Susan’s Thursday morning note March 8, 2008 Stepping Heavenward by Elizabeth Prentiss Love of her children. Anniversary of death of loved one. Death of her child. Thoughts on heaven.
There are only about five books that I would say have truly made significant changes in my life. One of them I pulled out again and can’t resist writing to you some of what I underlined. The book, Stepping Heavenward by Elizabeth Prentiss, is a journal of a woman from when she was 16 through her 40’s written in the late 1800s – long lapses between some entries. Her father killed in an accident, then her first born six year old from sickness, then her mother from disease, then her brother from a week long disease – all her thoughts. Her personality reminds me of Anne of Green Gables – I just love her, how she always tries to not talk so much, gets herself into scenarios that cause her humiliation, then she learns to step heavenward. As the book ends she has the goal of having her inner mind being in constant prayer throughout her day (where no one around would even know these thoughts), and that if she did die – she would only be one step from God’s presence, since she’s already in his presence. Below are a few of the lines I underlined so I can quickly reread. How do I narrow them down for you? Her writing is a little difficult to adjust to – I think it’s worth printing just this part & reading it over again when you have time to concentrate on her thoughts fully. Each time I reread this I get something new to think about. Here you go!
Another angel has flown into my home, though not on wings; and I have four darling children. My hands and my heart are full…
But there is no use in trying to engraft an opposite nature of 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 than 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!
I got up jaded and depressed, almost ready to faint under the burden of life and dreading to meet Helen, who is doubly sad on these anniversaries…How things do flash into one’s mind! These words suddenly came to mine, as we sat so gloomily at the table God had spread for us & the little four young faces around it – Why should the children of a King Go mourning all their days? Why indeed? Children of a King! I felt grieved that I was so intent on my own sorrows as to lose sight of my relationship to Him…
Yes, I am happy …I have my sorrows…My happiness rests on something higher and deeper than Ernest and the children… What is that? The will of God, the sweet will of God. If He should take them all away, I might still possess a peace which would flow on forever. I know this partly from my own experience and partly from that of others. Oh, how can I fret at anything which is the will of God? Let Him take all beside, He has given me Himself, I love, I praise Him every moment. (response from sister-in-law…Yes, I can imagine people as saying such things in moments of excitement; but afterwards, they have hours of terrible agony.” response – They have “hours of terrible agony,” of course. God’s grace does not harden our hearts and make them proof against suffering like coats of mail. They can all say, “Out of the depths have I cried unto Thee” (Psalm 13:1); and it is they alone who have been down into the depths and had rich experience of what God could be to His children there who can utter such testimonials to His honor as those have just repeated. (response – Katy, Do you always submit to God’s will thus?) In great things I do. What grieves me is that I am constantly forgetting to recognize God’s hand in the little, everyday trials of life, and instead of receiving them as from Him, find fault with the instruments by which He sends them. I can give up my child, my only brother, my darling mother without a word; but to receive every tiresome visitor as sent expressly and directly to weary me by the Master Himself; to meet every negligence on the part of the servants as His choice for me at the moment; to be satisfied and patient when Ernest gets particularly absorbed in his books, because my Father sees that little discipline suitable for me at the time; all this I have not fully learned.
(Switching later to her kids running into her room.) As she listened the three children rushed in from school, and threw themselves upon me like men assaulting a fort. I have formed the habit of giving my self entirely to them at the proper moment and now entered into their frolicsome moods joyously as if I had never known a sorrow or lost an hour’s sleep. (sister in laws later question when Katy resumed serious conversation when kids left… – What are you made of that you can turn from one thing to another like lightning? Talking one moment as if life depended on your every word and then frisking about with those wild boys as if you were a child yourself…) Katy’s response – “I have always aimed at this flexibility. I think a mother, especially, ought to learn to enter into the gayer moods of her children at the very moment when her own heart is sad. And it may be as religious an act for her to romp with them at one time as to pray with them at another. As Helen went away to her room I silently prayed that the letter might bless her as it had blessed me. And then a jaded, disheartened mood came over me that made me feel that all I had been saying to her was but as sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal, since my life and my professions did not correspond. Hitherto my consciousness of imperfection has made me hesitate to say much to Helen. Why are we so afraid of those who live under the same roof with us? It must be the conviction that those who daily see us acting in a petty, selfish, trifling way must find it hard to conceive that our prayers and our desires take a wider and higher aim. (I liked how she mentioned she is so strong at one moment and then all of a sudden gets the mood that is so oppressing over her – without expecting the change.)
(Her picturing her child singing that had died when she talks about a woman she loved that just died)… – Only those who have suffered thus can appreciate the heart soreness through which, no matter how outwardly cheerful I may be, I am always passing. And just as I was writing these very words, my canary burst forth with a song so joyous that a song was put also in my mouth. Something seemed to say this captive sings in his cage because it has never known liberty and cannot regret a lost freedom. So the soul of my child (that had died) limited by the restrictions of a feeble body, never having known the gladness of exuberant health, may now sing songs that will enliven and cheer.
(On not having words in prayer…) It is not so much a variety of thoughts that one seeks in intercourse with a friend as a certain repose and correspondence of heart. It is thus we are with God, who does not disdain to be our tenderest, most cordial, most familiar, most intimate friend. A word, a sigh, a sentiment says all to God.
Let us look at the bright side of life and believe that God means us to be always ascending (Stepping Heavenward) always getting nearer to Himself, always learning something new about Him, always loving Him better and better. To think of God as our Physician. How infallibly He cures the souls that submit to His remedies, I love Him so! I love Him so! I am so astonished that we are restive under His unerring hand! Think how He dealt with me. My soul was sick unto death, death with worldliness and self-pleasing folly. There was only one way of making me listen to reason and that was just the way He took. He snatched me right out of the world and shut me up in one room, crippled, helpless, and alone, and set me to thinking, thinking, thinking till I saw the emptiness and shallowness of all in which I had been involved. And then He sent you and your mother to show me the reality of life and to reveal to me my invisible, unknown Physician. Can I love Him with half my heart? Can I be asking questions as to how much I am to pay towards the debt I owe Him?..
I was glad to be alone, to walk my room singing praises to Him for every instance in which, as my Physician, He had “disappointed my hope and defeated my joy” and given me to drink of the cup of sorrow and bereavement…As Luther said, “more light, Lord, more light,” the light comes. I questioned myself after he had gone as to whether this could be true of me. Is there not in my heart some secret reluctance to know the truth lest that knowledge should call to a higher and a holier life than I have yet tried? Before I go, I want once more to tell you how good He is, how blessed it is to suffer with Him, how infinitely happy He has made me in the very hottest heat of the furnace. It will strengthen you in your trials to recall this my dying testimony. There is no wilderness so dreary but that His love can illuminate it, no desolution so desolate but that He can sweeten it. I know what I am saying. It is no delusion. I believe that the highest, purest happiness is known only to those who have learned Christ in sickrooms, in poverty, in racking suspense and anxiety, amid hardships, and at the open grave.
You have described my mother just as she was from the moment her only son, the last of six, was taken from her. I never before quite understood how that final sorrow weaned her, so to say, from herself and made her life all love to God and all love to man. Pray for me, that I may yet wear her mantle! God shall wipe all tears from their eyes.
At any moment during the three years following James’s death, I would have snatched him away from God if I could; I was miserably lonely and desolate without him…All I could do was to go on praying, year after year…I should begin to love Him now, light broke in upon my soul; I gave myself, to Him that instant; and as soon as I could get away by myself, I fell upon my knees and gave myself up to the sense of His sovereignty for the first time in my life. Then, too, I looked at my “light affliction” and at the weight of glory side by side, and thanked Him that through the one He had revealed to me the other..
God has dealt very tenderly with me.
I have learned that he only is truly happy who has no longer a choice of his own and lies passive in God’s hand. I have learned not to despise the day of small things, to cherish the tenderest blossom.
Okay – I told you I didn’t know what to take out and I honestly have gone back and taken out some!!! I just think that different paragraphs will help different ones of you depending on what you are needing right now. Go take on your day. Stepping forward, stepping heavenward. Looking up, kneeling down. So much help in those two locations. Thank you for letting me read for you – I love trying to find what might help all of us get through life and making our days meaningful. Make yourself proud today in ways no one will know. Susan
Latin for this week: Difficilia quae pulchra - Things that are beautiful are difficult to attain. Work Cited: Prentiss, Elizabeth. Stepping Heavenward : One Woman's Journey to Godliness. Ed. Ellyn Sanna. Grand Rapids: Barbour, Incorporated, 1998.