We were talking about the song at our church Lifegroup meeting a couple of weeks ago. So the song was already on my mind. Then my old friend, Karry Godwin, sung the hymn at the benefit we attended for Myron Maynor last Saturday night, where everybody did such a great job in raising money to help with Myron’s medical expenses. Finally, this past Sunday, we sung the hymn during our worship service at church. So I’m thinking there must be a reason to revisit the history of the song, “It is Well with My Soul,” written by Horatio Spafford. Maybe it’s just for me.
Horatio Spafford was a successful lawyer and businessman in Chicago in the mid-1800’s. On October 8, 1871, the Great Chicago Fire swept through the city. Horatio was a prominent lawyer in Chicago, and had invested heavily in real estate and the fire nearly wiped out everything he owned. Two years later in 1873, Spafford decided that he and his family should take a vacation in England and to hear his friend and famed evangelist D. L. Moody preach. He was delayed by business, but sent his wife, Anna, and their four daughters ahead.
Tragically, on November 22, 1873, the ship they were sailing was struck by another vessel and 226 people lost their lives, including all four of Spafford’s daughters. Horatio’s wife, Anna, who survived, telegraphed her husband back in the United States to tell him of the terrible loss of the four daughters, whose ages ranged from two to eleven years old. It was on that long, lonely voyage to England to meet his wife that Horatio Spafford penned the words to “It Is Well with My Soul.” Spafford’s ship actually sailed over the same location where his daughters died.
I wonder if the seas were rough and the skies threatening when he wrote,
“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.”
How can anything be “well with your soul” after experiencing such tragedy? It’s hard to me to fathom, but the key is found in the first line of the song, “peace.” Peace is a word you hear quite often during the Christmas season. You know, “Peace on earth and goodwill toward men.” Then, what is peace? It’s probably easier to define what peace isn’t, rather than what it is.
Peace is not the absence of strife. Peace is not the lack of hurt or pain. Peace is not “being happy,” because happiness is based on a particular situation you are in and is, well, situational. Peace is not a feeling, although there may be feelings and emotions involved. True peace is the peace that comes from God. It’s hard to understand and describe. As a matter of fact, Philippians 4:7 in the Bible states that “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
It is hard to imagine saying “it is well with my soul,” after losing four daughters. But Horatio Spafford did. It does transcend all understanding and cannot be completely explained. But it is real. You may know or have known this peace in your life or may have seen it exhibited in the life of someone around you. The funny thing about the peace that comes from God; if you have it you know it and if you don’t, you know it.
The holidays tend to magnify feelings and emotions. The joys seem greater. But the sorrows can seem greater, also. Sorrows, like battling sickness, financial problems, or being without that loved one are always difficult. And seeing others seemingly full of joy during Christmas only tends to make it worse. But that’s when the true story of Christmas can become a reality.
Jesus said in John 14:27, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.”
It may not be well with your life this Christmas season. But the little baby that was born in that manger so long ago can make it well with your soul. Because He is the Prince of Peace.