It is Well by Horatio Spafford

One of my all-time favorite songs is a hymn I learned in 8th grade, because my English teacher made us memorize hymns: It Is Well by Horatio Spafford.

I didn’t really think about what it meant or why the songwriter felt led to write it, but I often found myself humming it. Its melody is calming and simple, and just plain ol’ pretty. As I hummed (I cannot sing to save my life), my mind wandered to the lyrics, some of which surface in the Christian community when life as we know it seems to explode around us. The chorus includes the statement “It is well with my soul,” which if you don’t know, is Christianese for “I’m fine; it’s fine” when we really don’t feel “fine.” We try to reassure ourselves because as Christians, our silver lining (an AMAZING silver lining) is our soul is in God’s hands. This is essential for us to remember when life falls to pieces because, well, we’re going to Heaven anyway! That’s why I liked this song: I found the melody and message calming and nice.

As a teacher, memorizing things is always an uncomfortable assignment for me to give. There’s definitely merit in it, but the problem is it doesn’t require critical thinking and the student usually forgets it by the next week, if not the next day. It can feel like a waste of time for everyone involved. But this song has proven the merit for me, especially when I learned the story behind it. See, this is what the author of the song 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

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 has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul

It is well (it is well)
With my soul (with my soul)
It is well, it is well with 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

It is well (it is well)
With my soul (with my soul)
It is well, it is well with my soul

I don’t know what you know about Horatio Spafford, but I did not know his life’s story until a few years ago. He was a successful attorney and real estate banker. During the Chicago fire in 1871, he lost all his financial stability. Earlier that year, he lost his four-year-old son to scarlet fever. To help cheer up his family, he sent his wife and four daughters to England for a vacation (a religious convention) where he planned to join them after finishing some business at home. Well, on the way, the ship sank and he lost all four of his daughters. His wife sent a telegram home, stating “Saved alone. What shall I do?” I mean, wow. How does one continue after that?

Soon after, as he sailed to join her over those same waters, he wrote this song. The faith that sparks the ability to write these words after that kind of loss. Just—wow. No longer is the song as “calming” or “nice” as I found it in the 8th grade. Knowing what sparked Spafford’s words, I now find the song courageous, triumphant, and bold. It’s almost a marching song. “Whatever my lot, thou has taught me to say, it is well, it is well with my soul” because “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, oh my soul.” Take that, world.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Ashley Yarbrough is a writer, mother, teacher, gardener, and many other things. She writes about it all here. Feel free to take a look!

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