Recently I was asked to give a devotional for a group of women. They were exploring the idea of wellness in body, mind and spirit and wanted to use the old hymn, “It is Well with My Soul” as the theme for the day. It made me think, how does one say “it is well with my soul” when life doesn’t necessarily provide an environment conducive to that? For many of us, things are so far from being well in our soul. We are anxious, upset, hurt, broken, or troubled. There is no peace. Or as I say to my husband, some days “there is no joy in Mudville.”
There are certain mysteries of life. One is how, through God we can say that we have the peace that passes all understanding. I think that when we realize that we are fearfully and wonderfully made and that God loves us (and likes us) unconditionally, we can begin to put life into perspective. When we realize that we have eternal life with God, our temporal life on earth doesn’t require as much angst.
Certainly that doesn’t mean that we become anesthetized to the tragedies and difficulties of life. Far from it. But I think when we recognize Who is in control, that He is the one who created all, we can then adjust our attitude and thinking and take a longer view of what is and is not important.
The writer of the hymn “It is Well with My Soul” seemed to understand that. He was no stranger to tragedy.
Horatio Spafford was a prominent lawyer and business man in Chicago during the mid to late 1800’s. In 1871, he and his wife Anna were living with their four young daughters in Lake View, Chicago when the Chicago fire occurred. Even though Horatio lost money in a property investment deal due to the fire, they were grateful to have survived with their home intact. For the next two years they helped others in the recovery of the city.
In the winter of 1873, the family decided to take a respite and go to Europe with friends. At the last minute, Horatio was detained on business with the plan on meeting the family as soon as he could. Anna and their four daughters set sail on the Ville du Havre. Four days into their journey, the steamship was struck by another boat in the middle of the night. Within twelve minutes the steamship sank. Only 27 of the approximate 300 passengers survived. Anna was one having been found unconscious floating on a piece of debris. Tragically all four of their daughters drowned.
When Anna arrived ashore she sent a telegram to Horatio, “Saved alone. What shall I do?” Anna was bereft but she had a strong conviction that she was saved for a purpose.
Horatio set sail on the next ship. When they boat came to the approximate location and latitude that the Ville du Havre sank, the Captain called Horatio to the deck. After standing on that deck, he penned the words to the hymn.
The Spaffords returned home and in time had two more children, Bertha and little Horatio. Sadly, little Horatio died of Scarlet Fever when he was three years old. After the birth of their last child (Grace), the Spaffords with some friends decided to move to Jerusalem. Over time, the small group become known as the “American Colony”.
Just as they had done in Chicago, they befriended their neighbors in need regardless of ethnicity, race or religion. During WWI, the colony nursed wounded soldiers on both sides of the conflict. When needs arose with orphaned children, the Spafford Children’s Hospital came into being, which is still running today.
From one family’s tragedy arose help and good work for others.
I find it incredible that a family who lost 5 of their 7 children could still have empathy for others and that they would and could reach out to others. I think I would’ve just shut down. It seems to me that in order to be empathetic there must’ve been some peace in their lives. Some reconciliation of their new reality.
What gave them peace? How did they accept the situation that befell their family? (or did they?) By their actions and lifestyle, they continually reached out to others. Was it realizing that there is a bigger plan of life than just what affects them? Whether they felt it or not, they demonstrated obedience, purpose and trust. They felt God calling them to a new venture and so they went.
There are conflicting accounts of the Spafford’s true reasons for moving to Jerusalem yet I don’t find the differing opinions taint my regard of the story. If we examine ourselves, we would admit that each of us is inconsistent in our behavior and thoughts. Our reasons for doing something can be quite complex. Whatever reason they had for moving to Jerusalem and whatever interpretation of their behavior, one cannot argue that they gave back to the community regardless of their circumstances.
I think Anna’s feeling of a purpose helped her. In reading Bertha Spafford’s account of the family’s life, she describes her mother as taking to heart the advice from Evangelist Dwight L. Moody to get involved helping others. Anna did just that even though she grieved for her children her entire life. Bertha mentions in her book, Our Jerusalem, that her mother was quite affected from the drowning of the girls- Anna could never touch corduroy as that was the material of the sleeve of her one daughter as Anna grasped in the dark sea to grab her.
I think purpose helps keep us afloat. My limited life experience has shown that purpose brings depth and understanding to our lives. It gives meaning to situations that on the surface may seem meaningless.
A prayer at Anna’s funeral seems to sum up what the family realized in their hearts: “Life is eternal and love is immortal; And death is only a horizon; And a horizon is nothing; Save the limit of our sight.”
I hope and pray that if I ever have such a life experience as the Spaffords, that I can say “It is well with my soul.” I pray that I can look beyond the immediate and see purpose. I pray that I can trust in Him who suffered and died so that I wouldn’t have eternal death, but life.
What about you? Is it well with your soul?
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.
Refrain: 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.