I’m told that in some parts of India, when a child’s birthday is being celebrated, guests bring gifts for the mother. After all, the reasoning must go, it’s the woman who bore the burden and did the work to make possible the child’s gift of life. Not a bad idea, though I can’t imagine many children being happy with this arrangement. Whatever the motivation, we, in the West, spend a lot of money on mothers this week. And we bring gifts to kids as well when it comes time for their birthdays, a very workable plan.
In the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries the idea of gifting the mother at each child’s birthday might have caused great financial hardship, for families were large by today’s standards. Back then married women spent most of their childbearing years pregnant. To illustrate this, let me share with you some details from the life of Susanna Wesley.
Her sons, John and Charles Wesley, are better known today. Much, however, that these two sons of Susanna’s achieved they owed to the faithful upbringing received at their mother’s knee. Their father was absent from family life for long stretches of time with interludes at home. Susanna, who was her mother’s twenty-fifth and last child, married at nineteen a man nearly ten years older; she bore nineteen children, two of them twins. Nine died as infants. A maid accidentally smothered one child. John, perhaps the most famous of them all, nearly died as a youngster when the parsonage burned down.
Even though it’s difficult to imagine what life was like for Susanna, we know she was more than a wife and mother. Well educated – for a woman – she oversaw the education of both the girls and the boys who survived the diseases that took so many young lives. An ardent follower of the Lord, Susanna could read her Scriptures in the original languages along with English. When the pastor-substitute for her absent husband produced dry homilies that bored the children, she began Sunday afternoon Bible studies for her kids. Parishioners got wind of these weekly sessions, originally for children, and the parsonage was often packed with up to two hundred adults, hungry for spiritual food.
Both of her famous sons acknowledged her influence in their lives. Her children who made it to adulthood cared for Susanna in her declining years until she died at age seventy-three. My favorite story about her is the one where she was frequently seen sitting in the kitchen with her apron over her head. The children knew that this was her time with the Lord, and they learned not to interrupt.
I discovered only recently that she devised a system whereby she had a one-on-one time with each of her children. Each had an assigned day and time Explaining this in a letter to her husband she wrote, “On Monday I talk with Molly, on Tuesday with Hetty, Wednesday with Nancy, Thursday with Jacky, Friday with Patty and Saturday with Charles.” I’m not sure how she fit in the others for eight of her nineteen children grew to adulthood.
I wish I could somehow bring a gift to Susanna Wesley in appreciation for the way she practiced many things that I value today. Her setting and supplies were primitive, but she had learned to tap into God’s resources to be an effective parent. I call her a mother extraordinaire, and yet it’s recorded she was humble of spirit, indomitable as that spirit was.
You can find abbreviated biographies of Susanna Wesley on Wikipedia, and even better rendered at www.historyswomen.com/womenoffaith/SusannaWesley.html.
A woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Give her the reward she has earned…, writes Solomon. (Proverbs 31:30, 31 )
Thanks for doing this for the wonderful women in your life, a good practice for more than one day in the year.