A Wife's Sermon; Or,
Hints to Husbands
"Husbands, love your wives, and be not bitter against them." This shall be my text. "Bitter" is a word which conveys an unpleasant idea. Did you ever notice the sad contortions of a child's face when he takes a disagreeable medicine? It turned away with loathing and disgust. Can it be that bitter words would ever cause a wife to turn from the plighted love of her youth? Try not the dangerous experiment.
I have seen the unshed tear tremble in the eye, as some careless, thoughtless, but harsh word of a husband caused a mental struggle. I knew a man whose praise was in all the churches, a professor in one of our theological schools, and I am not quite sure that he did not write a commentary on this verse, who needed this admonition. He never treated his wife unkindly, as the world understands that word; but every day he said unkind, unpleasant things, which seemed to her very "bitter." He was quite an alchemist; he always brought his crucible to the table when he partook of his meals, and among the pleasant viands prepared under the careful eye of his wife, he always found something which was not right, something bitter for his wife. He sleeps in the village churchyard now, and his intellectual admirers reared a tablet to his memory, and over the unpleasant remembrances of his private life, charitable friends draw a veil, which we would not remove.
Tonight, when you have taken your tea, got your letters and papers from the post-office, read them, and when you feel inclined to doze in your easy chair, hear a word of remonstrance. Do not speak again as unkindly as you did when you came home, and found the baby crying, and the older ones rather noisy: do not call your home a "bedlam," and tell your better half "you do wish she would give the children their supper earlier, and get them to bed, so that you can have a little quiet." Perhaps you were tired, very likely it was so; but your wife, with "nothing to do" but her own work, and see to her children, is more, far more wearied than you; and if you knew how her head aches, and how her exhausted nature calls for repose; if you had the love for her which you owe her, you would not need to be told "Husbands, love your wives, and be not BITTER against them."
The wife is told of responsibilities which angels might tremble to assume. She is taught that man is creation's lord, and her inferior position is to act as his "waiter," to take care of his children, his house, to see to his wardrobe, and so all around the circle of her duties. Sometimes she gets so jostled, about she almost forgets where her last resting-place was, and wishes success to the Woman's Rights Convention, so that she may unmolested stand side by side with proud man, whose right and might are never practically questioned.
Oh, husband! did you see the color mount to your wife's temples, the other day, when in the presence of that visitor you brought home, you noticed some little deficiencies at the table, instead of passing them by? She felt as badly as you, because the meat was not cooked just as she wished, and the table was not properly dusted. You should remember that dinner was prepared when the babe was crying for its mother; perhaps you will recollect that you looked into the kitchen, and asked her "if she could not keep the child still, for you could not hear yourself think." Was not that a bitter word? Ask her.
Listen, while I tell you a part of what she is expected to do every year of her life. How many shirts do you expect her to make for you? How many handkerchiefs to hem? How many vests and pants to be cut and made? How many dresses must she manufacture for herself and children? How many little pairs of drawers and skirts for the children, to fit them for the ever-varying season? How many aprons are to be prepared? And when all these are in readiness, with other articles which I might name, what is to be done with them? When worn, they must be washed, ironed, and mended, over and over again, by her industry. Did you ever think how many meals she prepares in a year? How many times the table is set, the dishes removed and washed, the knives scoured, the floors swept, the lamps trimmed, the beds made, the furniture dusted, and the children washed, dressed, and kindly cared for? All the time must she feel this pressure of labor and anxiety, and very likely she is sinking slowly (her constitution giving away, although unnoticed by your familiar eye), until consumption is upon her, and she is gone; the "place that knew her, knows her no more."
Now, tell me, do you really think that she will have to take in shirts to make, or something else, to keep her from wasting her time in reading? Think of all this, and suppress that bitter word, because a button is missing on your coat, or the string was forgotten which should have been sewed to your shirt. It is little things which make the bitterness as well as the sweetness of life.
Your wife is under no greater obligation to have a smile of welcome on your return, than you are to bring perpetual sunshine to the hearthstone; and if she fails sometimes, and you find her irritable and unpleasant, forgive it, and pass it by. You know not the trials and vexations she has met; speak gently, very gently; and let no root of bitterness spring up to trouble you. Do not tell her she has altered, and that she can bear nothing from you, she has become so sensitive; tell her not of her faded cheeks, and her hair, which is turning prematurely gray. She does not like to hear you make such remarks, even if she knows they are true. Ask yourself rather, why it is so? Is it the effect of a life of ease and carelessness — or a life of care and labor for you and your family?
I could tell you of a poor laboring mechanic, on whom the untoward gales of adversity have long beat; but when sheltered in the haven of a happy, though humble home, he cares but little what rages without. The table is neatly spread each evening for the morrow's early breakfast. Such preparations as can be made are in readiness, and while the stars are yet shining, long before the day dawns, the husband and father prepares anew for his daily toil. He chooses to make his own coffee, and eat his breakfast alone, if thereby his loved ones can slumber a little longer. He is cheered amid his labors by thoughts of them, and he knows that when the mother and dear children kneel at the altar of morning prayer, the absent one will never be forgotten, and the petition will ascend that "as his day, so his strength may be."
As he returns wearied to his family at night, it is not to say bitter things, or to look bitterly. The babe reaches out her arms for him, and older ones cling around his neck, and he envies not that man who is displeased because the custard is not seasoned to his taste, or the beefsteak prepared precisely according to his wishes. After the evening meal, and prayers, the children are told some pretty story, and laid to rest by a father's hand, and he murmurs not at his lot, nor sees anything for which to murmur.
A proud man may smile with derision at this scene, but God does not. Hard is the road they travel, though it was not always so. The world cares but little for them; and they covet not its treacherous smiles. That husband can enjoy the pleasant converse and affection of his family. Full well he knows and appreciates the self-denial, cares, and labors she is every day called to bear. Well, too, does he remember when her eyes became sunken, when the hue of the rose faded from her fair cheek, and when her dark glossy hair turned grey by sickness, and not by age; and he is fully prepared to echo the language of his dear children, as with partial eyes they exclaim, "Mother, dear mother, how pretty you are!"
I have told you a true story of humble life, cheered by affection and trust in God. And let me say, in parting, that if the love has languished which was once strong in your heart, oh, kindle it yet again, for there are dark days in store for you, when you will need all the cheering influence its brightness and warmth can yield, all the sympathy and support which that wounded and neglected heart can bestow. "Husbands, love your wives, and be not BITTER against them."