With my soul.  It is well.  It is well.  With my soul…  Especially at times when things don’t seem so well.

I find comfort in Spafford’s words.  I find them all the more comforting knowing the anguish and the staunch faith behind them. I pray that in the midst of our own personal trials we all can sing “It is well with my soul”, cling to our faith and press on, and focus on loving others and God’s love for us, as Horatio and Anna Spafford did.

It Is Well With My Soul

Horatio G. Spafford 1828-1888

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

It is well, with my soul,
It is well, with my soul,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul.

It is well, with my soul,
It is well, with my soul,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.


Filed under Faith, Family, Music

6 responses to “It Is Well

  1. I’m so glad you put the words to the song at the end of the post because I was going to go look it up. I grew up A.M.E so I know the hymns inside out but the words don’t always come to me. Thanks for the history lesson. You and your brother in church made me flashback to my cousin and I. I spent summers up North and my Uncle was an A.M.E pastor. I don’t know WHY/HOW but something always happened to make us have explosive giggles. Fortunately my Uncle’s churches were a little more lively that traditional methodist, so we weren’t always heard. ~TALU

    • My brother and I were a hot mess!! I would have loved some liveliness in our church back in the day. Later my dad left the Methodist denomination and (thankfully) we were exposed to some much more lively styles of worship. My husband comes from a small country church, small denomination, where it was only okay to clap after the little children sang in church. Can you imagine??! Tough for me to visit his church. Always appreciate your comments, Kenya! 🙂

  2. I’ve always loved those words. Thanks for linking this up with the TALU.

  3. Okay, wow. No. Idea. I always just assumed these people strung up some religious words together, set it to a tune, and made some money. To know the backstory on this song makes it that much more meaningful and inspiring. Thanks for sharing.

I always love hearing from you! :-)

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