Worship Anyway

By Published on April 7, 2024

I have found that heartbreak can give voice to healing and hope. This makes no sense except for the divine, unfathomable truth that our God, the Living Word, put on flesh and entered into our despair to redeem with His perfect love all that had been lost.

When my mom told me the story of how “It Is Well With My Soul” was written, I sat there with her and wept.

The Heartbreak of Horatio G. Spafford

In 1871, a man by the name of Horatio G. Spafford had been living a good life in Chicago with his wife, Anna, and their four daughters. At the time, Spafford was a successful lawyer and real estate investor, as well as an elder in his Presbyterian church. They were friends with and supporters of the evangelist Dwight L. Moody. That year, tragedy struck when the Great Chicago Fire ravaged the city October 8-10. At least three hundred people perished, around a hundred thousand were left homeless, and $200 million worth of property was destroyed, including Spafford’s real estate investments and law firm.

By 1873, Spafford had grown concerned about Anna’s health, and decided to send his family on vacation to England where they also would be attending revival services held by Moody. When their finances took another hit in the Panic of 1873, Spafford sent his wife and four daughters (aged eleven, nine, five, and two) ahead on the French steamship Ville du Havre.

One week into the trip, the Ville du Havre collided with the iron-hulled Scottish ship Loch Earn and snapped in half.

Anna woke her daughters and took them onto the deck as she cried out to God to either save them or make them willing to die. Within twelve minutes, the Ville du Havre sank into the icy waters of the Atlantic, taking the lives of 226 of the 313 souls on board , including the four young girls. Anna later was found clinging to a piece of the wreckage, rescued, and taken to Cardiff, Wales, where she penned a telegraph to Spafford, that said, “Saved alone. What shall I do?”

Inspiration at the Site of Tragedy

Spafford immediately left Chicago to meet his wife in Liverpool. As he crossed the Atlantic, the captain called Spafford to his cabin and told him that, to the best of his knowledge, they were passing over the place where his daughters had perished. According to Spafford’s fifth daughter, who was born after the tragedy, her father wrote some of “It Is Well with My Soul” while on this journey.

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.

In 1876, Ira Sankey, a gospel singer associated with Dwight L. Moody, stayed in the Spafford home for a couple of weeks. According to Sankey, this was when all the lyrics to the hymn were written in commemoration of the death of the Spaffords’ four daughters. The music was composed by Phillip P. Bliss and officially published by Bliss and Sankey. It was first sung by Bliss before a large gathering Moody hosted on November 4, 1876.

Heartbreak Leads to Hope and Healing

Sadly, the Spaffords experienced another great loss: A son, Horatio Gates Spafford II, was born in 1877, but died of scarlet fever before the age of five. However, the Spaffords had two more daughters, Bertha and Grace, born in 1878 and 1881. Bertha lived to the age of 90; Grace lived until about the age of 70.

“It Is Well With My Soul” is a “worship anyway” sort of song. The Spaffords’ heartbreak gave way, and a voice, to healing and hope for countless generations who still sing the words, “It is well with my soul.”

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This story is a reminder to us that, whatever losses we have suffered, whatever endings or changes we have walked through, we may choose to lift our weary heads and worship God anyway. As we command our souls to declare in faith, “It is well,” may we become cognizant of God’s goodness and heal from the heartbreak while regaining the strength to find joy again as gratitude willingly spills out of our mouths.

Remember, grief and gratitude can go hand in hand.


Andi Andrew joins Randy and Tammy this Monday on LIFE TODAY. Excerpted from Braving Change by Andi Andrew. Copyright ©2024 by Andi Andrew. Published by Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group. Used by permission.

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