A beloved hymn in the Protestant tradition is “It is well with my soul.” It was written by Horatio Spafford after the deaths of his four daughters with the sinking of the S. S. Ville du Havre. The ship was struck by the Lochearn, an English vessel, and sank in twelve minutes. Several days later the survivors were finally landed at Cardiff, Wales, and Mrs. Spafford cabled her husband, “Saved alone.” As Kenneth Osbeck records in his book, “101 Hymn Stories,”
“Shortly afterward Spafford left by ship to join his bereaved wife. It is thought that on the sea near the area where his four daughters had drowned, Spafford penned this text whose words so significantly describe his own personal grief – ‘When sorrows like billows roll…’” But the text of the hymn doesn’t dwell on the sorrows and tragedies of life, but on the salvation one finds in the death and resurrection of Christ. Even with life’s trials, “The trump shall resound and the Lord shall descent, ‘Even so’- it is well with my soul.”
The loss of a child is cause for a parent’s worst grief. When this happens to a friend we grieve for them and for ourselves as well, fearing the loss of our child. The Spaffords lost all their children, but Horatio’s faith was so strong that he could look ahead to the future with confidence that his soul would be well, indeed that “It is well with my soul,” for God has the last word for our lives.
I know friends and parishioners who have lost a child and even children, and have seen in them incredible faith that has given them the strength and grace to move forward with their lives. The loss remains, but their lives and those of their departed children are in God’s ultimate hands for the life to come. Faith lifts their voices to sing, “It is well with my soul.” Even for those of us who have not suffered this loss, turning our lives over to God in good times and in tragedy is a way to rejoice in the goodness of God and to heal a sorrowful soul.
“Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, It is well, it is well with my soul.”