The Story Behind “Day By Day”

The daughter of a Lutheran minister, Lina Sandell, grew up in Smaland, Sweden.  The tragedy of seeing her father fall overboard and drown in her presence inspired some of her first hymns as she poured out her broken heart in many of her songs. Sandell went on to write over six hundred hymns including “Children of the Heavenly Father” and “Day by Day.”  She was married to Oscar Berg, a merchant and future member of the Swedish Parliament.  Lina Sandell became Sweden’s first successful female head of a publishing house.  She wrote as many as 2000 hymns before dying from typhoid fever.

Robert Leaf translated the hymn into English.  He was born and raised in Lindsborg, Kansas.  After a short career as an elementary school music teacher and a series of records of children’s music he enrolled in graduate studies at the University of Minnesota.  Having nearly completed the program, he left school and began composing hymns and secular choral music.  He was especially interested in music for hymns and was completing a book on the subject at the time of his death.

Oscar Ahnfelt set Sandell’s hymn to music.  He would play his guitar and sing her hymns throughout Scandinavia but encountered much persecution in his evangelical efforts.  King Karl XV, ruler of the united kingdoms of Sweden and Norway, was petitioned to forbid Ahnfelt’s preaching and singing.  The monarch refused until he had an opportunity to hear the “spiritual troubadour”.  Commanded to appear at the royal palace, Ahnfelt was perturbed as to what he should sing to the king.  He asked Lina Sandell to write a hymn for the occasion.  As Ahnfelt sang his hymn, the king listened with tears in his eyes.  When Ahnfelt finished, the monarch gripped him by the hand and exclaimed: “You may sing as much as you like in both of my kingdoms!”