Well With My Soul?

If you have been in a church that sings hymns, I’m pretty certain you’ve heard the backstory to the hymn, “It is Well With My Soul”.

Or at least the most popular version–Horatio Spafford lost four daughters in a tragic accident.  Only his wife survived the sinking ship on its way to England.   Once there, she sent a heart-rending telegram, “Saved alone” to Spafford who had not accompanied them on the voyage.

As the story goes, Spafford, upon crossing the Atlantic to meet his wife, passed over the spot of the sinking and the words to the famous hymn came to mind:

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.

But, as Paul Harvey was famous for saying, here’s “The rest of the story”.

Spafford belonged to a congregation that staunchly believed difficulty and tragedy were divine chastening for sin or lack of faith.

Apparently, in the minds of at least some of his friends, the awful things that happened to Horatio and his wife were their own fault. Eventually, Spafford and his family removed themselves from the church and created their own fellowship.

Tragically, it seems that Spafford died confused, dismayed and perhaps, disbelieving.

Why is this important?

Because the support (or lack of support) bereaved parents receive from their fellow Christians can make all the difference between losing sight of Jesus and finishing well, with our eyes fixed on the “Author and Perfector of our faith”

We love the shortened version of the Horatio Spafford story because it ends with a triumph of faith, a crescendo of hope and a tidy finish to a messy story.

But the same reason the broad sweep of Spafford’s life is rarely brought to our attention is the same reason many find it difficult to walk beside grieving parents in their journey–even sincere, committed Christians can have doubts.

Even those who have read and believe the Bible can take longer than anyone would like to settle firmly on trusting God again after tragedy.

And even when we who struggle because of deep grief reach the place where our hearts can again rest in the sovereignty and goodness of God, we may always have unanswered questions.

Believers in Christ are called to minister to the members of His Body.  We are commissioned to encourage, uplift, care for and help each other.

It often involves more energy, time and effort than we are willing to give.

But if we believe, as Paul said, that every single member is called by God to serve a specific purpose then can we afford to ignore even one of them?

The way God designed our bodies is a model for understanding our lives together as a church: every part dependent on every other part, the parts we mention and the parts we don’t, the parts we see and the parts we don’t. If one part hurts, every other part is involved in the hurt, and in the healing. If one part flourishes, every other part enters into the exuberance.

I Corinthians 12:25-26



Author: Melanie

I am a shepherd, wife and mother of four amazing children, three that walk the earth with me and one who lives with Jesus. This is a record of my grief journey and a look into the life I didn't choose. If you are interested in joining a community of bereaved parents leaning on the promises of God in Christ, please like the public Facebook page, "Heartache and Hope: Life After Losing a Child" and join the conversation.

7 thoughts on “Well With My Soul?”

  1. I have a post coming up, Melanie, that features this hymn. After researching “the rest of the story” last week, I nearly changed my mind. I was afraid someone else would find out that Horatio and Anna were imperfect, hurting people – just like me. Reading about their struggles frightened me. Right from the start of our bereavement, one of my first fears was that I might “lose my marbles” or “go off the deep end.” How could I ever come through this if even folks like the Spaffords had a tough time? I have come to accept that, while I have assurance that the Lord will keep me and that I will persevere, child loss changes us and perhaps even damages us. And that’s OK. The Lord specializes in using broken people.

    But for now, I think I will post the short version of the Spafford’s story up tho the victorious hymn that has meant so much to me. I am not sure I am ready to fully face their difficulties yet. I am still wading through the wreckage of my own.

    Thank you for reminding us that we are to care for each other as we walk this journey home.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t think in any way that Spafford’s latter life undoes the truth of the hymn he wrote or the feelings he felt at that moment. The hymn is beautiful and full of truth. I hold onto that. I look forward to your post.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Melanie, such good stuff, as usual! I reblogged it – and you post Debate and Faith. Keep exercising those critical thinking skills because I’m glad to be a benefactor of the wisdom you gain as you wrestle with your faith!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Reblogged this on Boxx Banter and commented:
    Today I’m sharing another post from The Life I Didn’t Choose. It’s just too good not to share, and really, this blog site may have my name on it, but what I’m most interested in is the intersection of faith and real life. Heaven knows I don’t have life all figured out and I have so much respect and appreciation for fellow Christians who wrestle with their faith when they just don’t understand. They could turn their backs and walk away deeply wounded, but instead they choose to grapple with doubts and re-evaluate previously understood scripture trying to figure out if they got it wrong the first time around or if just maybe that scripture has a much fuller meaning than they realized in the past. Thank God Melanie is not afraid to question and wrestle with her faith!

    I had never heard the final chapter of Horatio Spafford’s story. But you know what, I’m thankful, not for Spafford’s state of mind at his death, that saddens me, but to hear he struggled AFTER writing the triumphant hymn, “It is Well With My Soul”. If that sounds unkind, it’s not meant to be. Spafford’s struggle just makes me feel better about my own.

    The truth is, I have personally found that in the immediate aftermath of my own tragedies, I am solid and strong in my faith. But down the road, down the road is another story all together. That’s why, not long after Bethany and Katie died, I posted on Facebook that I want to find Psalm 57:7a, “My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast!”, to be true of me – because I was not confident that my heart would remain steadfast. As 2 Thessalonians 2:13b – 17 says, “. . . God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth. It was for this He called you through our gospel, that you may gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brethren, stand firm and hold [fast] to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us. Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us eternal comfort and good hope by grace, comfort and strengthen your hearts in every good work and word.”

    Living day to day with the fallout left behind, my faith can falter. Questions arise and I struggle to find answers, and sometimes, there are no satisfactory answers. Sometimes I have to find a way to make peace with a lack of answers or to make peace with the unacceptable consequences I am forced to with. There is just no easy way to get to that point. Intellectually, I understand God’s ways are not mine. In my heart, I believe God has a good plan. But in spite of those beliefs, I can’t seem to merge the beliefs of my heart and mind together. It’s like finding two puzzle pieces that fit together, knowing they fit together, but for whatever reason being unable to actually fit them neatly together.

    My Dad likes to work puzzles. I like to work them on occasion myself. Sometimes when the manufacturer cuts the puzzle, the cut isn’t clean. When the box is first opened and the pieces spilled out you may find several pieces that are stuck together because the cut didn’t completely separate the pieces. So you tear them apart and start to work. But sometimes when you try to put the pieces together they don’t snap in place and lay flat. Instead they buckle up. Those puzzle pieces are a pretty good analogy for the way my heart and mind seem to work. In keeping with that analogy I believe that the Holy Spirit has to come along and sand off or smooth out those rough edges, so to speak, which allows the puzzle pieces (my heart and mind) to fit the way they are intended. I have settled in my heart that the Holy Spirit works to help me merge the beliefs of my heart and mind revealing a cohesive spiritual truth; the end of which results in spiritual maturity.

    So while watching a fellow believer struggle, while struggling myself, is unpleasant (what an inadequate word!), I am resigned to the process. I don’t like it! I don’t like it at all! But I’m thankful for those who have wrestled and gained the prize, peace that passes all understanding.

    And why is Melanie’s post relevant to Christians who have not lost a child? Let me use Melanie’s own words (with one slight modification) to explain: “Because the support (or lack of support) ALL BELIEVERS (substituted for bereaved parents) receive from their fellow Christians can make all the difference between losing sight of Jesus and finishing well, with our eyes fixed on the “Author and Perfector of our faith.” Read her post; it’s much shorter than my introduction! 🙂


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