Secrets of Happy Home Life
By J. R. Miller, 1894
Home is among the holiest of words. A true home is one of the most sacred of places. It is a sanctuary into which men flee from the world's perils and alarms. It is a resting-place to which at close of day the weary retire to gather new strength for the battle and toils of tomorrow. It is the place where love learns its lessons, where life is schooled into discipline and strength, where character is molded. Out of the homes of a community comes the life of the community, as a river from the thousand springs that gush out on the hillsides.
We are all concerned in the making of some one home—our own home. One instrument out of tune in an orchestra mars the music which breaks upon the ears of the listeners. One discordant life in a household mars the perfectness of the music of love in the family. We should make sure that our life is not the one that is out of tune. We do not need to worry about the other lives; if each looks to his own, that will do.
When our Lord sent His disciples out to preach, one of His instructions was—"Into whatever house you enter, first say, Peace be to this house." Peace is a good word. It is more than a salutation; falling from the Master's lips, it is a divine benediction as well. Peace, too, is a fruit of grace, which includes all that is sweetest and most divine in Christian culture. It is especially suggestive of the harmony of love, which is the perfection of beautiful living. Christ's peace is a blessing, which comes out of struggle and discipline. Well, therefore, does the salutation "Peace!" befit a Christian home, which ought to be the abode of peace.
What are some of the secrets of happy home life? The answer might be given in one word--Christ. Christ at the marriage-altar; Christ on the bridal journey; Christ when the new home is set up; Christ when the baby is born; Christ when a child dies; Christ in the pinching times; Christ in the days of plenty; Christ in the nursery, in the kitchen, in the parlor; Christ in the toil and in the rest; Christ along all the years; Christ when the wedded pair walk toward the sunset gates; Christ in the sad hour when farewells are spoken, and one goes on before and the other stays, bearing the unshared grief. Christ is the secret of happy home life.
But the lesson may be broken up. The making of a home begins before there is a home—it begins in the days when the life-choices are made. There are many unhappy marriages. There are families sheltered in houses, which are not homes. A happy home does not come as a matter of course because there has been a marriage ceremony, with pledged vows and a ring, and the minister's "Whom God has joined together, let no man put asunder," and a benediction. Happiness does not come through any mere forms or ceremonies; it has to be planned for, lived for, sacrificed for, prayed for, and ofttimes suffered for.
There must be a wise choosing before marriage, or it may be impossible to make a happy home. At few points in life is divine guidance more severely needed than when the question of marriage is decided. A mistake then will cast its shadows down all the years to the close of life. Many a career is blighted by a foolish marriage. Wedded happiness depends greatly on reverent, prayerful, deliberate, wise choosing before marriage.
But now the choices have been made—carefully made—we will say. The happy day has come. The plighted lovers stand at the marriage-altar. Taking the woman's hand, the man says to her—"I take you to be my wedded wife, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, until death us do part, according to God's holy ordinance; and thereto I pledge you my fidelity." Taking the hand of the man, the woman says to him, with slight verbal variations, the same words. The two are pronounced husband and wife, and go forth to begin their wedded life together, no more twain, but now one.
The happy pair are in their own home. It may be a fine, great house, with rich furniture, costly pictures, and all the elegance of wealth; or it may be a little house, with four rooms, cheap furniture, homemade carpets, and empty of adornment. It makes very little difference what the size of the house, or what its furniture may be. The happiness of the home does not depend on the house or on what it contains; the people who live in the house MAKE the happiness,—or MAR it.
The HUSBAND has his part. He must be a good man. Not every man who marries thinks of the responsibility he assumes when he takes a young girl away from the shelter of father-love and mother-love—the softest, warmest nest in the world, and leads her into a new home, where henceforth his love is to be her only shelter. Well may the woman say as she goes to the marriage altar–
"Before I trust my fate to you,
Or place my hand in thine;
Before I let your future give
Color and form to mine;
Before I peril all to thee,
Question your soul tonight for me.
Does there within your dimmest dreams
A possible future shine
Wherein your life could henceforth breathe
Untouched, unshared by mine?
If so, at any pain or cost,
Oh, tell me before all is lost."
No man is fit to be a husband who is not a good man. He need not be great, nor rich, nor brilliant, nor clever, but he must be good, or he is not worthy to take a gentle, trusting woman's tender life into his keeping. Of course he must love his wife; without love there is no real marriage, and ceremony and ring and vows and prayer are only empty formalities. He must love his wife and be always her lover. The world has read and heard quite enough moralizing about a wife's duty to be always winning and attractive, retaining the charm of girlhood amid all cares, toils, and sorrows. Of course; but is a husband under less obligation to love his wife and always to be lover-like? This is a good rule, which should work both ways.
But affectionateness, however desirable, is not all that is needed in a husband who would do his full share in happy home making. Life is not all sentiment. We cannot live on ambrosia. Happiness must have a very practical basis. A good husband must be a man. He must be a good man-manly, true, worthy, brave, generous, a man whom a noble woman can respect and honor all the days of her life. He must be a sober man; no man who comes home under the influence of intoxicating drink, even occasionally only, is going to do quite his share in making happiness for the woman who has trusted her all to him. He must be a man of pure, unblemished life, whose character is above suspicion, whose name will always be an honor and a pride in his own home. The husband has a great deal to do with the question of home happiness.
The WIFE, too, has a responsibility. The prosaic arts of housekeeping are far more important factors of home happiness than many people without experience imagine. John Ruskin talks to young women of the etymology of the name 'wife'—"What do you think the beautiful word 'wife' comes from?" he asks. "It means 'weaver.' You must either be house-wives or house-moths; remember that. In the deep sense, you must weave men's fortunes, and embroider them, or feed upon them, and bring them to decay. Wherever a true wife comes, home is always around her. The stars may be the canopy over her head, the glow-worm in the night's cold grass be the fire at her feet, but home is where she is; and for a noble woman it stretches far around her,—better than houses with ceilings of cedar, or with paintings of the masters, shedding its quiet light for those who else were homeless."
Home is the true wife's kingdom. There, first of all places, she must be strong and beautiful. She may touch life outside in many ways, if she can do it without slighting the duties that are hers within her own doors. But if any calls for her service must be declined, they should not be the duties of her home. These are hers, and no other one's. Very largely does the wife hold in her hands, as a sacred trust, the happiness and the highest good of the hearts that nestle there. The best husband—the truest, the noblest, the gentlest, the richest-hearted—cannot make his home happy if his wife be not, in every reasonable sense, a helpmate to him.
In the last analysis, home happiness depends on the wife. Her spirit gives the home its atmosphere. Her hands fashion its beauty. Her heart makes its love. And the end is so worthy, so noble, so divine, that no woman who has been called to be a wife, and has listened to the call, should consider any price too great to pay, to be the light, the joy, the blessing, the inspiration of a home.
Men with fine gifts think it worth while to live to paint a few great pictures which shall be looked at and admired for generations; or to write a few songs which shall sing themselves into the ears and hearts of men. But the woman who makes a sweet, beautiful home, filling it with love and prayer and purity, is doing something better than anything else her hands could find to do beneath the skies.
Some marriages are unhappy. How can husband and wife live happily in their wedded life? Wedded happiness is a lesson that must be learned. No two lives brought into this close relation can blend into one without self-discipline. "Marriage is the beautiful unfolding of many years."
Ofttimes it takes a long while for a wedded pair to learn the lesson of living happily together. They are discouraged because such love as theirs does not yield perfect happiness from the very first day. It always costs to learn the lesson. The block of marble must wane, as the statue is sculptured and grows. There must be the cutting away of much in both lives; there must be restraint, self-denial, self-effacement, while they are being trained to live one life rather than two. Love is always discipline.
Paul lays down the basis for happy wedded life in the words—"Wives, be in subjection to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, and be not bitter against them" (Colossians 3:18-19). Perhaps these instructions are not always well understood. Sometimes one of the counsels, and sometimes the other, is unduly emphasized. Some men insist upon the first—"Wives, be in subjection to your husbands." They interpret the words somewhat harshly, as if a wife were to be only as a child to her husband, or even as a servant, whose duty is to minister to his desires, to please him, to run at his every call and command. This is in accordance with heathen notions of the marriage relation, but it is not after Christian teaching.
It is to be particularly noted that Paul nowhere says—"Wives, obey your husbands." In our Common Version the word "obedient" occurs in one place; but in the Revised Version the counsel is that wives should be "in subjection to" their husbands. Indeed, however, the spirit of love is always that of subjection, of yielding, or serving, in all life's relations.
In another place, where Paul gives like instruction, his words are—"Wives be in subjection unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is head of the Church" (Ephesians 5:22-23). No doubt the husband is the head of the household; but what a responsibility this teaching puts upon him! His wife is to be in subjection to him, "as unto the Lord." He is to be to her what Christ is to the Church.
If a man will insist on his wife fulfilling her part, he must also insist on honestly fulfilling his own part,—all the sacred duties which are his as a HUSBAND. What, then, is the husband's share in this happy home making? "Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the Church, and gave Himself up for it" (Eph. 5:25). A husband is to love his wife. Is love despotic? Does love put its object in a servant's place? No; love serves. It seeks not its own. It desires "not to be served, but to serve." It does not demand attention, deference, service, subjection. It seeks rather to serve, to give, to honor.
The measure of the love required by the husband is to be well noted—"Even as Christ also loved the Church." This is a lofty standard. How did Christ show His love for His Church? Think of His gentleness to His friends, His patience with them in all their faultiness, His thoughtfulness, His unwearying kindness. Never did a harsh word fall from His lips upon their ears. Never did He do anything to give them pain. It was not easy for Him at all times to maintain such constancy and such composure and quietness of love toward them; for they were very faulty, and tried Him in a thousand ways. But His affection never wearied nor failed for an instant. Husbands are to love their wives even as Christ also loved the Church, and gave Himself up for it. He loved even to the cost of utmost self-sacrifice.
There are men, however, who would do this, whose love would sacrifice even life itself for a wife, but who fail in daily and hourly tenderness, when there is no demand for great self-denial. Hence the other counsel must be remembered—"Love your wives, and be not bitter against them." More wives might complain of the lack of love in the little tendernesses than in great acts and manifestations.
A true woman's heart craves gentleness. It is hurt by bitter words, by coldness, by impatience, by harsh criticisms, by neglect, by the withholding of the expressions of affection. Love craves its daily bread of tenderness. No husband should deny his wife the little things of affection, the amenities of love, along the busy, trying days, and then think to make amends by putting a flower in her cold hand when she lies in the coffin. Will not conscience then whisper love's reproach?
"You placed this flower in her hand, you say,
This pure, pale rose in her hand of clay?
Methinks, could she lift her sealed eyes,
They would meet your own with a grieved surprise.
When did you give her a flower before?
Ah, well, what matter, when all is o'er?
But I pray you think
That love will starve, if it is not fed
That true hearts pray for their daily bread."
No true wife will ever quarrel with the divine law that makes the husband the head of the household, if she has a husband who loves her up to the measure of the divine requirements for husbands—"Even as Christ also loved the Church." Such love never demands obedience, never demands anything; it seeks not to be served, but to serve.
On the other hand, true love in a wife also lives to serve. Love always serves, or it is not love at all. The greatest in Christ's kingdom are those who serve the most unselfishly. Husband and wife vie with each other in loving and serving. They mutually bear each other's burdens. The husband is the head, but he never says so; never reminds his wife of it; never claims authority; and defers to her in everything.
The wife recognizes her husband as head, honors him, looks up to him with esteem and confidence—all the more because he never demands subjection. Thus true love in husband and wife never has any trouble about rights or place. Side by side they stand, these two wedded lovers, each a part of the other, each incomplete, a mere fragment without the other, but strong in their happy union in love.
But there are other elements in the composition of the home. Among the blessings which make happiness are the CHILDREN, who come with their sweet life and their holy gladness. Children bring cares and troubles, and demand toil and sacrifice, ofttimes cost pain and grief; yet the blessing they bring to a true home a thousand times repays the care and the cost. It is a sacred hour in a home when a baby is born and laid in the arms of a young father and mother. It is the final seal upon their wedded love. It is the closing benediction of the marriage ceremony. It draws fragments of heaven trailing after it to the home on earth. Few deeper, purer joys are ever experienced in this world than the joy of true parents on the birth of their first child. Much of home's happiness along the years is made by the children. They are also great blessings to their parents. Ofttimes they teach more lessons than they are taught. We say we train our children; but they train us, also, if we think of them as we should,—as immortal beings come from God to be prepared by us for their mission. A reverent mother sings softly over her child's cradle–
"My child, I fear you; you are a spirit, soul!
How shall I walk before you?
and keep my garments whole?
O Lord, give strength,
give wisdom for the task.
To train this child for You."
Jesus said of little children, that those who receive them in His name receive Him. May we not, then, surely say that children bring great possibility of blessing and happiness to a home? If we receive them as Christ's messengers, as sent to us in His name, and entertain them as we would entertain Him if He had come in place of them, we shall get from them deep and rich good and joy.
A true mother is one of the holiest secrets of home happiness. God sends many beautiful things to this world, many noble gifts; but no blessing is richer than that which He bestows in a mother who has learned love's lessons well, and has realized something of the meaning of her sacred calling.
A FATHER also should be a blessing to a home. The modern tendency to put upon the wife and mother all the responsibility for the making of the home and its happiness is not sanctioned by Christian teachings. The divine commands for the building of the home and the training of the children are given primarily to the man, although meant for both husband and wife. He cannot evade the responsibility; his position as the head of the family puts upon him the obligation. Besides, it is not manly that a man should want to put the whole burden on her whom he calls "the weaker vessel." If his wife is weak and he is so strong, let him remember that it is the privilege and the duty of strength to bear the heavy part of life's burdens.
There are parts of the home duty which a woman can do infinitely better than a man. Men's hands are clumsy, and often hurt gentle hearts, when it was meant that they should give healing and help. The man has the heavy care of providing for the household. There are tasks, too, for which woman's gentler hands are better fitted. But let no husband nurse the notion that he has no responsibility for the happiness of his home beyond providing food and clothing and other comforts. His strong life should be the secure shelter beneath which his wife and children may safely abide. His character should be a continual revealing of the love and truth and holiness of God. He should live so that, seeing him day after day, his family shall learn to know the beauty of Christ. He is the priest of his house, and as such should both speak to God for his family and speak to them for God. Through him blessings should come to his home every day.
BROTHERS and SISTERS have their part in making the home happiness. Yet not always do they live together so as to make the music of the home one glad, sweet song. Sometimes there is a lack of congeniality in their dispositions. Then ofttimes there seems to be the feeling that home affections do not need the culture that other friendships require. We cannot be brusque, curt, or crude with other people, and expect them to bear patiently with us in spite of our unmannerly behavior. But we are sure of our 'home friends',—so we let ourselves feel,—and do not need to be gentle and thoughtful towards them. So it is that in too many homes brothers and sisters live together year after year under the same roof, mingling in the household communion, yet never forming close friendships, soul never knitting to soul, strangers to each other's inner life. Thus many rich possibilities of close and holiest friendships are missed.
Another thing that too often mars the home life of brothers and sisters is a spirit of 'commanding' and criticism. Faults are seen, and openly, and not in a gentle way, pointed out and reproved. What one does the others are apt to do; and thus the habit grows, until little but 'sharp speech' and 'inappropriate wrangling' is heard in the home where the conversation might have so much in it of sweetness and profit.
These are suggestions of ways in which, in too many homes, one of the secrets of happiness is lost. It is possible for brothers and sisters to live together in a home so as to add greatly to the happiness and the richness of the household life, and to be comforts and helps to each other. It is said that the poet sisters, Alice and Phoebe Cary, had a secret of happy living together which it were well if all brothers and sisters could learn. "Whatever one felt or endured, because of it she would not inflict any suffering upon her sister! no, not even if that sister had inadvertently been the cause of it. If one sister was out of sorts, she went into her own room, shut her door, and had it out by herself."
These are good rules to be adopted in other homes. If we are feeling uncomfortable from any cause, we have no right, according to the law of love, to diffuse our irritations through the household. If we are in any unhappy mood, in which we cannot suppress the ill-humor, we have no right to vent it in the circle of our loved ones, and would far better go to our own room, or out into the fresh air, alone, somewhere, and stay until we have gotten back our sweet spirit again, so that we can scatter roses, not thorns, among our loved ones.
The possibilities of happiness and blessing among brothers and sisters can be realized only by cultivating the love that seeks not its own, that is not provoked, that bears all things, endures all things, and never fails (1 Corinthians 13:4-8). Love's first lesson is that of giving up one's own way, denying one's self, suffering in silence. Where this lesson has been learned, or is being learned, in a household of young people, each thinks of giving to the others, not of taking from them. Each cultivates gentleness and kindness. The speech of the home grows quiet and tender, is never loud nor angry. The Golden Rule is the law of each life. There is love, and love that reveals itself in a thousand little ways of courtesy and thoughtfulness—nameless things, but things that make up a home happiness on which heaven's angels look down with delight.
Not very long can any family life go on unbroken. Death will visit every home. While we may, we should live together sweetly, patiently, loving and serving each other in all beautiful and Christly ways.
The daily home-life of the household carries in it many possibilities of happiness which are not always realized in families. Some SUGGESTIONS may be made.
1. One is that love must prevail in all the family life. Let parents keep the confidence and affection of their children as long as they live. One of the ways to make sure of this is never to tire of the little marks and tokens of love which children naturally give. The time never comes when it is unmanly for a man to kiss his mother. In the ideal home every child has a good-night kiss for the parents before parting for bed. Let the children do their part, too, in showing affection. There are homes, chill and cold, which could be warmed into love's richest glow in a little time, if all the household hearts were to grow affectionate to each other.
2. Another suggestion is, that all family strife and contention should cease. Why should parents discourage their children by continually nagging and finding fault with them? Why should children dishonor their parents by disobedience, by crude and unfilial treatment, by lack of respect, by refusing to yield to the order of the home? Why should brothers fail in the duties of civility and courtesy to their sisters? Why should sisters show no loving interest in their brothers, and fail to overshadow them as with angel-wings? Why should brothers wrangle and quarrel, separate their interests, and not stand together? Why should sisters have their miserable little disputes, their envies, jealousies and resentments? Let there be peace in all the home-life.
3. Another suggestion is, that we should not grow discouraged, even if our homes are not yet what we crave. There are some who feel that the battle is hopeless; that they can never grow into beautiful life and character in their present circumstances. That is a mistake. It is possible to grow into all the beauty of peace wherever we may be placed. A lily finds its home in a black bog, but blooms into perfect loveliness.
Suppose that your home-life is discouraging, even to the last degree; yet you may live sweetly in the midst of it, through the grace and help of God. And who knows but that your sweet life may become the power of God to change the home-life into heavenliness? Perhaps God has put you as leaven there, to leaven the whole lump.
I have known a girl go out of a godless, worldly home to college, to find Christ and return home a beautiful earnest Christian. Then I have seen that home transformed in a few years, by that daughter's quiet influence, into an ideal Christian home.
At least, though our home be not what we would like it to be, though it lack warmth and tenderness and congeniality, still, while it is our home, it is our duty to stay in it contentedly, and grow in it into beauty. We know that Jesus lived until thirty years of age in a humble peasant home, with but little culture and education, amid the privations of poverty and hard toil. Yet He was not discontented there. He did not complain of the narrowness and the littleness. He did not chafe under the limitations and the burdens. There His life grew into that marvelous sweetness, that wondrous beauty, that richness and greatness, which we see in Him, when, at thirty years of age, He went out to begin His ministry. Wherever we are planted, we, too, can grow into strength, nobleness and loveliness.
4. Patience is another lesson in learning to live happily together at home. The children of a family have not all the same tastes. It is very easy to fall into the habit of criticizing each other. We know how nearly Martha spoiled her home happiness, and her sister's also, by criticism. Criticism never fosters affection; you never loved any one better for criticizing you. Usually the best service we can do to a brother or sister is to live a sweet, patient, beautiful, Christly life ourselves, leaving to God the fashioning of their lives. If they are true Christians, He is teaching them and putting His own image on their souls. We might mar this divine work by our criticism.
Suppose you went into an artist's studio and saw a picture at which he had been working for months, yet unfinished; would you, not being an artist, take up his brush and begin to put touches here and there on the canvas? Each life of husband or wife, child, brother or sister, in your home is a picture which God is painting, and which is yet unfinished. Beware that you mar not His work! So let us be patient with one another at home. We all have our faults, we all make mistakes—but we can help each other more by loving patience, than by scathing criticism.
5. True Religion is the great master-secret of all happy home life! The spirit of Christ alone will enable us to live together in perfect peace and love. The presence of Christ in the home is a perpetual blessing. We cannot be selfish, we cannot wrangle and strive, we cannot be bitter and unkind, we cannot be irritable and unreasonable, when conscious of the presence of Christ. If only we can make Christ an abiding guest in our home, and if we can keep ourselves aware of His being with us, our household life cannot help but grow wondrously sweet!
Into every home, at some time, SORROW comes. Then it is that the blessing of religion is specially revealed. We do not see the stars until the sun goes down. The comforts of Christian faith do not reveal themselves to us in their richest light and peace until the darkness of sorrow rests upon our home. But there is light in the darkness when Christ is the guest. Indeed, it is true that when Christ is in a home, even sorrow itself becomes one of the secrets of happiness. Our Lord's beatitude says—"Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted" (Matthew 5:4).
Homes that have never known grief may be very happy in love, and very bright with sweet gladness; but after sorrow has been a guest within their doors, and has left its messages and blessings, there is a depth of quiet joy never experienced before. The family fellowship is sweeter after there has been a break in the circle. The love is tenderer when tears have come into its gladness. A vacant chair is a new and sacred bond in the household life.
But it is only when Christ is in the home that sorrow sweetens the life. There can be no rainbow without cloud and rain; but neither can there be a rainbow, even with cloud and rain, unless the sun is shining through the falling drops. The rarest splendors of happiness can be known only when sorrow's clouds have overshadowed the home and the rain of tears is falling; but unless the light of divine love is pouring through the tears there can be no splendor of peace and comfort; nothing but darkness and cloud.
Few things we can do in this world are so well worth doing as the making of a beautiful and happy home. He who does this builds a sanctuary for God and opens a fountain of blessing for men. Far more than we know, do the strength and beauty of our lives depend upon the home in which we dwell. He who goes forth in the morning from a happy, loving, prayerful home, into the world's strife, temptation, struggle, and duty, is strong—inspired for noble and victorious living. The children who are brought up in a true home go out trained and equipped for life's battles and tasks, carrying in their hearts a secret of strength which will make them brave and loyal to God, and will keep them pure in the world's severest temptations.
We may all do loving service, therefore, by helping to make one of the world's homes,—the one in which we dwell—brighter and happier. No matter how plain it may be, or how old-fashioned, if love is in it, if prayer connects it with heaven, if Christ's blessing is upon it, it will be a transfigured spot! Poverty is no severe trial if the home is full of bright cheer. The hardest toil is light if love sings its songs amid the clatter.
"Dear Moss," said the thatched roof on an old ruin, "I am so worn, so patched, so ragged, really I am quite unsightly. I wish you would come and cheer me up a little. You will hide all my infirmities and defects; and, through your loving sympathy, no finger of contempt or dislike will be pointed at me."
"I come," said the moss; and it crept up and around, and in and out, until every flaw was hidden, and all was smooth and fair. Presently the sun shone out, and the old thatched roof looked bright and fair, a picture of rare beauty, in the golden rays.
"How beautiful the roof looks!" cried one who saw it. "How beautiful the thatched roof looks!" said another. "Ah," said the old thatched roof, "rather let them say, 'How beautiful is the loving moss!' For it spends itself in covering up all my faults, keeping the knowledge of them all to herself, and by her own grace, making my age and poverty wear the garb of youth and luxuriance."
So it is that love covers the plainness and the coarseness of the lowliest home. It hides its dreariness and its faults. It softens its roughness. It changes its pain into profit, and its loss into gain.
Let us live more for our homes. Let us love one another more. Let us cease to complain, criticize and contradict each other. Let us be more patient with each other's faults. Let us not keep back the warm loving words that lie in our hearts until it is too late for them to give comfort. Soon separations will come. One of every wedded pair will stand by the other's coffin and grave. Then every bitter word spoken, and every neglect of love's duty, will be as a thorn in the heart.
Thomas Carlyle, that gifted author, when he passed the spot where he had last seen his wife alive, would bare his old head in wind or rain, his features wrung with bitter, unavailing sorrow. "Oh", he would say, "if I could see her but for five minutes, to assure her that I really cared for her throughout all that time! But she never knew it—she never knew it!"
We must give account for our idle silences as well as for our idle words.
"Happy the home when God is there,
And love fills every breast;
When one their wish, and one their prayer,
And one their heavenly rest.
Happy the home where Jesus' Name
Is sweet to every ear;
Where children early lisp His fame,
And parents hold Him dear.
Happy the home where prayer is heard,
And praise is used to rise;
Where parents love the sacred Word
That makes us truly wise.
Lord, let us in our homes agree,
This blessed peace to gain;
Until our hearts in love to Thee,
And love to all will reign."
The Christian Wife
By J.R. Miller
It is a high honor for a woman to be chosen from among all womankind, to be the wife of a godly and true man. She is lifted up to be a crowned queen. Her husband's manly love laid at her feet, exalts her to the throne of his life. Great power is placed in her hands. Sacred destinies are reposed in her keeping. Will she wear her crown beneficently? Will she fill her realm with beauty and with blessing? Or will she fail in her holy trust? Only her married life can be the answer.
A woman may well pause before she gives her hand in marriage, and inquire whether he is worthy, to whom she is asked to surrender so much; whether he can bring true happiness to her life; whether he can meet the cravings of her nature for love and for companionship; whether he is worthy to be lifted to the highest place in her heart and honored as a husband should be honored. She must ask these questions for her own sake, else the dream may fade with the bridal wreath—and she may learn, when too late, that he for whom she has left all, and to whom she has given all—is not worthy of the sacred trust, and has no power to fill her life with happiness, to awaken her heart's chords, to touch her soul's depths.
But the question should be turned and asked from the other side. Can she be a true wife to him who asks for her hand? Is she worthy of the love that is laid at her feet? Can she be a blessing to the life of him who would lift her to the throne of his heart? Will he find in her all the beauty, all the tender loveliness, all the rich qualities of nature, all the deep sympathy and companionship, all the strengthful, uplifting love, all the sources of joy and help, which he seems now to see in her? Is there any possible future for him, which she could not share? Are there needs in his soul, or hungers, which she cannot answer? Are there chords in his life which her fingers cannot awaken?
Surely it is proper for her to question her own soul for him—while she bids him question his soul for her. A wife has a part in the song of wedded love—if it is to be a harmony. She holds in her hands on her wedding day—precious interests, sacred destinies, and holy responsibilities, which, if disclosed to her sight at once, might well appall the bravest heart. Her opportunity is one which the loftiest angel might covet. Not the happiness only of a manly life—but its whole future of character, of influence, of growth, rests with her.
What is the true ideal of a godly wife? It is not something lifted above the common experiences of life, not an ethereal angel feeding on ambrosia and moving in the realms of imagination. In some European cities they sell to the tourist models of their cathedrals made of alabaster, whiter than snow. But so delicate are these alabaster shrines that they must be kept under glass covers or they will be soiled by the dust; and so frail that they must be sheltered from every crude touch, lest their lovely columns may be shattered. They are very graceful and beautiful—but they serve no lofty purpose. No worshipers can enter their doors. No melody rises to heaven from their aisles. So there are ideals of womanhood which are very lovely, full of graceful charms, pleasing, attractive—but which are too delicate and frail for this wearisome, storm-swept world of ours. Such ideals the poets and the novelists sometimes give us. They appear well to the eye—as they are portrayed for us on the brilliant page. But of what use would they be in the life which the real woman of our day has to live? A breath of earthly air would stain them! One day of actual experience in the hard toils and sore struggles of life would shatter their frail loveliness to fragments! We had better seek for ideals which will not be soiled by a crude touch, nor blown away by a stiff breeze, and which will grow lovelier as they move through life's paths of sacrifice and toil. The true wife needs to be no mere poet's dream, no artist's picture, no ethereal lady too fine for use—but a woman healthful, strong, practical, industrious, with a hand for life's common duties, yet crowned with that beauty which a high and noble purpose gives to a soul.
One of the first essential elements in a wife is faithfulness, in the largest sense. The heart of her husband safely trusts in her. Perfect confidence is the basis of all true affection. A shadow of doubt destroys the peace of married life. A true wife, by her character and by her conduct, proves herself worthy of her husband's trust. He has confidence in her affection; he knows that her heart is unalterably true to him. He has confidence in her management; he confides to her the care of his household. He knows that she is true to all his interests, that she is prudent and wise, not wasteful nor extravagant. It is one of the essential things in a true wife—that her husband shall be able to leave in her hands the management of all domestic affairs, and know that they are safe. Wifely wastefulness and extravagance have destroyed the happiness of many a household, and wrecked many a home. On the other hand, many a man owes his prosperity to his wife's prudence and her wise administration of household affairs.
Every true wife makes her husband's interests her own. While he lives for her, carrying her image in his heart and toiling for her all the days—she thinks only of what will do him good. When burdens press upon him—she tries to lighten them by sympathy, by cheer, by the inspiration of love. She enters with zest and enthusiasm into all his plans. She is never a weight to drag him down; she is strength in his heart to help him ever to do nobler and better things.
All wives are not such blessings to their husbands. Woman is compared sometimes to the vine, while man is the strong oak to which it clings. But there are different kinds of vines. Some vines wreathe a robe of beauty and a crown of glory for the tree, covering it in summer days with green leaves and in the autumn hanging among its branches rich purple clusters of fruit. Other vines twine their arms about it—only to sap its very life and destroy its vigor, until it stands decaying and unsightly, stripped of its splendor, discrowned and fit only for the fire!
A true wife makes a man's life nobler, stronger, grander, by the omnipotence of her love, turning all the forces of manhood upward and heavenward. While she clings to him in holy confidence and loving dependence, she brings out in him whatever is noblest and richest in his being. She inspires him with courage and earnestness. She beautifies his life. She softens whatever is crude and harsh in his habits or his spirit. She clothes him with the gentler graces of refined and cultured manhood. While she yields to him and never disregards his lightest wish, she is really his queen, ruling his whole life and leading him onward and upward in every proper path.
But there are wives also like the vines which cling only to blight. Their dependence is weak, indolent helplessness. They lean—but impart no strength. They cling—but they sap the life. They put forth no hand to help. They loll on sofas or promenade the streets; they dream over sentimental novels; they gossip in drawing rooms. They are utterly useless—and being useless they become burdens even to manliest, tenderest love. Instead of making a man's life stronger, happier, richer—they absorb his strength, impair his usefulness, hinder his success and cause him to be a failure among men. To themselves also the result is wretchedness. Dependence is beautiful when it does not become weakness and inefficiency. The true wife clings and leans—but she also helps and inspires. Her husband feels the mighty inspiration of her love in all his life. Toil is easier, burdens are lighter, battles are less fierce—because of the face that waits in the quiet of the home, because of the heart that beats in loving sympathy whatever the experience, because of the voice that speaks its words of cheer and encouragement when the day's work is done. No wife knows how much she can do to make her husband honored among men, and his life a power and a success, by her loyal faithfulness, by the active inspiration of her own sweet life!
The good wife is a good housekeeper. I know well how unromantic this remark will appear to those whose dreams of married life are woven of the fancies of youthful sentimentality. But these frail dreams of sentimentality will not last long amid the stern realities of life, and then that which will prove one of the rarest elements of happiness and blessing in the household, will be housewifely industry and diligence.
When young people marry they are rarely troubled with many thoughts about the details of housekeeping. Their dreams are high above all such common place issues. The mere mention of such things as cooking, baking, sweeping, dusting, mending, ironing—jars upon the poetic rhythm of the lofty themes of conversation. It never enters the brains of these happy lovers—that it will make every difference in the world in their home life—whether the bread is sweet or sour; whether the oatmeal is well cooked or scorched; whether the meals are punctual or tardy. The mere thought that such common matters could affect the tone of their wedded life, seems a desecration.
It is a pity to dash away such exquisite dreams—but the truth is, they do not long outlast the echo of the wedding peals—or the fragrance of the bridal roses! The newly married are not long within their own doors, before they find that something more than tender sentimentality is needed to make their home-life a success. They come down from the clouds—when the daily routine begins and touch the common soil on which the feet of other mortals walk. Then they find that they are dependent, just like ordinary people, on some quite commonplace duties. One of the very first things they discover is the intimate relation between the kitchen and wedded happiness. That love may fulfill its delightful prophecies and realize its splendid dreams—there must be in the new home, some very practical elements. The palace that is to rise into the air, shooting up its towers, displaying its wonders of architecture, flashing its splendors in the sunshine—to the admiration of the world, must have its foundation in commonplace earth, resting on plain, hard, honest rock. Love may build its palace of noble sentiments and tender affections and sweet romances—rising into the very clouds, and in this splendid home two souls may dwell in the enjoyment of the highest possibilities of wedded life; but this palace, too, must stand on the ground, with unpoetic and unsentimental stones for its foundation. That foundation is good housekeeping. In other words, good breakfasts, dinners and suppers, a well-kept house, order, system, promptness, punctuality, good cheer—far more than any young lovers dream—does happiness in married life depend upon such commonplace things as these!
Love is very patient, very kind, very gentle; and where there is love no doubt the plainest fare is ambrosia; and the plainest surroundings are charming. I know the wise man said: "Better is a dinner of herbs where love is, than a good roast-beef dinner, with hatred!" But herbs as a constant diet will pall on the taste, even if love is ever present to season them. In this day of advanced civilization, it ought to be possible to have both the stalled ox—and love. Husbands are not angels in this mundane state, and not being such they need a substantial basis of good housekeeping, for the realization of their dreams of blissful home-life!
There certainly have been cases in which very tender love has lost its tenderness, and when the cause lay in the disorder and mismanagement of the housewifery. There is no doubt that many a heart-estrangement, begins at the table where meals are slipshod, and food is poorly prepared or served. Bad housekeeping will soon drive the last vestige of romance out of any home! The illusion which love weaves about an idolized bride, will soon vanish if she proves lazy or incompetent in her domestic management. The wife who will keep the charm of early love unbroken through the years, and in whose home the dreams of the wedding day will come true—must be a good housekeeper!
In one of his Epistles Paul gives the counsel that young wives should be "workers at home," signifying that home is the sphere of the wife's duties, and that she is to find her chief work there. There is a glory in all the Christian charities which Christian women, especially in these recent days, are founding and conducting with so much enthusiasm and such marked and abounding success. Woman is endowed with gifts of sympathy, of gentleness, of inspiring strengthfulness, which peculiarly fit her to be Christ's messenger of mercy to human woe and sorrow and pain.
There is the widest opportunity in the most fitting service for every woman whose heart God has touched to be a ministering angel to those who need sympathy or help. There are many who are free to serve in public charities, in caring for the poor, for the sick in hospital wards, for the orphaned and the aged. There are few women who cannot do a little in some one or more of these organizations of Christian beneficence.
But it should be understood, that for every wife the first duty is the making and keeping of her own home! Her first and best work should be done there—and until it is well done—she has no right to go outside to take up other duties. She is to be a "worker at home!" She must look upon her home as the one spot on earth, for which she alone is responsible, and which she must cultivate well for God—even if she never does anything outside. For her the Father's business is not attending benevolent societies, and missionary meetings, and mothers' meetings, and bible conventions, or even teaching a Sunday-school class—until she has made her own home all that her wisest thought and best skill can make it!
There have been wives who in their zeal for Christ's work outside, have neglected Christ's work inside their own doors! They have had eyes and hearts for human need and human sorrow in the broad fields lying far out—but neither eye nor heart for the work of love close about their own feet. The result has been that while they were doing angelic work in the lanes and streets—the angels were mourning over their neglected duties within the hallowed walls of their own homes! While they were winning a place in the hearts of the poor or the sick or the orphan—they were losing their rightful place in the hearts of their own household. Let it be remembered that Christ's work in the home is the first that he gives to every wife, and that no amount of consecrated activities in other spheres, will atone for neglect or failure there.
The good wife is generous and warm-hearted. She does not grow grasping and selfish. In her desire to economize and add to her stores—she does not forget those about her who suffer or are in poverty. While she gives her wisest and most earnest thought and her best and most skillful work to her own home, her heart does not grow cold toward those outside who need sympathy. I cannot conceive of true womanhood ripened into mellow richness, yet lacking the qualities of gentleness and unselfishness. A woman whose heart is not touched by the sight of sorrow, and whose hands do not go out in relief where it is in her power to help—lacks one of the elements which make the glory of womanhood.
This is not the place to speak of woman as a ministering angel. If it were, it would be easy to fill many pages with the bright records of most holy deeds of self-sacrifice. I am speaking now, however, of woman as wife; and only upon so much of this ministry to the suffering—as she may perform in her own home, at her own door and in connection with her housewifely duties—is it fit to linger at this time. But even in this limited sphere, her opportunities are by no means small.
It is in her own home—that this warmth of heart and this openness of hand are first to be shown. It is as wife and mother—that her gentleness performs its most sacred ministry. Her hand wipes away the teardrops when there is sorrow. In sickness she is the tender nurse. She bears upon her own heart every burden that weighs upon her husband. No matter how the world goes with him during the day—when he enters his own door he meets the fragrant atmosphere of love. Other friends may forsake him—but she clings to him with unalterable fidelity. When gloom comes down and adversity falls upon him—her faithful eyes look ever into his like two stars of hope shining in the darkness. When his heart is crushed, beneath her smile it gathers itself again into strength, "like a wind-torn flower in the sunshine." "You cannot imagine," wrote De Tocqueville of his wife, "what she is in great trials. Usually so gentle, she then becomes strong and energetic. She watches me without my knowing it; she softens, calms and strengthens me in difficulties which distract me—but leave her serene." An eloquent tribute—but one which thousands of husbands might give.
Men often do not see the angel in the plain, plodding woman who walks quietly beside them—until the day of trial comes; then in the darkness—the glory shines out. An angel ministered to our Lord when in Gethsemane he wrestled with his great and bitter sorrow. What a benediction to the mighty Sufferer, was in the soft gliding to his side of that gentle presence, in the touch of that soothing, supporting hand laid upon him, in the comfort of that gentle voice thrilling with sympathy as it spoke its strengthening message of love! Was it a mere coincidence that just at that time and in that place, that the radiant messenger came? No, it is always so. Angels choose such occasions to pay their visits to men.
So it is in the dark hours of a man's life, when burdens press, when sorrows weigh like mountains upon his soul, when adversities have left him crushed and broken, or when he is in the midst of fierce struggles which try the strength of every fiber of his manhood—that all the radiance and glory of a true wife's strengthful love shine out before his eyes! Only then does he recognize in her—God's angel of mercy!
In sickness—how thoughtful, how skillful, how gentle a nurse is the true wife! In struggle with temptation or adversity or difficulty—what an inspirer she is! In misfortune or disaster—what lofty heroism does she exhibit and what courage does her bravery kindle in her husband's heart! Instead of being crushed by the unexpected loss, she only then rises to her full grandeur of soul. Instead of weeping, repining and despairing, and thus adding tenfold to the burden of the misfortune—she cheerfully accepts the changed circumstances and becomes a minister of hope and strength. She turns away from luxury and ease—to the plainer home, the simpler life, the humbler surroundings, without a murmur!
It is in such circumstances and experiences, that the heroism of woman's soul is manifested. Many a man is carried victoriously through misfortune and enabled to rise again—because of the strong inspiring sympathy and the self-forgetting help of his wife! And many a man fails in fierce struggle, and rises not again from the defeat of misfortune—because the wife at his side proves unequal to her opportunity.
But a wife's ministry of mercy reaches outside her own doors. Every true home is an influence of blessing in the community where it stands. Its lights shine out. Its songs ring out. Its spirit breathes out. The neighbors know whether it is hospitable or inhospitable, warm or cold, inviting or repelling. Some homes bless no lives outside their own circle; others are perpetually pouring out sweetness and fragrance. The ideal Christian home is a far-reaching blessing. It sets its lamps in the windows, and while they give no less light and cheer to those within, they pour a little beam upon the gloom without, which may brighten some dark path and put a little cheer into the heart of some poor passer-by. Its doors stand ever open with a welcome to everyone who comes seeking shelter from the storm, or sympathy in sorrow, or help in trial. It is a hospice, like those blessed refuges on the Alps, where the weary or the chilled or the fainting are sure always of refreshment, of warmth, of kindly friendship, of gentle ministry of mercy. It is a place where one who is in trouble may always go confident of sympathy and comfort. It is a place where the young people love to go, because they know they are welcome and because they find there inspiration and help.
And this atmosphere of the home, the wife makes; indeed, it is her own spirit filling the house and pouring out like light or like fragrance. A true wife is universally beloved. She is recognized as one of God's angels scattering blessings as far as her hand can reach. Her neighbors are all blessed by her ministrations. When sickness or sorrow touches any other household, some token of sympathy finds its way from her hand into the shadowed home. To the old she is gentle and patient. To the young she is inciting and helpful. To the poor she is God's hand reached out. To the sufferer she brings strength. To the sorrowing she is a consoler. There is trouble nowhere near—but her face appears at the door and her hand brings its blessing!
Some wife, weary already, her hands over-full with the multiplied cares and duties of her household life—may plead that she has no strength to spend in sympathy and help for others. But it is truly wonderful how light these added burdens seem—when they are taken up in love. Always the duties we perform out of love for Christ and his suffering ones—become easy and pleasant as we take them up. Heaven's benediction rests ever on the home of her who lives to do good.
Scarcely a word has been said thus far of a wife's personal relation to her husband and the duties which spring out of that relation. These are manifold, and yet they are so sacred and delicate—that it seems hardly fit to speak or write of them. A few of the more important of these duties belonging to the wife's part may be merely touched upon. A true wife gives her husband her fullest confidence. She hides nothing from him. She gives no pledge of secrecy which will seal her lips in his presence. She listens to no words of admiration from others, which she may not repeat to him. She expresses to him every feeling, every hope, every desire and yearning, every joy or pain.
Then while she utters every confidence in his ear—he is most careful to speak in no other ear any word concerning the sacred inner life of her home. Are there little frictions or grievances in the wedded life? Has her husband faults which annoy her or cause her pain? Does he fail in this duty or that? Do differences arise which threaten the peace of the home? In the feeling of disappointment and pain, smarting under a sense of injury—a wife may be strongly tempted to seek sympathy by telling her trials to some intimate friends. Nothing could be more fatal to her own truest interests, and to the hope of restored happiness and peace in her home. Grievances complained of outside—remain unhealed sores. The wise wife will share her secret of unhappiness with none but her Master, while she strives in every way that patient love can suggest—to remove the causes of discord or trouble.
Love sees much in a wife which other eyes see not. It throws a veil over her blemishes; it transfigures even her plainest features. One of the problems of her wedded life—is to retain this charm for her husband's eyes as long as she lives, to appear lovely to him even when the color has faded from her cheeks and when the music has gone out of her voice. This is no impossibility; it is only what is done in every true home. But it cannot be done by the arts of the dressmaker, the milliner and the hair-dresser, only the arts of love can do it! The wife who would always hold in her husband's heart the place she held on her wedding day—will never cease striving to be lovely. She will be as careful of her words and acts and her whole bearing toward him—as she was before marriage. She will cultivate in her own life whatever is beautiful, whatever is winning, whatever is graceful. She will scrupulously avoid whatever is offensive or unwomanly.
She will look well to her personal appearance; no woman can be careless in her dress, slovenly and untidy—and long keep her place on the throne of her husband's life. She will look well to her inner life. She must have mental attractiveness. She will seek to be clothed in spiritual beauty. Her husband must see in her ever-new loveliness, as the years move on. As the charms of physical beauty may fade in the toils and vicissitudes of life, there must be more and more beauty of soul to shine out to replace the attractions which are lost. It has been said that "the wife should always leave something to be revealed only to her husband, some modest charm, some secret grace, reserved solely for his delight and inspiration, like those flowers which give of their sweetness only to the hand which lovingly gathers them." She should always care more to please him—than any other person in the world. She should prize more highly a compliment from his lips—than from any other human lips. Therefore she should reserve for him the sweetest charms; she should seek to bring ever to him some new surprise of loveliness; she should plan pleasures and delights for him. Instead of not caring how she looks—or whether she is agreeable or not when no one but her husband is present, she should always be at her best for him! Instead of being bright and lovely when there is company, then relapsing into languor and silence when the company is gone—she should seek always to be brightest and loveliest when only he and she sit together in the quiet of the home. Both husband and wife should ever bring their best things to each other!
Again let me say, that no wife can over-estimate the influence she wields over her husband, or the measure in which his character, his career and his very destiny are laid in her hands for shaping. The sway which she holds over him is the sway of love—but it is mighty and resistless. If she retains her power, if she holds her place as queen of his life—she can do with him as she will! Even unconsciously to herself, without any thought of her responsibility, she will exert over him an influence which will go far toward making or marring all his future! If she has no lofty conception of life herself—if she is vain and frivolous—she will only chill his ardor, weaken his resolution and draw him aside from any earnest endeavor. But if she has in her soul noble womanly qualities, if she has true thoughts of life, if she has purpose, strength of character and fidelity to principle—she will be to him an unfailing inspiration toward all that is noble, manly and Christlike! The high conceptions of life in her mind—will elevate his conceptions. Her firm, strong purpose—will put vigor and determination into every resolve and act of his. Her purity of soul—will cleanse and refine his spirit. Her warm interest in all his affairs and her wise counsel at every point—will make him strong for every duty and valiant in every struggle. Her careful domestic management, will become an important element of success in his business life. Her bright, orderly, happy home-making, will be a perpetual source of joy and peace, and an incentive to nobler living. Her unwavering fidelity, her tender affectionateness, her womanly sympathy, her beauty of soul—will make her to him God's angel indeed—sheltering, guarding, keeping, guiding and blessing him! Just in the measure in which she realizes this lofty ideal of wifehood—will she fulfill her mission and reap the rich harvest of her hopes.
Such is the "woman's lot" which falls on every wife. It is solemn enough to make her very thoughtful and very earnest. How can she make sure that her influence over her husband will be for good—that he will be a better man, more successful in his career and more happy, because she is his wife? Not by any mere moral posturing so as to seem to have lofty purpose and wise thoughts of life; not by any weak resolving to help him and be an uplifting inspiration to him; not by perpetual preaching and lecturing on a husband's duties and on manly character! She can do it only by being in the very depths of her soul, in every thought and impulse of her heart, and in every fiber of her nature—a true and noble woman. She will make him not like what she tells him he ought to be—but like what she herself is!
So it all comes back to a question of character. She can be a good wife only by being a good woman. And she can be a good woman in the true sense only by being a Christian woman. Nowhere but in Christ—can she find the wisdom and strength she needs, to meet the solemn responsibilities of wifehood. Only in Christ can she find that rich beauty of soul, that gemming of the character, which shall make her lovely in her husband's sight, when the bloom of youth is gone, when the brilliance has faded out of her eyes, and the roses have fled from her cheeks. Only Christ can teach her how to live so as to be blessed, and be a blessing in her married life!
Nothing in this world is sadder than to compare love's early dreams, what love meant to be, with the too frequent story of the after-life; what came of the dreams, what was the outcome of love's venture. Why so many sad disappointments? Why do so many bridal wreaths fall into dust? Is there no possibility of making these fair dreams come true, of keeping these flowers lovely and fragrant through all the years? Yes—but only in Christ! The young maiden goes smiling and singing to the marriage altar. Does she know that if she has not Christ with her—she is as a lamb going to the sacrifice? Let her tarry at the gateway until she has linked her life to Christ, who is the first and the last. Human love is very precious—but it is not enough to satisfy a heart. There will be trials, there will be perplexities, there will be crosses and disappointments, there will be solicitudes and sorrows. Then none but Christ will be sufficient! Without him, the way will be dreary. But with his benediction and presence—the flowers which droop today will bloom fresh again tomorrow! And the dreams of early love will build themselves up into a palace of peace and joy for the solace, the comfort and shelter of old age!