Horatio Spafford lived in Chicago. He was a lawyer. He had 4 kids.
The Spaffords had been planning a family vacation to Paris. But at the last minute, Horatio was kept back with urgent business. Sending his wife Anna and their four daughters ahead of him on the SS Ville du Havre, he expected to be only a few days behind them.
After a week of sailing, the Ville Du Havre collided with the Scottish clipper Loch Earn at 2am on Saturday, November 22. Realizing that danger was immanent, 313 passengers scrambled for the lifeboats. But having been freshly painted, most of the lifeboats were stuck to the main deck, and the passengers were able to break a only a few loose.
The ship sank in 12 minutes. 226 passengers were lost.
Upon reaching Wales 9 days later, Anna telegraphed her husband:
After hearing the news, Horatio left Chicago on the next ship to Wales to bring Anna home. At a point in the North Atlantic crossing, the captain called Spafford to his cabin to inform him that they were passing the spot where the Ville Du Havre went down.
Pulling a piece of hotel stationary from his pocket (pictured below), Spafford penned the words to the hymn.
Interestingly, the original last line – “a song in the night,” from Psalm 42 – differs from what we sing today. In a later edit, Spafford thought his original words too dark – preferring instead to allude to the more hopeful Rev. 22:20 “…even so, come Lord Jesus.”
At the end of all things. Resurrection. Beautiful.
Here’s the point:
If you’re a church leader, how do you encourage those you shepherd to handle tragedy? David wrote some of his best poetry in extreme pain. Don’t merely preach at them. Give your people a platform and a voice. Invite empathy back into your church. The next “It Is Well” could be sitting quietly in the third pew from the back. Approach them. Be creative. Listen. And be genuine.
If you’ve experienced any level of tragedy, what have you done with it? Without sounding dismissive, it’s easier to play the wounded bird than the one who tries to sing – although faintly. Share your story. When you do, two things will happen: 1) By externalizing your pain, you’ll gain perspective on what God’s plan for pain. 2) You’ll likely find resonance with others for their benefit.
Share your story. Listen to others. Grow in grace.
– Association of French lines, Maritime Naval History.
– 100 Hymn Stories, Osbeck.
– An American Priestess: The Extraordinary Story of Anna Sparffords and the American Colony in Jerusalem, Talese.