When I was a small child my greatest joy was reading, and I was seldom found anywhere but with my nose in a book. My parents indulged me by giving me books for Christmas and birthdays and I soon accumulated a little library of girl’s books, biographies, mythology and other suitable works of fiction. Among my most treasured books were the works of Martha Finley. Her books, written in the early to mid-eighteen hundreds, featured a little heroine just my age when I first came across the series. Her name was Elsie Dinsmore, and I bonded with her immediately.
Mostly aimed at telling the simple Gospel and developing Christian maturity, the books also dealt with the issue of slavery and other historical realities of the era covered by the series. At the time I was not as interested in history as I was in reading about another eight-year-old. Although they were heavily sentimental and emotionally a little over the top (Elsie seemed to be in tears a great deal for any reason at all), the books had one major advantage for me: they presented the Gospel in a way that I, a lonely and heart-hungry child, found irresistible. Elsie, who was also a lonely and heart-hungry child, had principles. When presented with a choice between pleasing her dearest papa and violating her strict conscience regarding keeping the Sabbath, she chose to maintain her principles almost to her literal death. That is how much she loved her Savior. She chose to put Him above everything else in her life, even above the approval of her deeply loved father, whom she treasured above everything else on earth.
The series made a deep impression on me, and I learned through those books what it meant to have a heavenly Father Who would always be there for me, Who wanted to comfort me and Who would always be available to hear my every thought and emotion. I learned to go to Him when I felt abandoned by everyone else. I learned to go to Him when I felt unjustly treated. I clung to Him when I could not find compassion or understanding in my own parents. Although the books were fiction and reflected a period of time almost one hundred years before I was alive, the emotions of that little girl mirrored mine in significant ways, and as she learned more and more of what it means to love Jesus, I learned along with her.
Recently I had occasion to go back and read these books again. I was shocked at how much I had forgotten about them, and how relevant they still are to anyone wanting to understand what it means to follow Christ and to acknowledge the sovereignty of God in their life. Although the writing is florid and even somewhat murky psychologically, the principle of putting Christ first still holds true. I might not agree now with some of Elsie’s scruples, but I still admire her determination to honor the Lord above everything else.
What comes across to me with absolute clarity is the purity of Elsie’s faith. There was no attempt to live with one foot in the world and one foot in heaven. She knew to Whom she belonged.
Elsie was not a perfect child; she had little flares of temper and sometimes resented always having to give up her own desires in order to please others, but when she realized that she was not living up to her idea of what it meant to follow Christ, she dissolved in tears of shame and repentance. She may have been overly sensitive and somewhat over-conscientious in her ideas, but it was the driving force of her life to learn to be like the Lord, and to reflect His love and grace in every way. Although she was only eight in the first book, she had already learned what was important to the life of a believer.
As I re-read through the first few books of what was a very long series, I was struck again with the realization that I could still learn from this old fashioned fictional child.
As I sit alone, with my foot elevated with yet another gout attack, and as I recover from the stress of the holidays, I examine my own feelings and see that I am not even yet completely content to accept all things from God’s hand as a part of the learning process. I find I am rebellious at times and wanting my burdens of various kinds to be removed. I see I am not yet completely surrendered to those things which God has allowed in my life, and am restless and anxious about having to sit quietly and heal. It is more than just the gout. It is about being very old and isolated and unable to do for myself many things which used to give me pleasure and/or a sense of accomplishment. I feel useless and redundant. I push against the restrictions which are normal for a person of my years, and wish that I was still a youngster of seventy or so.
These are useless emotions. Life is what it is, but instead of remembering Who it is Who holds my life in His hands, I complain and rebel and want something else. I need, like little Elsie, to say ,”Yes, Lord” and be content and grateful that He has kept my mind clear, that I am still able to live alone, that I can still drive, that unlike many of my contemporaries, I am comparatively healthy and have the freedom to continue to be relatively independent.
This willingness to let God direct the circumstances of my life is an ongoing theme requiring diligent work.
There are times when I am at peace, and although I might be in pain, or restricted to the house for weeks, I am quite content and pass each day cheerfully enjoying the solitude. Then there are other days when I find I am rebellious and complaining to God about the boredom and unvarying routine of day after day alone and unable to do much but sit and read or watch old movies or listen to music.
I forget about all the years I spent as my children were growing up and I was run off my feet, longing for just ONE HOUR of peace and quiet when I could let my mind and body rest. I forget about the years of working at jobs I hated and the daily commute in horrible weather and sack lunches and trying to fit the housework in around the edges of my fatigue. I am ungrateful for the reality that now the times of stress are at a minimum, and that I have unlimited time to spend with my Savior in prayer or in reading His precious Word. I find I need to ask forgiveness over and over for the same sin of ingratitude, and it troubles me that I don’t seem to learn.
One thing I have learned, though ~ that although I may be in my mid-eighties, I am still a child of my Father. Even though I may rebel against the responsibilities of having to know all the answers for myself and having no human source to turn to for advice, I still have a loving, Parent Who is happy to guide me and comfort me when I feel overwhelmed. He tells me to come to Him, to lay my burdens down, to trust Him and to know absolutely that I am loved. He calls me by name, and lets me call Him Abba. There is a relationship closer than any human relationship because He is my Creator, My Savior and my Comforter… Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He affects every atom of my existence, and I owe Him everything.
The truths of what it means to be in Christ and to serve the Lord our God have remained the same for 2,000 years. From the early Church to now there have been those of us who look to Him for our salvation and sanctification, who want to please Him and reflect His love and grace to those around us. I thank Him for the witness of those who have gone before me and who have left their witness to His sovereignty and grace in their lives. I thank Him for the wisdom of people like Martha Finley and her little Elsie. We are each a part of a long, ongoing family of His beloved children, learning the same truths over and over in our own generation. Truth remains unchangeable. I pray that in generations to come others may find the evidence of our faithful walk with Jesus, and be encouraged
as I have been in reading of the faith of those who have gone before me and had the
same struggles. All of us have found the same solution in the love and grace of God through Christ. Blessed be His Name!