A dear friend recently loaned me a book called, Stepping Heavenward: One Woman’s Journey to Godliness, by Elizabeth Prentiss written in the mid-1800’s. It has been highly enjoyable and insightful. It is the fictional diary of a woman from her youth through her marriage, subsequent motherhood and many shattering trials.
At one part of the main character’s journal she has just had her third child and meets with some unpleasantness from her less than approving sister-in-law. She addresses this situation so perfectly that I had to retell it here:
“Martha takes a most prosaic view of this proceeding, in which she detects malice prepense on my part. She says I shall now have one mouth the more to fill and two feet the more to shoe, more disturbed nights, more laborious days, and less leisure or visiting, reading, music, and drawing.
Well! This is one side of the story, to be sure, but I look at the other. Here is a sweet, fragrant mouth to kiss; here are two more feet to make music with their pattering about my nursery. Here is a soul to train for God; and the body in which it dwells is worth all it will cost.. I may see less of friends, but I have gained one dearer than them all, to whom, while I minister in Christ’s name, I make a willing sacrifice of what little leisure for my own recreation my other darlings had left me. Yes, my precious baby, you are welcome to your mother’s heart, welcome to her time, her strength, her health, her tenderest cares, to her lifelong prayers! Oh, how rich I am, how truly, how wondrously blest!”
She describes just how I feel with the coming of our 5th child. Having been parted from one in miscarriage before Evangeline and having weaned and quieted my soul as we asked and waited for this one, it feels a great privilege to be tired and sick from pregnancy.
In my Father’s world, in his Book, it is understood what a blessing these little ones are. Who could think of pitying the woman so blessed? Who could pity a woman with so much potential and clay under her roof?
Some pity is a kind of shocked compassion that cannot fathom what a life so spent for others must be like. This pity is confounded as to what such a life might be like. It is baffled and a little scared and therefore, pitying. It actually worries that you aren’t taking enough time for yourself and that your personal growth will be stunted by so much sacrifice (is there any other way to grow than to sacrifice for others?!). Another form of pity is laced with disdain and condescension. The kind of pity that feels badly that you are so dumb as to have got yourself into such a mess. Don’t you know what causes those?!
Both kinds of pity feel bizarre when expressed to the woman who could not have dared to hope for such blessings and is being poured out and sacrificing, yes, but is reaping the reward of laughter and learning and youthfulness all around. And more so, has found the deep satisfaction of teaching Christ’s ways all day and night to these ripe minds and tender souls. Could anything else be as fulfilling? Difficulties come, long days are many, but the acknowledgement of it isn’t a complaint, but a reality. It’s God’s will.
Bodies may be spent, faces may be tired, time may be pinched, but deep joy is there–not always chipper, but real. So when I meet with pity or disdain for the life of mothering and teaching and training and sacrificing for, Lord willing, 5 souls, may I be as dumbfounded as ever.