Sisterly Discourse with John's Wife Concerning John,
The Family Purse,
The Parable of the Rich Woman and the Farmer's Wife,
Little Things that are Trifles,
A Mistake on John's Part,
Must-haves and May-bes,
What Good Will It Do?
Shall I Pass It On?
"Only Her Nerves,"
The Rule of Two,
The Perfect Work of Patience,
According to His Folly,
Is Marriage Reformatory?
And Other Relations-in-Law,
A Timid Word for the Step-mother,
Children as Helpers,
Children as Burden-bearers,
Our Young Person,
Getting Along in Years,
The Gospel of Conventionalities,
Familiar, or Intimate?
Cheerfulness as a Christian Duty,
The Family Invalid,
A Temperance Talk,
A Parting Word for Boy,
Homely, But Important,
It is the sisterly heart rather than the author's fancy that gives me as a companion in this, the last of these "Familiar Talks," the typical American house-mother.
Whatever the alleged subject discussed in former chapters--and each has borne more or less directly upon the leading theme, old yet never trite,--THE SECRET OF A HAPPY HOME,--I have had in heart and imagination this thin, nervous, intense creature whom I seat beside me. Her own hands have made her neat; the same hands and far more care than ever goes to the care of herself make and keep her home neat and comfortable.
The dying Queen of England gasped that after her death there would be found stamped upon her heart the name of the Calais lost to her kingdom in her reign. Our housewife carries her household forever bound upon her heart of hearts. The word is the hall mark upon every endeavor and achievement. It would be a poor recompense for a life of patient toil to convince her that she has wrought needlessly; that the same energy devoted to other objects would have made a nobler woman of her and the world better and happier. Nor am I sure that in a majority of instances this would be true. On the contrary, I hold religiously to the belief that God had wise reasons for setting each one of us in the socket in which she finds herself. "Be more careful," says an old writer, "to please Him perfectly than to serve Him much." If there are tasks which you, my sister, cannot demit without inconveniencing those whose welfare is your especial care, take this as a sure proof that the Father, in laying this work nearest to your hand--and not to that of another--has called you to it as distinctly as He called Paul to preach and Peter to glorify his Lord by the death he was to die.
In the talk we hold with our four feet upon the fender, the fire-glow making other light unnecessary, I do not propose to enter upon the favorite theme with some, of what you might have done had circumstances been propitious to the assumption of what are rated as more dignified duties. We will take your life as it is, and see what the practice of the inward grace I shall designate can make of it.
You are inclined to be down-hearted upon anniversaries. You need not tell me what I know so well of myself. Another year has gone, another year has dawned, and you are in the same old rut of ordering and cooking meals and clearing up after they have been eaten, sweeping, dusting, making and mending clothes, washing, dressing and training children, and the thousand and one nameless tasks that fritter away strength, leaving nothing to show for the waste.
"God help us on the common days, The level stretches white with dust!"
prays Margaret Sangster. You would cry out in the pain of retrospection and anticipation, that all the days of the years of your life are common days--"only that and nothing more."
If this be so, you need the Help none ever seek in vain more than those to whom varied and exciting scenes are alloted.
The angel of death who had said upon entering the plague-stricken city that he meant to kill ten thousand people, was accused on the way out of having slain forty thousand.
"I kept my word," he answered. "I killed but ten thousand. Fear killed the rest!"
If work slays thousands of American women, American worry slays her tens of thousands. Work may bend the back and stiffen the joints. It ploughs no furrows in brow and cheek; it does not hollow the eyes and drag all the facial muscles downward. These are misdeeds of worry--your familiar demon, and the curse of our sex everywhere. A good man--who, by the way, had a pale, harassed-looking wife--once told me that on each birthday and New Year's he retired to his study and spent some time behind the locked door in making good resolutions for the coming year.
"I may not keep them all," he said, ingenuously, "but the exercise of forming them is edifying."
With the thought of his wan and worried wife in mind, I shocked him by declining for my part to undertake such a big contract as resolutions for a year, a month or a week. If I live to a good old age, I shall owe the blessing in a great measure to the discovery, years ago, that I am hired not by the job, but by the day. If you, dear friend, will receive this truth into a good and honest heart, and believing, abide in and live by it, you will find it the very elixir of life to your spirit.
Come down from the pillar of observation. You might enact Simeon Stylites there for twenty years to come and be none the wiser or happier for the outlook. Refuse obstinately to take the big contract. Let each morning and evening be a new and complete day. In childlike simplicity live as if you were to have no to-morrow so far as worrying as to its possible outcome goes. Make the best of to-day's income. Not one minute of to-morrow belongs to you. It is all God's. Thank him that His hands hold it, and not your feeble, uncertain fingers.
Longfellow wrote nothing more elevating and helpful than his sonnet to "To-morrow, the Mysterious Guest," who whispers to the boding human soul:
"'Remember Barmecide, And tremble to be happy with the rest.' And I make answer, 'I am satisfied. I know not, ask not, what is best; God hath already said what shall betide.'"
The new version of the New Testament, among other richly suggestive readings, tells us that Martha was "distracted with much serving," and that we are not to be "anxious for the morrow; for the morrow will be anxious for itself." That is, it will bring its own proper load of labor and of care, from which you have no right to borrow for to-day's uses; which you cannot diminish by the same process.
George MacDonald puts this great principle aptly:
"You have a disagreeable duty to do at twelve o'clock. Do not blacken nine, and ten and eleven with the color of twelve. Do the work of each and reap your reward in peace."
One woman makes it her boast that she never sets bread for the morning that she does not lie awake half the night wondering how it will "turn out." She is so besotted in her ignorance as to think that the useless folly proves her to be a person of exquisite sensibility, whereas it testifies to lack of self-control, common sense and economical instincts.
It was old John Newton who likened the appointed tasks and trials of men to so many logs of wood, each lettered with the name of the day of the week, and no single one of them too heavy to be borne by a mortal of ordinary strength. If we will persist; he went on to say, in adding Tuesday's stick to Monday's, and Wednesday's and Thursday's and Friday's to that marked for Tuesday, "it is small wonder that we sink beneath the burden."
Our Heavenly Father would have us carry one stick at a time, and for this task has regulated our systems--mental, moral and spiritual. We, like the presumptuous bunglers that we are, bind the sticks into faggots, and then whine because our strength gives out.
The lesson of unlearning what we have practiced so long is not easy, but it may be acquired. In your character as day laborer, sift carefully each morning what belongs to to-day from that which may come to-morrow. Be rigid with yourself in this adjustment. If you find the weight beginning to tell upon bodily or mental muscles, ask your reason, as well as your conscience, whether or not the strain may not be from to-morrow's log.
For example: You have a servant who suits you, and whom you had hoped you suited. She is quiet to-day, with a pre-occupied look in her eye that may mean CHANGE.
As a housekeeper you will sustain me in the assertion that the portent suffices to send the thermometer of your spirits down to "twenty above," if not "ten below." Instead of brooding over the train of discomforts that would attend upon the threatened exodus, bethink yourself that since Norah cannot go without a week's warning you have nothing to-day to do with possibilities of a morrow that is seven times removed, and put the thing out of your mind.
In the italicized passage lies the secret of a tranquil soul. Learn by degrees to acquire power over your own imagination. By-and-by you will be surprised to find that you have formed a habit of reining it when it would presage disaster. It is not getting ready for house-cleaning to-day that terrifies you so much as the fancy that with the morrow will begin the actual scrubbing and window-washing. You do not mind ripping up an old gown while John reads to you under the evening lamp, but you are positively cross in the reflection that you must sew all of to-morrow with the seamstress who is to put the gown together again.
I may have told elsewhere the anecdote of the pious negro who was asked what he would do if the Lord were to order him to jump through a stone wall.
"I'd gird up my lines (loins) an' go at it!" said Sam, stoutly. "Goin' at it is my business; puttin' me troo is de Lord's!"
The story is good enough to be repeated and called to mind many times during the day, which is absolutely all of life with which we have to do.
Try the principle--and the practice--recommended in this simple heart-to-heart talk, dear sister. The habit of living by the day, rooted in faith in Him who guarantees grace for that time, and pledges no more, is better than the philosopher's stone. The peace it brings is deep-seated and abides, for it is founded upon a sure mercy and a certain promise.