Girls: Faults and Ideals (Part 3) - J.R. Miller
Now I turn your thoughts away from faults to ideals. The second question was: "What are some of the essential elements of character in your ideal of true young womanhood?" Here also I can give only very few of the answers received.
Nearly every one emphasizes the element of 'gentleness'. One says: "I like to see a young lady kind and agreeable to all, yet dignified. "Gentle in speech, voice, and manner; full of love for her home, yet firm and decided in her convictions," says another. One sums up his ideal in these particulars: "An unspotted character, a cheerful disposition, a generous, untiring heart, and a brave will." Nearly all put strength with gentleness, in some form. "All the firmness that does not exclude delicacy, and all the softness that does not imply weakness. Loving, helpful, and trusting, she must be able to soothe anxiety by her presence; charm and allay irritability by her sweetness of temper."
Another writes: "A beauty of spirit in which love, gentleness, and kindness are mingled. Patience and meekness, fortitude, a well-governed temper, sympathy, and tenderness," Says another: "Kind, courteous, humble, and affectionate to old and young, rich and poor, yet ambitious
to right limits." One young man writes: "Loving and kind, a Christian in heart and arts; a character based on Christ and his teachings." Then follows this noble tribute: "My own mother has lived and proved this ideal for me."
Of this tenor are all the letters. Without gentleness no woman can be truly beautiful. Cruelty in a man is a sad disfigurement, but in a woman it is the marring of all her loveliness.
'Purity' is another element which, in many of the letters, is emphasized. I need not quote the words. I need only remind you that purity must have its home in the heart, if it is to be the glory of the
life. "Blessed are the pure in heart," is the Master's beatitude. "You are pure, you say; are your thoughts as white
Could you see them blazoned in letters of light,
For the world to read, and feel no blush?
If you stood in the court of heaven, mid swift,
Glad greetings of loved ones who know no wrong,
Could you bare your heart to them all, and lift
Unshrinking eyes to that spotless throng?"
'Faithfulness' is named by many as another essential element in true womanhood. One answers: "Courage to take a positive stand on all moral questions ... Industry that consists in something more than playing mechanically a few pieces on the piano, or tracing grotesque figures in wool or silk." Here two elements of faithfulness are indicated--faithfulness in one's place in all one's work, and moral faithfulness in following conscience. Other letters suggest practically the same essential quality.
It is impossible to over-emphasise this element. The time has gone by forever when woman, in Christian lands, can be regarded as a mere ornament, and can be shut out of active life. She is not a doll or a toy. She has her duties and responsibilities. She is not born merely to be married as soon as possible, and from girlhood to consider her wedding as the goal of her life. Thousands of young women will never be married, and yet their life need not be a failure though their fingers
are never circled by a wedding-ring. Women have immortal souls. Their heaven does not depend upon being linked with a husband, as the Mormons teach. Marriage is a good thing for a woman, if she marry well. I honor marriage as one of the holiest and most sacred of God's ordinances.
But, here is the truth which I want to impress, that a young woman should not begin her life with the thought that she must get a husband. Oh, the sad desecration of womanhood that such a purpose in life produces! Every young girl should set for her great central aim in life, to be a woman, a true, noble, pure, holy woman, to seek ever the highest things; to learn from her Master her whole duty and responsibility in this world, and to do the one and fulfil the other, That should be her aim,--to realize in her character all the possibilities of her womanhood, and to do all the work for her Master which he may give her to do. Then, if God shall call her to be a wife, let her still go on with the same reverence, faith, and love, in whatever lines she may be led. I call young women to faithfulness--that is all, simple faithfulness, Accept your duty, and do it. Accept your responsibility, and meet it. Be true in every relation you are called to fill, Be brave enough to be loyal always to your womanhood.
One letter refers to what a true and noble sister may be to her brother, especially of the better than angel guardianship of an older sister over her younger brother. Evidently this young man writes with the consciousness that he himself has had the benediction of such an older sister. Volumes could be written concerning such ministries. Moses was not the only child by whose infancy's cradle an older sister has kept sacred watch. He was not the only great man who has owed much of his
greatness to a faithful, self-denying Miriam. Many a man who is now honored in the world owes all his power and influence to a woman, perhaps too much forgotten now, perhaps worn and wrinkled, beauty gone, brightness faded, living alone and solitary, but who, in the days of his youth, was guardian angel to him, freely pouring out the best and richest of her life for him, giving the very blood of her veins that he might have more life; denying herself even needed comforts that he, her
heart's pride, might be educated and might become a noble man among men.
Men who have true-hearted, self-forgetful older sisters rarely ever honor them half enough for their sacrifices, their unselfishnesses, the influence of their gentle purity and their hallowed love. Many a sister has denied herself everything, and has worn out her very life, for a brother who in his wealth or fame too often altogether forgets her.
There is a class of women in every community whom society flippantly denominates "old maids." The world needs yet to be told what uncrowned queens many of these women are, what undecorated heroines, what blessings to humanity, what builders of homes, what servants of others
and of Christ. In thousands of cases they remain unmarried for the sake of their families. Many of them have refused brilliant offers of marriage that they might remain at home to be the shield and comfort and stay of parents growing feeble and needing their gentle care. Hundreds more there are who have hidden away their own heart-hunger that they devote their lives to good deeds for Christ and for humanity.
Florence Nightingale denied herself the joy and sweetness of wedded happiness, and gave her life to service in army hospitals, carrying to wounded and weary men the blessing of her kindly ministry, instead of shutting it up within the walls of a home of her own. And "Sister Dora," who wrought with such brave spirit in English perl-houses, "whose story is as a helpful evangel, was the bride of the world's sorrow only." Every community has its own examples of those whose hands have not felt the pressure of the wedding-ring because home loved ones seemed to need their affection and their service. We ought to honor these unmarried women. Many of them are the true heroines, the real sisters of mercy, of the communities where they live. Those who sometimes speak lightly of them might better bow down before them in reverence and kiss the hands, wrinkled now and faded, which never have been clasped in marriage. Some one, by the coffin of one of these unwedded queens, writes of the folded hands:
No perfumed grace, no dainty skill, had these!
They earned for whiter hands a jewelled case,
And kept the scars unlovely for their share.
Patient and slow, they had the will to bear
The whole world's burdens, but no power to seize
The flying joys of life, the gifts that please,
The gold and gems that others find so fair.
Dear hands, where bridal jewel never shone,
Whereon no lover's kiss was ever pressed,
Crossed in unwonted quiet on the breast,
I see through tears your glory, newly won,
The golden circlet of life's work well done,
Set with the shining pearl of perfect rest."
Every writer speaks of 'Christlikeness' as the real crown and completeness of all womanly character. I have not space to quote the words of any letter. I may say only that Christ is not merely the ideal, the pattern, for every young woman to model her life upon, but that Christ is to be her Friend as well as her Saviour, her Master, her Helper. Mary, sitting at Christ's feet, is a loving picture which every young girl ought to keep framed in her heart. One letter sums up the ideal womanhood in these elements: "Trustfulness, hopefulness, joyfulness, peacefulness." But Christ must be in your heart before you can have these qualities in your life.
Let me now turn your thoughts to the other Scripture test. "The King's daughter is all glorious within; her clothing is of wrought gold." As the words read in our Common Version, they seem to describe the heart life and the outer life, or conduct. "All glorious within," with heart pure, beautiful, radiant, bearing the image of Christ. "Her clothing is of wrought gold," woven of threads of gold; that is, her outward life also is pure, beautiful, radiant, Christ-like. This is the King's Daughter's text; it is the motto which gives them the aim of all their life and activity. Let us look at it a few moments as containing the Scriptural ideal for all young womanhood. _"All glorious within_." That
is the first thing to seek in your ideal of true young womanhood. You must have your heart right, and it must be kept right. An evil heart never made a holy life. A dark heart never made a shining life. A selfish heart never made an unselfish life. A sad heart never made a glad life. Says Faber:
of finding joy everywhere, and of leaving it behind them when they go.
Joy gushes from under their fingers like jets of light. Their influence
is an inevitable gladdening of the heart. It seems as if a shadow of
God's own gift had passed upon them. They give light without meaning to
shine. These bright hearts have a great work to do for God."
The reason these lives are such benedictions is because they are glorious within. I cannot press home this truth too earnestly. Everything depends upon the heart. The heart makes the life. A beautiful soul will make even a homely face beautiful. Seek, dear girls, to be "all glorious within."
There is only one way. Our natural hearts are not beautiful, not pure, not glorious. We must let Christ wash our souls till they are made whiter than snow. We must let the Holy Spirit cleanse us and purify us and glorify our life within. Here is a little prayer for all who would have their hearts transformed:
I myself would holy be;
Separate from sin, I would
Choose and cherish all things good;
And whatever I can be,
Give to him who gave me thee."
"Her clothing is of wrought gold." Not only is the inner life of the King's daughter all glorious, but her outer life also is resplendent. Her character is beautiful. Her disposition is kindly. Her spirit is
gentle. She does lovely things. The heart makes the life. A glorious light within shines out and transfigures all the being. It is wonderful how the whole life is brightened by a loving, joyful heart. So I counsel the young women to seek to have their very faces shine with the glory of peace. Watch your life, your temper, your disposition, your conduct, your acts, your words. You are a daughter of the King; wear your royal garments wherever you may go. Go continually on your King's errands.
You know the morning prayer which each "King's Daughter" is requested to offer: "Take me, Lord, and use me to-day as thou wilt. Whatever work thou has for me to do, give it into my hands. If there are those thou wouldst have me to help in any way, send them to me. Take my time and
use it, as thou wilt. Let me be a vessel close to thy hand and meet for thy service, to be employed only for thee and for ministry to others inthy name."
It does not need great and conspicuous things to make a life golden and radiant in God's sight. Go out each day with this prayer of consecration on your lips, and be a blessing to every one you meet. Be a blessing, first, in your own home, to those who love you most. Leave joy in their
hearts as you go forth, or as they go forth, for the day. Then go with benedictions to every other life you meet or touch.
We are told of Jesus that when persons touched even his garment's hem, virtue went out of him and healed them. We read of Peter that the people laid their sick in the street, that the apostle's shadow as he passed by might fall on them and heal them. It should be so, dear Christian young people, with your lives. You should be so full of the Spirit of God that at every touch of love or need or sorrow, virtue may flow out of you to heal and bless, and that the mere shadow of your presence may have a benediction for every one on whom it falls. Is there not some one whom you know, perhaps some lowly one, whom it always does you good to meet? Seek to have your life such a reservoir of good, of blessing, of life, of peace, of joy, that no one can meet you without taking away some blessing.
Some one may be discouraged by this setting forth of so high an ideal. "I can never reach it. I can never train my life into such beauty. I can never be such a woman. I can never do the duties of a Christian in such n perfect way." No, never in your own strength. If no help came from God, if there were set for us all the lofty ideals of the Scriptures, and we were then left alone to work them out as best we could, unhelped, we might well despair. But, for every duty and requirement there is a promise of divine grace.
Ruskin says: "He gives us always strength enough, and sense enough, for what he wants us to do. If we either tire ourselves or puzzle ourselves, it is our own fault." This puts tersely, and in strong, homely phrase, the essence of such promises of the Scriptures as "My grace is sufficient for thee;" "As thy days so shall thy strength be," and many others, "Strength enough and sense enough." The latter is a fresh reading of the old assurance. We often say we shall get strength enough, but we do not always remember that we shall get sense enough for every duty, every perplexity, every place where great delicacy of wisdom is required. Yet there is a promise to any one who knows that he lacks wisdom and will ask for it.
So the young girl need not be afraid to step out into life, if she have Christ with her. He will show her the way. He will make her strong for duty. He will be in her, and will help her to grow into radiant beauty of life. He will give her wisdom for every place where wisdom is required. As you bow at his feet, Christ looks into your face with love and yearning, eager to grant you a new blessing. Ask him for what you want most, and will it not be for the blessing of simple goodness, the love of Christ to fill your heart and pour out through all your life? No other gift can be such a benediction to you; no other can make you such a benediction to others.
I cannot tell you how my heart yearns for the young people to whom these words are addressed; how I long and pray that they may be cleansed of all hidden faults and made all glorious within, and that their garments may shine as if woven of threads of gold. With all sincerity I can make for each one who may read these pages this earnest, loving prayer:--
Father, our children keep!
Beneath the shadow of thy heavenly wing,
Oh keep them, keep them, then who gav'st them birth.
Them in thy chambers hide!
Oh hide them and preserve them calm and safe,
Where sin abounds and error flows abroad,
And Satan tempts, and human passions chafe!
Oh keep them undefiled!
Unspotted from a tempting world of sin;
That, clothed in white, through the bright city gates
They may with us in triumph enter in."