Learning From a Godly Woman Long Gone, Part 2

Elizabeth Prentiss, as I have learned, wrote this series of journal entries (in her book titled "Stepping Heavenward") from a fictional woman's viewpoint. You can read Part 1 of insights gleaned from this excellent book by clicking here.
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How can we teach our children to obey with a cheerful attitude and to do all things as unto the Lord (rather than just to be a people-pleaser)? Katy shares this insightful memory of training her son,

"Ernest threw his whole into whatever he did, and sometimes when engaged in play would hesitate a little when directed to do something else... But if I said, 'If you do this cheerfully and pleasantly, my darling, you do it for Jesus, and that will make Him smile upon you,' he would invariably yield at once. Is not this the true, the natural way of linking every little daily act of a child's life with that Divine Love, that Divine Life which gives meaning to all things?"

What a better motivator this would be for our children- to teach them to please Christ, instead of teaching them to please others or to please us!

Here, Katy develops an idea which still stands true today.
"People ask me how it happens that my children are all so promptly obedient and so happy. As if it were by chance that some parents have such children, or chance that some have not! I am afraid it is only too true, as some one has remarked that 'this is the age of obedient parents!' What then will be the future of their children? How can they yield to God who have never been taught to yield to human authority? And how well fitted will they be to rule their own households who have never learned to rule themselves?"

The editor asks this simple question: "If the middle 1800's was considered the 'age of obedient parents', what might our day be called?" What indeed!

On this topic, with all that has happened in our lives since November, I can greatly identify with these words, written after much sickness and even death in their family:

I suppose to those who look on from the outside, we must appear like a most unhappy family, since we hardly get free from one trouble before another steps in. But I see more and more that happiness is not dependent on health or any other outside prosperity. We are at peace with each other and at peace with God; His dealings with us do not perplex or puzzle us, though we do not pretend to understand them."

The best convent for a woman is the seclusion of her own home. There she may find her vocation and fight her battles and there she may learn the reality and earnestness of life."

ON THE PURPOSE-DRIVEN LIFE (pre-Saddleback & Rick Warren)
Katy's mother advises a young woman she mentors,
"Make the object of your life right, and the little details will take care of themselves."

The young woman replies,
"but I haven't any object," to which Mother replies, "I suppose that most girls could say the same. They have an instinctive desire to please, and they take what they conceive to be the shortest and easiest road to that end."

"...Let us imagine a young lady, living in the world as you say you lived. She has never
seriously reflected on any subject one half hour in her life. She has been carried along by the current and let it take her where it would. But at last... she finds herself in a world of serious, momentous events. She sees... that her whole unknown future depends on what she is, not on how she looks. She begins to case about for some plan of life..."

(but she is interrupted by her young friend, who incredulously asks,
"a plan of life?")

You would smirk at an architect, who, having a noble structure to build, should begin work on it in a haphazard way, putting in a brick here and a stone there..."

This thought challenged not only the young friend, but her daughter Katy as well, who wrote, "I, too, began to reflect, that while I had really aimed to make the most out of my life, I had not done it methodically or intelligently."

Katy's mother continued,
"It requires no talent, no education, no thought to dress tastefully; the most empty-hearted, frivolous young person can do it, provided she has enough money. Those who can't get the money make up for it by a fearful expenditure of precious time. They plan, they cut, they fit, they rip, they trim till they can appear in society looking exactly like everybody else."

Interesting, isn't it then, that our culture holds up as most admirable and celebrated this very quality of dressing tastefully... in our magazines, in our schools, in our homes, sadly, and in our churches.

When her sister-in-law asks about marriage, Katy gives these poignant and honest thoughts:

Happiness, in other words love, in married life, is not a mere accident. When the union has been formed, as most Christian unions are, by God Himself, it is His intention and His will that it shall prove the unspeakable joy of both husband and wife, and become more and more so from year to year. But we are imperfect creatures, wayward and foolish as little children, horribly unreasonable, selfish, and willful. We are not capable of enduring the shock of finding at every turn that our idol is made of clay and that it is prone to tumble off its pedestal and lie in the dust..."

And indeed, it is no mystery why marriages crumble... living with ourself alone is hard enough. But working together, through thick and thin, with another human being is difficult. It is as difficult to keep them off of the pedestal as it is to keep from putting them "in the doghouse." Our nature often prompts us as women to put our husband up on a pedestal. After all, he is provider, lover, and friend. It is not difficult to get us to idolize and worship this man, particularly in the dating stages, although I will attest it is equally as difficult when you are just truly in love, years into marriage. But if our nature might push us at times to idolize this man, the very same flesh nature will inevitably push us to try to take vengeance into our own hands. That it is easier to flog and "make him pay" than to forgive and make things right. That it is easier to give a cold shoulder and roll over in bed than it is to not go to bed angry.

As Katy watches her mom dying, asking questions like,
"why?" and, "how?", her mom trusts in God all the more, saying, "Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him [Job 13:15]. He is just as good as ever."

Her mother's friend, watching all of this, comments about Katy's mother's suffering:
"God knows whom He can trust! He would not lay His hand thus on all His children." What an unusual perspective on suffering! It gives me strength to know that when God allows suffering in our lives, He is giving us a blessing- to grow in ways that those who live lives of ease and comfort may not ever grow.

"If I had nothing to do but love my husband and children and perform for them, without obstacle or hindrance, the sweet ideal duties of wife and mother, how content I would be to live always in this world! But what would become of me if I were not called, in the pursuit of those duties and in contact with real life, to bear 'restless nights, ill-health, unwelcome news, the faults of servants, contempt, ingratitude of friends, my own failings, lowliness of spirits, the struggle in overcoming my corruption, and a score of kindred trials!'"

I can SO identify with Katy's thoughts here:
"There is no use in trying to graft an opposite nature on one's own. What I am, that I must be, except as God changes me into His own image. And everything brings me back to that, as my supreme desire. I see more and more that I must be myself what I want my children to be, and that I cannot make myself over even for their sakes. This must be His work, and I wonder that it goes on so slowly; that all the disappointments, sorrows, sicknesses I have passed through, have left me still selfish, still full of imperfections!"

Mrs. Prentiss finished off her book with the following hymn, which I could fully echo as true of my own life (particularly the 2nd stanza):

O gift of gifts! O grace of faith!
My God! How can it be?
That Thou, Who hast discerning love,
Should give that gift to me?

How many hearts Thou might have had
More innocent than mine!
How many souls more worthy far

Of that sweet touch of Thine?

Ah, grace! Into unlikeliest hearts

It is thy boast to come;
The glory of Thy light to find

In darkest spots a home.

Oh, happy, happy that I am!

If thou can be, O faith,

The treasure that thou art in life,
What wilt thou be in death?

I hope you'll consider reading this eloquent and well-written book; it will challenge you to truly run after God. It will challenge you to be more than you presently are. It will challenge your perspective on suffering.

Here's hoping you can find it on a friend's bookshelf (for free), or at a discount bookstore!


Paula said...

I hope the title of this book is Stepping Heavenward (I was not able to tell if the title was that or Learning From A Godly Woman Long Gone). But when I searched for the author, Stepping Heavenward came up. And they had it at Paperback Swap so I am able to get the book for FREE!! I am so excited!! They had several copies, so if you are not yet a member, you can get another copy by joining! You can find out how from my blog (left hand column. Ok, off to finish catching up on the rest of your blog posts. :)

Jess said...

OH wow. That's awesome Paula. Yes, it is Stepping Heavenward. I should have mentioned that. I'll go back and edit it to say as much. I'm glad you'll get to read it- it is such an insightful and challenging read.

Katharine C said...

Rather late to be posting I know but this book is online free, legally (because the copyright has gone), at www.gutenberg.org. just search for it. I read it here after seeing it mentioned by Elisabeth Elliot and I am completely of your opinion.