Horatio Spafford was a wealthy Chicago Businessman who had plans to attend an evangelistic campaign in England. He sent his wife and daughters ahead of him, and during their trip, the ship that they were on sank in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. His wife survived, but his four daughters died. After hearing the news, Spafford got on a ship himself, and headed towards the spot where his daughters had died.
When he arrived at the spot where they passed, he wrote the hymn “It Is Well with My Soul”.
One of the more notable verses goes like this:
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.
I used to struggle with this idea, and I think I probably still do to some extent, but I’m starting to understand the concept a little more.
The idea, to me, is not that everything is okay. Spafford lost the majority of his family, and all of his daughters in a tragic accident.
The idea is not that he was acknowledging understanding or acceptance of the situation, or recognizing what God was doing in that moment.
I’ve not been in a moment as harrowing as this. When I think about losing my wife, my kids, or my parents, I well up with tears, so I don’t know how I will respond when/if I have to face that. I don’t know that I’ll have the strength to write a song that will persist and inspire decades later as Spafford did.
I have, however, been in a scenario where I felt lost, attacked, wounded, and defeated on the outside. It was as my dad often says, “A he– of a thing”. But the strangest and most amazing thing happened. My wife hurt for me, my dad was angry for me, my friend Josh came to help carry the burden for me, but it was Well With My Soul.
I’m truly tearing up as I write this, thinking about the moment, and it’s not due to the struggle, it’s due to the feeling that I had, deep in my soul, that is really difficult to explain.
A peace that surpassed all understanding. I didn’t have anger, I didn’t have a heavy burden, and I didn’t have an overwhelming sorrow, though I really should have, given the circumstances.
But it was well with my soul.
And I used to think that it meant that we were able to praise at all times, be joyful at all times, understand all things, or trust at all times. I know there are some scriptural arguments for these ideas as well, but this is not what strikes me most about Spafford’s lyrics or my personal time of challenge.
I think Spafford was highlighting the fact that when things are going well (peace like a river) and when tragedy strikes in waves (sorrows like sea billows roll), that because of our relationship with Jesus, because the debt has been paid, because of what HE has said about us (as opposed to what others may say), that we can say with confidence, that on the INSIDE, It Is Well With My Soul.
We have been spoken for. Despite everything that is going on in the world, if He is abiding in us…It Is Well With My Soul.
It’s a beautiful thing, to be able to fall back on that truth. Sometimes we forget, and sometimes we need to be reminded, but our soul has been spoken for, by the One Who Loves You The Most.
**The details of Horatio Spafford’s story came from a great book I’m reading titled, If, by Mark Batterson**