The inspiring story behind the hymn, “It Is Well With My Soul”
Posted in , Dec 15, 2020
In this season of hope, love and peace, it’s peace that’s proving especially difficult to find. People have lost jobs and worry about how they will pay the bills, much less afford a gift. Families are grieving the loss of loved ones. Relationships have become strained from the challenges and uncertainty of the pandemic. In short, lives have been turned upside down. Is it even possible to find peace this holiday?
In English, the word "peace" can mean the absence of civil disturbance or hostilities. Or it can mean personal freedom from internal and external strife. The biblical concept of peace means to be complete or sound, to live well. It is a peace that we can all experience, even during a pandemic. Spiritual peace can make us whole when things seem to be falling apart.
Few know the story behind the hymn It is Well with My Soul. Horatio G. Spafford was a 19th century Chicago lawyer and businessman with a loving family—wife Anna and five children. In 1871, his only son died with pneumonia and in the same year, much of his business was lost in the great Chicago fire.
On November 21, 1873, his wife and their four daughters boarded the Ville du Havre, a French iron steamship bound for Europe. Horatio stayed behind to attend to unexpected business, planning to meet up with his family later on.
As the ship was crossing the Atlantic, it collided with a British vessel and went under with 226 passengers including the four Spafford children. Anna was found floating on a piece of wreckage. She wired a message to her husband, “Saved alone, what shall I do?” On his voyage to meet his wife he wrote the hymn that opens with the lyrics:
When peace like a river attendeth my way, Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say, It is well, it is well with my soul.
These words comforted Horatio and Anna on that first Christmas without their beautiful girls. Did they grieve? Of course. Peace doesn’t mean the absence of heartbreak. The Spafford family went on to have three more children, two survived.
Several years later they moved to Jerusalem to do humanitarian work. Horatio and Anna had found a peace that would help them deal with tragedy, loss and grief. It’s a peace that inspired him to write the lyrics, “it is well with my soul,” even in the most difficult time of his life.
May we find peace this Christmas.