When sorrows like sea-billows roll

A couple Sundays ago we sang Horatio G. Spafford’s hymn, “It Is Well.” Afterwards, the pastor gave us the history of the hymn’s conception.

Spafford was a prominent businessman who lived in Chicago with his wife, Anna. Their only son died of scarlet fever at a young age, and they lost their home, posessions, and real estate holdings in the great fire. He decided to take his family – wife and four daughters – on a trip. He ended up sending them on ahead on a ship to Europe, while he stayed to take care of business. Their ship collided with another ship en route, and days later Spafford received a telegram from his wife that read, “Saved alone.” All of his daugters had perished at sea.

On his journey to meet up with his wife, Spafford told the captain he wanted to be informed when they were in the area where his daughters drowned. At 2 o’clock in the morning, he received a knock on his cabin, and was told they were in the vicinity. As they passed over the area, Spafford penned these words:

When peace like a river attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea-billows roll,
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to know,
“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 His cross and I bear it no more;
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, oh, 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.

I cried at the telling of the story, and that song is all the more precious to me. “When sorrows like sea-billows roll,” when my life is taken from me, when all I see is pain and sadness… I cried not only because I cannot imagine losing Gwen in such a way, but at the strength gained and renewed faith in God. I have not endured such loss, yet I find it hard to trust as much.

Later it occurred to me that it seems many of these thoughts – in hymns, and of course in the Bible – are written by men. Is it because they are better at compartmentalizing than women that they are able to keep their focus? You can read the story in more detail, and his wife’s reaction to the loss.

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