There are a few pieces of music that generate distinct memories of the first time I heard them. “It Is Well With My Soul” is a hymn that has that distinction: a beautiful hymn written by Horatio Spafford and composed by Philip Bliss.
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, (it is well),
With my soul, (with my soul)
It is well, it is well, with my soul.
In 2002, I was attending my seminary class when our teacher told us there had been a car wreck up in “the valley” (what those of us from Huntsville, Eden, and Liberty call our home). It’s always someone you know in a small town. My friend, Tim Duffield, a friend since elementary school, had passed away in the wreck. Tim was a quiet kid, but he was very smart and very kind. A very good friend to have.
I attended his viewing and his funeral with several of my friends. Tim was a member of the Fellowship Bible Church in the valley and his funeral was at the Kaysville Bible Church. I still remember the look of the pews and the hymnal as we all sang a tune that was then unfamiliar to me–“It Is Well With My Soul.”
I was touched so deeply by the words and felt truth and peace as we sang.
Since then, I have heard the hymn “It Is Well With My Soul” hundreds of times. It has become a favorite and I listen to nearly every version I hear.
A few years ago, I was introduced to the story behind the hymn as I prepared to visit the American Colony hotel in Jerusalem: the hotel where Anna and Horatio Spafford (writer of they hymn) established a colony later in their lives.
Horatio had penned the words “It Is Well With My Soul” after tragedy. He suffered a devastating loss to his financial situation due to a fire in Chicago and then a subsequent economic downturn. With intentions to move to Europe, he sent his family ahead of him. In a devastating collision, the ship carrying his family sank. His daughters drowned. His wife was left to telegram, “Saved alone.” As Horatio traveled to meet his wife, he wrote his grief and his hope.
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.
When I first heard the hymn, I did not think it was known to my own congregation and Church, yet I have since heard it sung by many artists of my faith and by the Tabernacle Choir many times. The story of Horatio Spafford’s tragedy that led to the writing of this beautiful hymn was even told in one of their Christmas concerts.
A friend, not knowing my love of this song, gave me a home decor block sharing the beautiful words that I sing in my heart all the time.
And then, a little over three weeks ago, we entered into a scary, fear-filled, and anxious time of self-isolation amid this pandemic.
Shortly after, Utah experienced an earthquake. My nerves and my soul were already in a tough place and then my ground wasn’t even steady. As I surveyed the home to see if there was any damage, the only thing I found amiss was the sign my friend had given me of “It Is Well With My Soul.” It had fallen off the shelf and lay face down. How fitting, I thought, because it was NOT well with my soul.
But I picked it up. And I looked at it. And I put it back in its place. I knew the aftershocks could knock it down again, but I needed it back there. I needed the assurance, the peace, the calm. And I’m glad that of all things that could have been amiss, that it was that sign that reminded me to put my faith back into place.
I have repeated the words in my head nearly every day during this strange time.
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.
Most of us have experienced strange emotions through this strange time.
I have cried for way too many reasons: the fear of the disease, the panic of uncertainty, the economic fall-out, the distress of the healthcare workers, the pain of those afflicted, the sadness and grief of those who mourn but cannot be physically comforted, the stress of those trying to find the right solutions, the hurt for those who have lost jobs, the weight on the parents–especially mothers–bearing their children’s anxieties and trying to get through this time. I have cried at not being able to see some of my family members as I’ve worried about their health and safety. I have cried about lost opportunities. And because I MISS PEOPLE.
I cried when the neighbor boy saw me and rushed to say hi but was called back by his mother to keep a safe distance. I cried that this is our reality. I cried that people are so, so alone and that I can’t reach out in the ways that I want to and that I’m used to. And yesterday I finished a work meeting with my voice choked up and quickly hung up as I cried for no reason at all.
But I have also cried good tears and happy tears. I have cried because of the goodness of the world. I have cried at the creative ways that people have come together through virtual means. I have cried at the showing of generosity. I have cried at the extra love people have shown. SO MUCH LOVE. I have cried being able to spend time connecting to some people who have influenced my life but I rarely have time to connect with. I have cried because I have felt an increase of the Spirit touching my heart with who I need to reach out to and what I need to do to show love to others.
This week, I cried with so much love as we held a virtual Relief Society activity. SO MUCH LOVE. I have cried at the increased sense of community from afar. I’ve especially cried tears of hope at the solidarity I feel as the world joins together in a day of fasting and prayer tomorrow. I have cried at the expressions of love on this Worldwide Facebook group about the fast. I have cried because others’ faith has helped me feel stronger in my faith. I have cried because of the peaceful hope I feel in Christ.
And don’t worry because in all of it I have also laughed. So much laughter. The memes. Oh, the memes! The music videos. The sharing of our comedic errors in this strange time. The laughter we always manage to find with those we love.
I don’t know why such beauty can come of tragedy; I just know that sometimes it does. I don’t know why faith and hope are strengthened in the most trying times; I just know that they can be.
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.
It can be well with my soul.
It will be well with my soul.
It is well with my soul.
[Some of my favorite versions that I could find]
A new fave born of this strange time: