given on May 11, 2014–Mother’s Day
Today I would like to introduce you to a very special mother, Susannah Annesley Wesley. She was born January 20, 1669, the youngest in a family of 25 children. She married Samuel Wesley and had 17 children including John and Charles. She was the mother of the Methodist Church and not just because she gave birth to these two founders of Methodism.
During her early years, she witnessed the persecution of the clergy involved in the protestant reformation. Her father himself was removed from his parish. Susannah made her own observations about the church and its doctrines. When she met the Samuel Wesley, whose father also was removed from his parish during the reformation, they shared a passion for their religious principles. One biography, illustrates this and it can explain the foundation of her mothering philosophy:
“Before I was full thirteen,” Susannah says, “I had drawn up an account of the whole transaction, under which I had included the main of the controversy between them [the dissenters] and the Established Church, as far as it had come to my knowledge.” She was “early initiated and instructed in the first principles of the Christian religion,” and had a “good example in parents, and in several of the family.” In girlhood she “received from the heart the form of doctrine” from her father’s lips. When asked by one of her children for a rule as to diversions she replied that her own rule as a girl was never to spend more time per day in worldly pleasures than she was willing to spend in private devotions. [Accessed on May 8, 2014 at www.faith2power, quoting from William Horton Foster, “Susannah Wesley,” Heroines of Modern Religion, ed. Warren Dunham Foster, (New York: Sturgis & Walton, 1913)
This attitude and self-discipline developed into the 16 House Rules Susannah used in her own home. [These are outlined in the bulletin.]
- Eating between meals not allowed.
- As children they are to be in bed by 8 p.m.
- They are required to take medicine without complaining.
- Subdue self- will in a child, and those working together with God to save the child’s soul.
- To teach a child to pray as soon as he can speak.
- Require all to be still during Family Worship.
- Give them nothing that they cry for, and only that when asked for politely.
- To prevent lying, punish no fault which is first confessed and repented of.
- Never allow a sinful act to go unpunished.
- Never punish a child twice for a single offense.
- Comment and reward good behavior.
- Any attempt to please, even if poorly performed should be commended.
- Preserve property rights, even in smallest matters.
- Strictly observe all promises.
- Require no daughter to work before she can read well.
- Teach children to fear the rod. [Accessed on May 8, 2014 at http://www.raisinggodlychildren.org/2011/03/16-house-rules-by-susannah-wesley-john.html]
Reading through Susannah’s biography and then the 16 rules, the parallels to the Old Testament’s Proverbs are impossible to ignore. The Old Testament lessons supporting the Old Covenant long have served as the foundation for the world’s Judeo-Christian lifestyle—sociological, political, and even economical. The reformation that served as the cultural setting for Susannah and Samuel Wesley did not battle the doctrine as much as the political manner into which the church had evolved.
The New Covenant coupled with the child-rearing advise of Proverbs created the very core of Methodism. The 16 House Rules outlines strong parenting skills that today are sadly lost. Working with the at-risk students, these rules are seldom found in their homes—at least most of them.
Even as one brought up in a very traditional Methodist home, these rules were lived more than taught. Looking back at my personal parenting experience, I know that I never had a clear list of rules to follow. I felt so inadequate despite the traditional Methodist upbringing I experienced. Thank goodness my upbringing was based on the same foundation of Methodism Susannah Wesley established for her children.
The words of wisdom found in scripture can provide guidance for today’s mothers and fathers just as soundly as it did for the models of faithful followers throughout the Old Testament, the New Testament, and even leaders throughout history.
One piece of advice my own mother gave me as a struggling new parent was to give the kids my time. In fact, she referenced Susannah Wesley. With 17 children of her own, Mom told me that she gave each one an hour of one-on-one attention. It was a rule. Needless to say that a full hour for each of the 17 probably did not really happen, but while reading the biography the base of this motherly advice appeared:
Her system of moral instruction was equally definite. “I take such a proportion of time,” she writes, “as I can best spare every night to discourse with each child by itself, on something that relates to its principal concerns. On Monday, I talk with Molly; on Tuesday, with Hetty; Wednesday, with Nancy; Thursday, with Jacky; Friday, with Patty; Saturday, with Charles; and with Emilia and Sukey together on Sunday.”
Try as I might, giving an uninterrupted hour to each of my children was tough. Yet, today the wisdom of that advice does make sense. And after reading Susannah’s own explanation from her biography, I can see that the intention was not 60 minutes, but time and attention, a form of motherly devotion that in today’s world is frequently ignored.
Continuing to introduce Susannah Wesley could take way too long today. The biography includes so many quotes and anecdotes that could be shared with mothers everywhere and can explain the principles of Methodism. It becomes evident how John Wesley became so driven, so passionate about serving one another in the name of the Lord.
Meeting Susannah Wesley is meeting the wisdom of God. Meeting Susannah Wesley is meeting our mother in faith. Meeting Susannah Wesley can be like meeting our own mothers, too. Meeting Susannah once is not enough, just like mothering is not ever a finished job:
Mrs. Wesley’s education of her children was not a purely juvenile task, undertaken preparatory to the work of the schoolmaster who might later succeed her. She conceived her duty toward each child as stretching from birth until death. With constant counsel, she followed her sons’ courses through college and into the ministry. Her advice was not simply on questions of personal conduct but on questions arising out of their studies and work.
Today, Mothers’ Day 2014, we all know that a mother’s job is never done. Susannah knew that, too, and even until her death in July 1742, while living with son John, the biographer includes this statement:
Her last request was: “Children as soon as I am released, sing a psalm of praise to God!” As they had honored her in life, so they obeyed her in death. Gathered about her bedside they forced back their grief as the anthem of her release and of their love swelled to triumphant notes. And well might the anthem be triumphant, for Susannah Wesley had so played her mother-part in the drama of Epworth Parish that she gave to the world-not to Methodists alone-a new freedom of large faith, a new democracy of vital religion, and a new intimacy with God.
What a testimony to faith and to motherhood! Meeting Susannah Wesley renews our admiration for the work of our mothers even today. For those with only memories of mothers, or for those of still mothering despite the ages of the sons and daughters, grandsons and granddaughters, or even the greats and the great-greats, happy mother’s day. May you be blessed by the grace of God for all you have done.
Dear Heavenly Father,
We thank you for all the love and grace your daughters share
as mothers, grandmothers, aunts, great-aunts, and the great-grand dames of our families.
Thank you for a mother like Susannah Wesley who bore
her son John and 16 other children into a world of reformation.
Thank you for all the words of wisdom shared in the scripture
and through the words of mothers throughout time.
Let us share the love we receive from you and all your mothers
with the grace demonstrated even in the most difficult of times.
Let us teach the generations to come the same lessons
taught in Proverbs, in the letters of the disciples,
and in our mothers’ words.
May we find the power of unconditional love for one another
in all that we do, for as long as we can, whenever we can
to the glory of You, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.
Amen, amen, amen!