Soothed and stirred by Elizabeth Gaskell
Fiction. Who has time for it? I wonder, sometimes, if, as a homeschooling mom of six, I should be snipping moments out of my day, allowing myself the leisure of a good read.
I just finished my new favorite novel, and am glad I made the time. It captivated me, encouraged me, challenged me, ministered to me. Honestly, God spoke to me through it. The book, and my time invested in it, was so very worthwhile.
I found the book in such an odd way: I was reading Jacqueline Winspear’s The Care and Management of Lies, which was a fine book — about 3 stars out of 5. In it, a character I liked mentioned that her favorite author was Elizabeth Gaskell, of whom I’d never heard. I did a little search and found that many a BBC series or special have been made from her books, but I hadn’t seen any of them. I put several of her books on hold and started — rather at random — with North and South.
I described the book to a friend like this:
It really is like Jane Austen and Charles Dickens had a baby and that baby was inspired by deep doctrinal issues within (and without) the Church of England and then wrote a book. Perhaps that doesn’t sound all that enchanting, but it’s right up my alley. Very engaging on every level.
It also helps that the heroine, Margaret, is struggling some heart issues similar to ones through which I am wading. The only difference is that she is quite a bit braver and much younger. 🙂
Gaskell is particularly apt in selecting quotes to begin each chapter. This one brought me to tears:
I see my way as birds their trackless way–
I shall arrive! what time, what circuit first,
I ask not: but unless God send his hail
Or blinding fire-balls, sleet, or stifling snow,
In some time–his good time–I shall arrive;
He guides me and the bird. In His good time!’
–Robert Browning (from ‘Paracelsus’)
I keep encouraging my own heart, “I shall arrive… In His good time!”
In another scene, Margaret is visiting a beach in the wintertime.
She used to sit long hours upon the beach, gazing intently on the waves as they chafed with perpetual motion against the pebbly shore, — or she looked out upon the more distant heaving, and sparkle against the sky, and heard, without being conscious of hearing, the eternal psalm, which went up continually. She was soothed without knowing how or why.
I have felt the same about the ocean; it is singing an eternal psalm, and compels me to sing along with it.
Shortly after the beach scene, I cried fresh tears at this:
But she had learnt, in those solemn hours of thought, that she herself must one day answer for her own life, and what she had done with it; and she tried to settle that most difficult problem for women, how much was to be utterly merged in obedience to authority and how much might be set apart for freedom in working.
I am weighing the same issues right now — it is ever a challenge to me, balancing the pursuit of personal interests and goals and hopes with present reality and the unknown future. Where does God want me to invest my time, energy, talents, and thoughts? And to what end? What’s ahead of me? Have I missed something? Too much dwelling on what might have been leads me to regret a very lovely present. I typically don’t go to “what might have been” at ALL. However, at age 41, and having very recently celebrated the 20th anniversary of marriage to such a fine man as my precious husband, I find myself a bit more retrospective lately, reflecting over my life in these last two decades.
I don’t want to ignore hopes for the future and just plod along; yet, too much time spent in wistful expectation of dreams becoming fulfilled leads me to dissatisfaction; who can know what is in the future, anyway? My life is truly submitted to the greater good of my whole family. In many ways, my dreams are not my own. I can’t just serve myself and make my dreams happen. There are seven other people — at a minimum — whom my life greatly impacts. To that end, I don’t believe in “follow your dreams”; I think that’s tremendously selfish. It’s in the American culture to serve one’s own self. It’s not in the culture of true Christianity, though, and Mrs. Gaskell reminded me of that, frequently in how her character served others, with constant attentiveness, joy, and self-sacrifice, and profound self-control. She didn’t pursue her own interests, or, at very least, she subjected her own interests to the needs of those around her. Again, very un-American. I knew, though, that what Gaskell is adducing through the life of Margaret Hale in North and South is upright… good… Godly… Trustful in His plan for my future. Margaret’s life both challenged and inspired me.
YET, has God called me to live a hopeless life? By no means! May it never be! He is the God of hope.
Romans 15:13 (NIV) May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
I am reminded that my hope needs to be entirely in Him. Not in my talents. Not in my gone youth. Not in my plans. Not in my abilities… Not in those around me. Not in circumstances. Only in Him. My future is unknown to me, but He is not.
So, I continue to do what, for the most part, I have done in the last 20-ish years: Prayerfully consider my life as a whole and my day-to-day decisions. Do the best I can with what I have. Hear the voice of the Father in my own spirit, through His Word, and through others. Learn and grow mentally and spiritually. Love and worship my dear God. Love and serve my dear family, and my local church.
In other words, I must live predominantly in the present. This is actually a big challenge for me, because a huge part of me would LIKE to plan everything out — work toward a clear goal and just make it happen. But… that’s not what God has had for me in the past, and it’s not what He has for me right now. I don’t know about the future.
Psalm 31:15-17a (NASB)
15 My times are in Your hand;
Deliver me from the hand of my enemies and from those who persecute me.
16 Make Your face to shine upon Your servant;
Save me in Your lovingkindness.
17 Let me not be put to shame, O Lord, for I call upon You…
P.S. For a taste of Gaskell’s North and South, head to Goodreads to peruse some reader-contributed quotes. Gaskell’s prose is just lovely and insightful.