“The perfect woman, you see is a working-woman; not an idler; not a fine lady; but one who uses her hands and her head and her heart for the good of others.”
I adore this painting. It tells the story of our female ancestors. This poor and slight woman is tough. She guards her children cautiously. She works hard all day with them near her side. This is the kind of woman that has held the world together for all of human history. Our female progenitors were anything but weak. They should be honored for their strength, not pitied or seen as a lesser version of our modern “empowered woman”. Millions of women, like the one depicted in this painting, toiled, and loved, and toiled more – so we, their children, can live and flourish. We owe it to them to continue the tradition of hard-working mothers.
There are moments as a mother that I feel depleted; unable to garner the energy to comfort another crying child or plan another meal. I try and “cowboy up” and push through, but often this physical and emotional weakness stems from a spiritual deficiency. When we feel drained, what we often lack is beauty. What is beauty? There have been many books written on the subject, but simply put – beauty speaks to and enlivens our soul.
“Beauty matters. It is not just a subjective thing but a universal need of human beings. If we ignore this need we find ourselves in a spiritual desert.”
To truly invigorate my soul I must stop and partake in the beauty which surrounds me. This may be as simple as appreciating how adorable my toddler is, or really tasting that piece of watermelon. The wonderful thing about appreciating beauty, especially for an overworked mother, is that it usually requires stillness rather than activity.
“Certainly work is not always required of a man. There is such a thing as a sacred idleness, the cultivation of which is now fearfully neglected.”
We must make time to seek out and appreciate that which makes life worth living- real and living things. Beautiful things. We can reconnect with the soul of life and forget for a brief moment the ugly things which consume us. As we listen to inspiring music, gaze at a sunset, appreciate artwork- we are able to disconnect from the stress and worry of a materialistic and competitive world and feel alive.
“I remember my mother’s prayers and they have always followed me. They have clung to me all my life.”
Prayer has always been a weakness of mine. I find myself often falling into “vain repetitions” and hesitancy. Even my son noticed they need work. A few months ago after our nightly family prayer he said, “Mom, how many times are you gonna pray that we can sell our house? You said it twice in one prayer!” Recently I have come to a greater understanding of the place and power of prayer. Prayer is not a means to ask favors of God – but a method of bringing our mind in line with Truth. One aspect of prayer I find particularly crucial for mothers, living in a world of distraction, is its ability to help us notice.
When we examine our lives honestly, we see periods of progress and periods of regression. Sometimes I work out everyday and other times I have ice cream everyday. Sometimes I am patient with my children and other times I should probably lock myself in a closet. The reasons for such fluctuations are varied and complex but the path of progress always begins with one thing – noticing. When life is hectic and my mind is full of the weeds of worry or busyness, I fail to notice. My sight is blocked by the overgrowth – I can’t see my descent into bad habits or intemperance. I don’t see the child struggling to adjust to school, I don’t see my waning affection toward my husband. This path of oblivion has a sharp decline. Inevitably I will be knocked out of my stupor- perhaps I will trip on a huge boulder and smash my face – (ten pounds gained, a deteriorating relationship with a child). I will then be forced to wake up to my descent. Then I will notice. Then I will stop and look upwards towards the point of decline.
This is the power of prayer – it can prevent disaster. It can help us see ourselves clearly (who lies to God?). As we see the will of God and the path of progress, we can keep the weeds clear. It is better to notice often than wait and plead for a miracle as we hang off the cliff.
As a believer, I know that as I pray, God will guide my thoughts to the things of most importance. I know that God can comfort me and use me. But even a non-believer can see that daily self-awareness can save them from a precipitous fall. When our children see us praying, see us aware of our weakness and their needs – they will see a mother that notices.
Quotes on Prayer
“And why should the good of anyone depend on the prayer of another? I can only answer with the return question, ‘Why should my love be powerless to help another?”
“The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.”
“I don’t ask God for favors or for wishes. But, I do think that if you sit on the edge of your bed, and things aren’t going very well for you, and you ask what foolish thing you’re doing to make it worse, that you’ll get an answer right now. And it won’t be the one you want, but it might be the one that of you listen to could set things straight.”
“I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had no where else to go. My own wisdom and that of all about me seemed insufficient for that day.”
“Be not forgetful of prayer. Every time you pray, if your prayer is sincere, there will be new feeling and new meaning in it, which will give you fresh courage, and you will understand that prayer is an education.”
“Relying on God has to begin all over again every day as if nothing had yet been done.”
“We must lay before Him what is in us; not what ought to be in us.”
The God to whom we pray is nearer to us than the very prayer itself ere it leaves the heart; hence His answers may well come to us through the channel of our own thoughts. But the world too being itself one of His thoughts, He may also well make the least likely of His creatures an angel of His own will to us.”
“For the one principle of Hell is “I am my own. I am my own king and my own subject.” – George MacDonald
“What is hell? I maintain that it is the suffering of being unable to love.” – Fyodor Dostoyevsky
“The best way to keep a prisoner from escaping is to make sure he never knows he’s in prison.” ― Fyodor Dostoyevsky
“There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done.” C.S. Lewis
“All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. Those who knock it is opened.” — C.S. Lewis (The Great Divorce)
“At the end of things, The Blessed will say, “We have never lived anywhere except in Heaven.” And the lost will say, “We were always in Hell.” And both will speak truly.” — C.S. Lewis
We must picture hell as a state where everyone is perpetually concerned about his own dignity and advancement, where everyone has a grievance, and where everyone lives with the deadly serious passions of envy, self-importance, and resentment.
C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters
“Hell is a state of mind – ye never said a truer word. And every state of mind, left to itself, every shutting up of the creature within the dungeon of its own mind – is, in the end, Hell. But Heaven is not a state of mind. Heaven is reality itself. All that is fully real is Heavenly. For all that can be shaken will be shaken and only the unshakeable remains.” C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce
Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one–the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.”
“Our life always expresses the result of our dominant thoughts.”
We must be careful with our thoughts – they determine our vision; the lens through which we view the world and the course and happiness of our lives.
Our thoughts direct our decisions, and our reactions to the actions of others. If we engage our ability, born of free will, to shift our thinking, to turn from a degrading thought to an uplifting one – we can, thought by thought, build a life of joy.
“Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.”
Aristotle said, “Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.” To gain the wisdom necessary for a happy life, we must witness the nature of our internal world and how our thoughts are revealing themselves in our life.
Over the years, I have been plagued with discontented thoughts. “When we move, then things will be better” “If only I could travel more” “My laundry room is just too small!” These ideas have been extremely unhelpful in my life. When they linger, they keep me from appreciating the bountiful blessings that surround me. When I take the time to notice these discontented ideas taking space in my mind, I try and stop and shift to gratitude. Two thoughts cannot occupy the same mind at the same time. Through prayer or pondering we can shift our focus.
If we find ourselves disproportionately angry or hurt by something, we should examine what thoughts have been ignited: “She thinks she is better than me” “He never cared about me” “I am not enough”. If we can examine the thoughts, as disinterestedly as possible, we can search for clues to the source of such thinking. We can determine if these thoughts are helpful or harmful.
“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.”
Examining our thoughts takes introspection and often a struggle against our own nature. If we have a more negative disposition, the quest will be arduous. It is painful to admit to the destructive nature of many of our thoughts. We may uncover envy, bitterness, and cynicism driving many of our ruminations. But the first step is to notice – to be a witness to our own thinking – and be honest enough to admit to the harm our thoughts may be doing. The next time we see a tired, old, negative-thought pop up, we can let it pass away – seeing it for the devil it is.
If we want our life and relationships to improve, reigning in negative thoughts is crucial. Abraham Lincoln, a man with a life full of suffering and tribulation said – “Folks are usually about as happy as they make their minds up to be.” We must make up our minds. When we do, we will transform our thoughts – and our lives can begin to express the happy desires of our thoughts.
As someone thinks within himself, so is he. Proverbs 23:7
Fathers provide the strength, perspective, and love that enables their children to thrive physically and psychologically. When a father is absent, the consequences are steep- his departure is felt by culture at-large. Fathers, unlike mothers, are not physically compelled to stay with their children. They must be compelled morally. We must make clear to our sons that leaving a child is an immoral choice. Men that desert their obligations will have to stand accountable before God, their own children, and the society they leave in ruins behind them.
However, men that stay and love and encourage their children deserve our respect and admiration. Those that minimize the importance of fatherhood are simply ignorant to the foundation that has been laid by every unassuming and unheralded father. This week, let’s acknowledge the hero that every Dad is. Imperfect as he may be, he is fulfilling his moral obligation, which lesser men have fled. His children and society should thank him.
This article, from The Art of Manliness, show the debt we owe to our dads and the scourge left behind by absent-fathers.
A quote from The Brothers Karamazov demonstrates the torment fatherless children are left with. Surely the command to “Honor they Father” does not apply to men that abandon their children.
“The sight of an unworthy father involuntarily suggests tormenting questions to a young creature, especially when he compares him with the excellent fathers of his companions. The conventional answer to this question is: ‘He begot you, and you are his flesh and blood, and therefore you are bound to love him.’ The youth involuntarily reflects: ‘But did he love me when he begot me?’ he asks, wondering more and more. ‘Was it for my sake he begot me? He did not know me, not even my sex, at that moment, at the moment of passion, perhaps, inflamed by wine, and he has only transmitted to me a propensity to drunkenness- that’s all he’s done for me…. Why am I bound to love him simply for begetting me when he has cared nothing for me all my life after? Oh, perhaps those questions strike you as coarse and cruel, but do not expect an impossible restraint from a young mind. ‘Drive nature out of the door and it will fly in at the window’.”
The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Without the encouragement of your father the world is a dismal place. It is difficult to be a courageous person unless you have your father behind you in body and spirit. It is very demoralizing. … If your father rejects you, or doesn’t form a relationship with you, it’s as if the spirit of civilization has left you outside the walls as of little worth. It is very difficult for people to recover from that.
Thank you to all the courageous men that live lives of quiet power, as fathers.
“Worrying is carrying tomorrow’s load with today’s strength- carrying two days at once. It is moving into tomorrow ahead of time. Worrying doesn’t empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.”
We all have good reason for worry. The sufferings, uncertainty, and anger we see all around us may leave us feeling powerless and at the mercy of an unloving world. A few nights ago I felt a darkness surround me. I was concerned about a relative’s health uncertainty, my own children’s future in this world, the economy, and numerous other anxieties. I tried to distract myself, but a feeling of dread weighed upon me. I went to bed but could not sleep. As I lay awake the story of Corrie Ten Boom came into my mind. She was a strong Christian woman from The Netherlands, placed in a concentration camp during WW2 for the crime of hiding Jews in her home. Most of her family was killed, including her beloved sister who died while in the camp together. Her book, The Hiding Place, is a testament to the power of love and faith in overcoming darkness. Corrie Ten Boom was a woman who had every reason for anxiety, anger, and despair. Yet she understood the self-defeating nature of worry.
“Worry is a cycle of inefficient thoughts whirling around a center of fear….Worry is like a rocking chair: it keeps you moving but doesn’t get you anywhere.”
Despite living through horrors we can only imagine, she found peace in their midst. She placed her fears at the feet of one much stronger than herself. She forgave the unforgivable. She became a beacon of hope and love to her fellow prisoners.
“There is no pit so deep, that God’s love is not deeper still.”
When we attempt to fill our hearts with love, with gratitude, with optimism – and get busy in sharing those feelings with others – our fears have nowhere to rest their heads. We have to be willing to let go of our worry, to have faith they will be caught by someone much more capable of handling them. Someone that sees the end from the beginning.
“Hold everything in your hands lightly, otherwise it hurts when God pries your fingers open.”
The next morning, after remembering Ten Boom’s example of strength, I woke up feeling lighter. I hope this feeling can remain with me. It is difficult to maintain faith in the face of crisis. It may seem uncaring and cold to not be consumed with torment in such times. But a soul in torment cannot be a light. We must always attempt to free ourselves from that which impedes us from accomplishing good. If we can trade worry for love our lives will be lighter. As it says in John, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment.” I am grateful for the example Corrie Ten Boom provides that such love is possible.
“Love is larger than the walls which shut it in.”
All quotes by Corrie Ten Boom
-For Christians and non Christians alike, I highly recommend the book The Hiding Place.
My grandfather had a difficult childhood. The son of a rough and often-absent cowboy, his mother died when he was young. He was shuffled from relative to friend and grew up without much disciple or direction. Later in life he would tell his grandchildren of the time he stood at a critical crossroads in his life, when he met a “wise and noble” man at his church. This man took the time to guide him with his example and influence. He exemplified the adage, “A man stands tallest when he stoops to help a child.” My grandfather never forgot him; he owed him a great deal. He would quote this poem to describe his experience.
He stood at the crossroads all alone, The sunlight in his face. He had no thought for the world unknown— He was set for a manly race. But the roads stretched east, and the roads stretched west, And the lad knew not which road was best; So he chose the road that led him down, And he lost the race and victor’s crown. He was caught at last in an angry snare Because no one stood at the crossroads there To show him the better road.
Another day, at the self-same place, A boy with high hopes stood. He, too, was set for a manly race; He, too, was seeking the things that were good; But one was there who the roads did know, And that one showed him which way to go. So he turned from the road that would lead him down, And he won the race and the victor’s crown. He walks today the highway fair Because one stood at the crossroads there To show him the better way. (The Upward Reach, Sadie Tiller Crawley)
Let’s not forget the millions of young men at crossroads. They too are “set for a manly race”. This month, as we celebrate fathers, I hope men, particularly, are inspired to use their greatest power – the power of their righteous influence. They can change the course of a young man’s life, son or stranger. They can inspire him to go upward, to win the race – rather than downward to lesser roads. Within all men’s sphere of influence there is a young man who needs a strong and wise arm to guide him. If you help this precious young man, generations will be shaped by the victory he achieves.