Not as Our Ways
By Timothy Shay Arthur, 1868
"All His ways are in mercy," said the minister. "Do not forget that, my sister." They were the parting sentences of one who had often tried, in the sunny days of Mrs. Fielding's life, to lift her thoughts above the outer world, into a consciousness of those higher and purer things, from which abiding happiness comes. Yet, until now, he had spoken to sealed ears. Until now! Ah, the sunshine had gone from her sky. It was night with Mrs. Fielding — dark and silent night; for sorrow and trouble had found her out.
Less than one year before, Mrs. Fielding was a wife and mother; now, she was widowed and childless. Then she had a home, in which every comfort for natural life was provided; now, she was in the home of another, and dependent. No wonder the truth that all of God's ways are in love and mercy, was afar off from her perceptions, and but dimly seen. She was one of those who tenderly love children. In her own babes, her very life had rested; rested in such overweening tenderness, that weak indulgence took the place of a wise maternal discipline. She could not bear to cross their natural desires in anything, even though reason told her that it was essential to their higher good. Now, she was sorrowing for their loss as one without hope. Widowed and childless! Ah, the night was very dark around the mourner!
Mrs. Fielding had an active, independent mind. As her bowed spirit lifted itself, feebly, under the weight which had at first crushed her to the earth, and she began to realize her new position and relation to the world, thought turned in all directions, searching for the right way. She could not sit down, with folded hands, and become a burdensome drone; pride, if no higher impulse, would have forbidden that. But, like far too many young ladies, whose parents expend large sums on their education, she had closed her school-girl days without a thorough knowledge of any one of the branches to which she had given attention. She had a clear, intelligent mind, and was regarded as a well-educated woman; but her education was not of the kind to fit her for the duties of a teacher. She was not well-grounded in English; nor in French, Italian, or German, though she had attempted the acquirement of these languages under competent instructors. For music, she had no taste; and though she played tolerably well at the time of her marriage, her skill soon left her, for lack of practice. Tenderly she loved children, as we have said, and this love led her thoughts out towards them in her questioning as to the future, and she was beginning to think of a school for little ones. "I can teach them," she said. And of this, it had come into her thought to speak several times. But the way did not look clear before her yet.
"All His ways are in mercy." She was still dwelling upon what the minister had said, and trying to see how affliction and poverty could be in mercy to her, when a friend who had drawn very near since her days of darkness began, came in.
"It must be so," Mrs. Fielding said, referring to the minister's words, "and yet, in coming down to my own case, doubt arises. In my heart, I cannot accept this faith."
"The time is not yet, but it will come," answered the friend, "for it is a true faith. God's ways are not our ways — especially not as our ways in regard to the individual alone. Good is always the end of God's providences; not good to you or to me only, in the dispensations which reach us — but good, as well, to all who can in any way be affected through our lives. Did you ever think of that?"
Mrs. Fielding's countenance showed a newly awakening interest. "The thought, as you present it," she said, "has never before come into my mind."
"And He is ever making us the ministers of His good, one towards another, through willing service, if there is love in our hearts; but through constraint, and the compelling power of circumstances, if our hands are held back, in selfish idleness, from useful ministrations. It is not always for individual discipline alone, that sorrows and misfortunes come. Involved therein is the individual's relation to society, and the good to others that will spring from the new life that is to be born in him as the old natural and selfish life expires. We are all God's agents for good, working in our day and generation; and the nearer we draw towards him in self-denial and neighborly love — the higher and more angelic will be the service we render to his children. He has work for you, my dear friend — work for which he has been educating you in these dark days of affliction, and happy will you be when you find this work. The very delight of Heaven, is the delight of being useful to others, and just in the degree that a love of serving others for the sake of usefulness comes into our hearts, just so near shall we be to Heaven, and partakers, in that degree, of heavenly happiness."
"How can I be useful?" asked Mrs. Fielding, as her perceptions entered into the thought of her friend; and with perception, came an influx of desire.
"May I suggest a way?"
"Yes — yes."
"You know Mrs. Garland?"
"Yes; or, at least, have some knowledge of her. We were not visiting acquaintances."
"She is a light, vain, selfish woman, and completely absorbed in fashionable life."
"So I have understood."
"She is the mother of three sweet little children, who are given over almost entirely to servants. I was talking, only yesterday, to Mr. Garland's sister about them; and she said, that the neglected condition of his children was a source of deep concern to her brother, who was anxious to get into his family a woman of education, good principles, and Christian regard for duty, who would be to them as a true mother. The thought of you, Mrs. Fielding, came at once into my mind; and I even suggested your name."
"And what was said?" Mrs. Fielding showed considerable interest.
"If she will take the place, my brother will be a happy man," was answered.
Mrs. Fielding's bosom heaved with a single, long-drawn sigh. Her face grew very sober; her eyes rested on the floor. She sat very still and statue-like.
"Accept the trust, my dear friend! Take these neglected little ones — precious in God's eyes — and nurture them for Heaven."
In the glow of an unselfish tenderness, which warmed the heart of Mrs. Fielding, she answered, tears brimming in her eyes:
"I will not hold back my feet from the way of duty, if I see it plain before me. God being my helper, I will follow as he may guide. I love children. It is my delight to be with them."
"Shall I make the arrangement for you?" said the friend.
Again the face of Mrs. Fielding was overshadowed by thought. Her eyes dropped to the floor, she sat still and statue-like again. Some natural emotions stirred in her heart, and there was a brief struggle with them for the mastery. When she looked up, a sweet smile was touching her lips, like a sunbeam, and love sat in her serene eyes.
"If I am wanted, I will go," she answered.
"You are wanted," was the friend's decided answer. "Tomorrow I will see you again," she said, as she pressed her hand in parting.
In less than a week, there was a change of both place and state with Mrs. Fielding. From sad, tearful, idle dependence — she moved upwards into a sphere of usefulness, in which her heart became at once interested. Three bright, beautiful, and affectionate little ones were given wholly into her care by a mother who was daily showing herself to be unworthy of the high and holy trust reposed in her. Soon was transferred the sweetness of that unselfish love of children, which is the mother's highest blessing — passing from a cold and worldly heart to one in which suffering was accomplishing its true work.
Mrs. Fielding, as we have said, was one of those who tenderly love childhood. Towards the babes, who were flesh of her flesh, this love was overshadowed by the weakness of a natural, maternal tenderness, which shrank from the exercise of needed discipline. Now, she was truer to all perceptions of right and duty. To her own children, love had been weak and compliant, but towards these children of her adoption, it was clear, strong, wise and tender.
Five years passed on with Mrs. Fielding, each bringing to her heart new increments of abiding peace. The neglected little ones had been taken at once into her love, and wisdom had prompted this love ever to seek their highest good. They were, in her affections, as though born of her own body. The mother-instinct in her nature had gone fully out to them.
Five years had passed; and, for more than two years, the unworthy mother of these children had been at rest from earthly passion. Her sun went out before life had touched its fair meridian; and there was not much heart-grief at her loss. So the mere selfish worldlings die. Even those who stand nearest, and whose ties are, or should be, strongest — rarely sorrow as those who refuse to be comforted.
A man of a strong, true, tender nature was Mr. Garland. Life to such a one, bound to a mere worldly, vain, selfish and fashionable woman — is little more than a weary desert. Dutiful, patient, and upright had he been through all the years of an unsatisfying union; and when death closed the compact, he gave tears to the memory of her who had once been dear to him; of her who was the mother of his precious children — and threw a veil over the unhappy past.
Two years had lapsed away since the angel of death drew her from his side. Mrs. Fielding still held her place as the true mother of his children. Her life had become so bound up in their lives — their good so dependent on her ministration — that no thought of separation had intruded.
Is it remarkable that a true man and a true woman, whose daily lives so met in a mutual interest, should be attracted by stronger forces? Is it remarkable that respect, regard, and admiration — should take love into their fraternity, and give her the highest place?
"As you are, and have been, for years, their true mother," said Mr. Garland, taking the hand of Mrs. Fielding one evening, as she came back from the room where the children slept, to their family sitting-room — he had listened, as he sat alone to the tender inflections of her voice as she talked with, and read to them; that voice stirring emotion deeper and deeper, like music to which the heart lifts itself in sweet responses. "As you are, and have been, for years their true mother, will you not be a mother to them in name also?"
He held the hand tightly, and looked into her face. Her eyes, startled at first, dropped away from his, and fell upon the floor. Mr. Garland felt an impulse in her hand, as if she were about to withdraw it, and his, with a responsive impulse took hold with a firmer clasp.
"The currents of our lives," he said in his calm, true, earnest voice, "have in God's providence been for some time running side by side, taking equally the sunshine and shade, and feeling, almost as one, the rippling breezes. Shall they not flow together? I testify, here, to your dignified, womanly conduct in every relation in my home. You have been true to yourself and your gender in all things. So true, that from respect and admiration, a deeper and tenderer feeling towards you has been born. I say this frankly. And now, Mrs, Fielding, how stands the case? Shall our lives flow together as a single stream? It is for you to say."
For more than a minute Mrs. Fielding stood, looks downcast and breath indrawn to an almost imperceptible respiration. When she raised her eyes, slowly, they were wet with blinding tears, and her lips had an irrepressible quiver; but Mr. Garland saw light shining through the tears, and consent on her trembling inarticulate lips. He led her to a seat.
"I have not sought this, Mr. Garland — Heaven be my witness!" Her delicate woman's nature shrank.
"And I am also your witness, dear, true, right-hearted friend, whom God — His ways are not as our ways — has so kindly led to my side! Be nearer and dearer to me than a friend; that is, if in your heart you can draw nearer. I do not want the hand I hold, unless all that can bless a man goes with it."
And the blessing was his.
How sweetly, purely, and tranquilly flowed their stream of life, full to the grassy and flower-decked brim! A true man and a true woman, with high aims and heaven-rising aspirations, walked onward side by side in duty and love, and not a heart-throb beat in discord. Could an idle, sorrowing, self-afflicting life have so crowned the years of Mrs. Fielding with blessing? It is only along the path of usefulness, that the Lord can lead to life's best fruitions here, and the happiness of Heaven hereafter.