Is it Well?

Kerry Tittle

Kerry Tittle

Founder, Refined Family

Kerry Tittle is a mother of 10 children and a 20+-year homeschool veteran. She is the founder of Refined Family. Her desire is to honor Christ while comforting others with the comfort she has received from the Lord. 

If you have lived any amount of time on this broken Earth, you have most likely met someone and asked, “How in the world are they surviving that situation?”

There are people in this world that seem to have iron resilience in the face of adversity.  How is this so?  I think it has something to do with internal versus eternal.

Usually, we make the mistake of attributing it to their abilities instead of the God who is carrying them as well as the hope that is within them.  In my opinion, it’s a miraculous thing that anyone can have a mustard seed of faith or positive attitude in wake of a storm.

I want to introduce you to a man that I think of often and continue to marvel at his perseverance.

Horatio G. Spafford was a very successful American lawyer in the 1800s.  Spafford was also a Presbyterian Church Elder.  At the peak of his success the hand of God would begin to mold him with a refining fire like few others have faced.

In 1871, their young son passed away with complications to pneumonia.  Most assuredly, bearing the weight of deep grief, Spafford was blindsided later the same year October 8, 1871 by the historic Great Chicago Fire.  His success evaporated with the smoke of that fire as he had invested heavily in real estate along the Lake Michigan shoreline.

I can only imagine his mind trying to process.  We can assume as an Elder he may have had many questions for Lord.  “Why?  How do I move forward?  What is next?”

In 1873 Spafford’s close friend Dwight L. Moody led a preaching campaign in England.  Though the Lord had returned his thriving business, it can be assumed he was weighted by a desired rest for his wife and four daughters. He decided to join his friend with a family European vacation.  This sort of “get away” may be exactly what the family would need.

I am certain that on the day of boarding the SS Ville du Havre the smell of the fresh salt water and the waves lapping the coast offered them a hope of rest and a new beginning.

Last minute business developments arose, but the determined Spafford would not be deterred.  He kept the schedule and boarded his wife and four daughters and told them he would come on the next ship.

During the Atlantic voyage that was to offer respite, the ship was struck by the Loch Earn, a powerful Scottish iron sailing vessel.

SS Ville du Havre sank within twelve minutes.  226 lives were taken including Spafford’s four daughters Annie, Maggie, Bessie and Tanetta.

Anne, Spafford’s wife, was found floating unconscious on a piece of wreckage.  She was taken with the other survivors to Cardiff, Wales.  There she cabled her husband with the haunting words he most likely never forgot. 

“Saved alone.”

Spafford booked passage on the next ship.  I can only imagine that the traveling time felt like a lifetime to be reunited with the one he had left in the world.  As the ship crossed the Atlantic, the Captain pointed out the possible place he believed Spafford’s four daughters had perished.

As his eyes searched the surface of the expanse of the watery grave the sea billows would have rolled effortlessly.  The thoughts that were going through his mind and the angst and pain that inhabited his soul we may never know.  But that evening in his helpless estate he penned,


When sorrows like sea billows roll

It is well with my soul


This unimaginable tragedy gave birth to the popular hymn It Is Well With my Soul.   These words gave us an insight to his grief reconciled with God’s promises.


It Is Well With My Soul

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 (it is well)
With my soul (with my soul)
It is well, it is well with my soul

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come
Let this blest assurance control
That Christ (yes, He has) has regarded my helpless estate
And has shed His own blood for my soul

It is well (it is well)
With my soul (with my soul)
It is well, it is well with my soul

My sin, oh the bliss of this glorious thought (a thought)
My sin, not in part, but the whole (every bit, all of it)
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more (yes!)
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!


 – This story continues with the birth of 3 more children; Bertha, Horatio and Grace.  Yet again they lost their son to scarlet fever at age of four. 

At this point my weak self would have probably have gone off-grid never to be heard of again.  As with most who have endured the unthinkable there is a gravitation from the material things of this world.  It was no different for Spafford.  With a lack of help from his church (not certain of those details) he began to hold prayer meetings in their home.  Eventually, led a group of 13 adults and three children to Jerusalem and set up an American Colony.  There they engaged in philanthropic work regardless of ones religion or background.

Years ago, our church choir surrounded the congregation with candles and sang It is Well With My Soul.  The story of Spafford was unbeknownst to me at the time but the experience of the song was moving.  As we went home that night my husband said “I love that song.  I would want it sung at my funeral.”  It was odd since we never discussed things like that….but I took a mental note. 

I had no idea a few short years later that song would be sung at the display of three caskets; my husband and two of my daughters.

This song led me on a journey to meet the man of great suffering.  What were his qualifications to write such material?

It is sometimes assumed that the title and refrain of this song convey that one is at peace emotionally.  In my experience I think it would be irrational to believe that Horatio G. Spafford lived an exemplary pious life in the wake of tragedy.  He was human as the rest of us and most likely struggled with grief and questions.  I don’t think “It is well with my soul” meant he was divinely protected from difficult emotions.  I can only believe that Spafford could rightly divide the truth of internal and eternal: Internal emotions and Eternal Glory.

Even as I have found comfort in the life of Horatio G. Spafford,  I have found greater comfort in Christ who was a man of greater suffering and did lead an exemplary life of trust and surrender to the Father.

Whatever my lot thou has taught me to say It is well with my soul.

In unflinching honesty, is it well with your soul? 

Fellow sufferer, if this world is your home, then the trials we face here are only the beginning.  But if your home lies beyond and you are eternity focused this world is the only taste of hell you will ever know.


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