What it really means to say 'it is well'
This summer I spoke at an event in Tennessee hosted by a rather large church. Among the vendor tables set up at the event were some barn wood signs repurposed with inspirational sayings, Bible verses and song lyrics. One particular piece caught my eye - a long board with the words “It Is Well” painted on it. The wood was weathered, beaten up, split on one end, nail holes all over and even charred on the backside. It was just the old gold a barn wood piece needed to create the allure for a farmhouse decor lover like myself. I scooped up the piece and brought it back home to Indiana.
I grew up singing this hymn in church - “It Is Well” and I was surprised when several people commented on the sign that now hangs in my kitchen, asking what the words meant. It made me grateful for those old country churches I grew up in that soulfully sang this hymn on Sunday mornings. I had to stop and sing those lyrics again, now in 2018… in the middle of our contemporary music styles.
“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.”
In 1876 Horatio Spafford penned a hymn called "It Is Well With My Soul". He didn't write it as a shout of joy, he wrote it out of his deepest pain. Spafford was a successful lawyer and businessman in Chicago with a loving wife and five children. He had the America dream. But In 1871, their youngest son caught pneumonia and died. A few months after, the great Chicago fire burnt down his business and the family lost most of their wealth. In 1873, on a boat named the Ville du Harve that set sail from the U.S. to Europe, Mrs. Spafford and their four daughters set sail without Mr. Spafford, who had to stay a couple extra days for business. Four days into the journey the Ville du Harve collided with a iron-hulled ship. Twelve minutes later, the Ville du Harve slipped beneath the waters of the Atlantic, carrying with it 226 of the 313 passengers, including the four Spafford girls. Only Mrs. Spafford survived on a floating piece of wreckage. She was rescued and telegraphed her husband telling him of the tragic news. He booked passage on the next ship to join his grieving wife.
It was while on the boat, traveling to meet up with his wife that Spafford wrote "It Is Well With My Soul.”
I think about Spafford, sitting alone in a small room, dimly lit, being rocked on the waves of the very ocean that claimed his daughters. A string of tragedies some of which we can only imagine had become the outline of his life yet, he wrote…”even so, it is well with my soul.”
The song isn’t meant to convince the singer or the listener that all is well, as in all is OK. Some of the lyrics clearly depict a heavy heart. But the song goes on to declare:
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.
This song is a reminder that even in the middle of a world of pain and sorrow, there is a victorious end to our story. And while we may not know the reason for our pain, loss, hard times and troubled days… we can hold tight to the promise that the “clouds be rolled back as a scroll.”
Mrs. Spafford was quoted saying after her daughters passed, "God gave me four daughters. Now they have been taken from me. Someday I will understand why." Spafford wrote these words to remind himself, that even in the deepest pain and grief, that my God is in control. That we can sing it is well, because In Jesus, it is well, it is well with my soul.
Someday we will have the hard questions answered, Find hope that that day is coming.
I think about that old piece of wood that decorates my kitchen. It displays “it is well,” and I have to think that the condition of the wood is a great parallel to the condition of my heart… weathered, beaten up at times, bruised and battered, even burned and singed. Life isn’t easy — there’s no classic hymn that depicts that sort of life. On the contrary, we know there are hard days, days that go on without explanation with pain that can’t be easily brushed aside. However, “even so, it is well with my soul.”
"The peace of God which surpasses all understanding, shall keep your hearts, your minds through Christ Jesus." Philippians 4:7