How’re you doing?
What a full swirl of days these are, huh?
Almost all of my conversations this weekend have been heavy – a friend whose child was put in danger, a friend whose relationship is being tested and tried to a severe degree, a sweet gal pal who is trying to navigate the holidays after losing her mama, a buddy who is eyeballs-deep in tragedy when she was planning on a season full of celebration.
But it’s all good.
They are A-ok.
Wait. What?? That can’t be true… those sound like straight up lies don’t they? After what I just described how could anyone be “all good”?
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.”
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 hath 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!
For me, be it Christ, be it Christ hence to live:
If Jordan above me shall roll,
No pang shall be mine, for in death as in life
Thou wilt whisper Thy peace to my soul.
But, Lord, ’tis for Thee, for Thy coming we wait,
The sky, not the grave, is our goal;
Oh, trump of the angel! Oh, voice of the Lord!
Blessed hope, blessed rest of my soul!
And Lord, haste the day when the 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.
I’ll admit, for the many many years I sang hymns in the pews of my Baptist church- this one wasn’t particularly special. Until I knew it’s history.
In 1873 Horatio Spafford wrote “It Is Well With My Soul”.
Even now, reading more about Horatio’s story, I am reduced to tears.
He was a prominent lawyer in Chicago who married a woman named Anna. As a partner in a successful law firm he took his earnings and invested in a large part of Chicago’s real estate. He and Anna had four daughters and a little boy. In 1871 their son died of pneumonia and The Great Chicago Fire swept through and turned his investments to ash.
A couple of years later the Spafford family was to travel to Europe to hear their pal, powerful evangelist D.L. Moody, preach. There was a last-minute problem with Horatio’s business so he sent Anna and the girls on the ship to Europe as planned and was to follow on a separate ship later when everything at work had been smoothed over.
Four days into their trip across the Atlantic, the ship that Anna and their daughters were aboard – the Ville du Harve – collided with the iron hull of a huge Scottish ship – the Loch Earn. Everyone was in immediate and grave danger and Anna gathered her sweet girls to her side – Annie, Maggie, Bessie and Tannetta – and together they prayed.
Within just a few minutes the entire ship sunk into the dark ocean and all four of her daughters drowned. Anna was rescued by a sailor who was rowing nearby and nine days later they reached the shore of Wales. From there she sent a telegram to Horatio that simply said “Saved alone. What shall I do?”
Horatio left to join his wife and four days into his journey, the captain of that ship invited Horatio into his cabin to gently let him know that they were passing over the spot where his beloved daughters had died.
Somewhere below their lifeless bodies had sunk and right there, their daddy knelt and wrote “It Is Well With My Soul”…
Now, with that in mind… the complete brokenness of a father’s heart. The fear of being onboard a ship traveling across the Atlantic after the exact same voyage had claimed your family mere days before. The ache and longing of getting to your spouse who is all alone on another continent. The questions you must have for a God who already allowed your only son to die and your business to burn only two years earlier… now all four of your remaining children… dead.
It’s a pain I can’t imagine. A pain unbearable.
And my friends, it was then, after hearing the history and faith of the man who could kneel and write these words, that this hymn of old was stitched into my forever-story.
There has never been a time it’s been sung during worship or rang through on the radio that God wasn’t responding to me in a specific time of need.
A few years ago it became almost eery how that song was sung at the precise moment of my greatest need. One of those Sunday mornings a dear pal stepped over seat after seat to get to my side and hold my hand. Somehow in silence, she was loudly affirming the truth that Horatio wrote so long ago – it IS well. And “well” doesn’t mean that everything’s fine or giddy or easy. It means that NO MATTER WHAT – no matter the darkness, the loss, the heartache, the devastation – because of CHRIST and His death on the cross, we can be with Him for eternity. And it is that truth – that of all harm that could come our way, Satan can not rob us of our eternal salvation – THAT is what is WELL.
Horatio and Anna would see their children again.
That didn’t mean that they didn’t cry and hurt and fall into each other’s arms… they assuredly did.
As do we when grief grips our bones.
While researching this story yet again, this time to make sure all the details I remember were in order for it’s retelling to you, I saw something new…
After moving to Jerusalem and having more children (including another little boy, who at four years old died from pneumonia…) Horatio added the fourth verse. And now I see the beautiful imagery… “If Jordan above me shall roll, no pang shall be mine, for in death as in life, Thou wilt whisper Thy peace to my soul.”
The Jordan River is mentioned many times in the Bible. It is in fact the very river where Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist.
The waters rolled over Horatio’s daughters in death, but because of Christ, there is life. Though we can often feel like we are drowning in sorrow and circumstance, whether in hardship or glory – Horatio writes that God WILL (not might) but WILL whisper peace to our souls!
I struggle to trust the saccharine words of peace and prosperity offered to me by those who seem to have only had it easy – but this stranger who died a hundred years before I was born, his story and his choice to proclaim truth in unimaginable pain, has proven trustworthy to my heart over and over. So, for my friends whose heavy words and situations weigh on my spirit now, for the darkness that laps at my toes like figurative waves ready to swallow me whole in a season of abject loneliness and ache, for all the hopes that seem washed out and pain exacerbated by the juxtaposition of the sparkling holidays around us … wherever I am at, wherever you are at my friend … let us kneel and along with Horatio cry out this truth:
“Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say: IT IS WELL. IT IS WELL WITH MY SOUL.”