TRIALS OF HOUSEKEEPING

"Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me."—Luke 10:40.

Yonder is a beautiful village homestead. The man of the house is dead and his widow is taking charge of the premises. This is the widow Martha of Bethany. Yes, I will show you also the pet of the household. This is Mary, the youngest sister, with a book under her arm, and her face having no appearance of anxiety or perturbation. Company has come. Christ stands outside the door and, of course, there is a good deal of excitement inside the door. The disarranged furniture is hastily put aside, and the hair is brushed back, and the dresses are adjusted as well as, in so short a time, Mary and Martha can attend to these matters.

THE WELCOME TO CHRIST.

They did not keep Christ standing at the door until they were newly appareled, or until they had elaborately arranged their tresses, then coming out with their affected surprise as though they had not heard the two or three previous knockings, saying: "Why, is that you?" No. They were [253]ladies, and were always presentable, although they may not have always had on their best, for none of us always have on our best; if we did our best would not be worth having on. They throw open the door and greet Christ. They say: "Good morning, Master; come in and be seated."

Christ did not come alone; He had a group of friends with Him, and such an influx of city visitors would throw any country home into perturbation. I suppose also the walk from the city had been a good appetizer. The kitchen department that day was a very important department, and I suppose that Martha had no sooner greeted the guests than she fled to that room. Mary had no anxiety about household affairs. She had full confidence that Martha could get up the best dinner in Bethany. She seems to say: "Now, let us have a division of labor. Martha, you cook and I'll sit down and be good."

DIFFERENCE IN SISTERS.

So you have often seen a great difference between two sisters. There is Martha, hard working, painstaking, a good manager, ever inventive of some new pastry, or discovering something in the art of cooking and housekeeping. There is Mary, also, fond of conversation, literary, so engaged in deep questions of ethics she has no time to [254]attend to the questions of household welfare. It is noon. Mary is in the parlor with Christ. Martha is in the kitchen. It would have been better if they had divided the work, and then they could have divided the opportunity of listening to Jesus; but Mary monopolizes Christ, while Martha swelters at the fire.

TROUBLE IN THE KITCHEN.

It was a very important thing that they should have a good dinner that day. Christ was hungry, and He did not often have a luxurious entertainment. Alas, me! if the duty had devolved upon Mary what a repast that would have been! But something went wrong in the kitchen. Perhaps the fire would not burn, or the bread would not bake, or Martha scalded her hand, or something was burned black that ought only to have been made brown; and Martha lost her patience, and forgetting the proprieties of the occasion, with besweated brow, and perhaps with pitcher in one hand and tongs in the other, she rushes out of the kitchen into the presence of Christ, saying: "Lord, dost Thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone?"

Christ scolded not a word. If it were scolding I should rather have his scolding than anybody else's blessing. There was nothing acerb. He knew Martha had almost [255]worked herself to death to get Him something to eat, and so He throws a world of tenderness into His intonation as He seems to say: "My dear woman, do not worry; let the dinner go; sit down on this ottoman beside Mary, your younger sister. Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things, but one thing is needful." As Martha throws open that kitchen door I look in and see a great many household perplexities and anxieties.

NON-APPRECIATION.

First, there is the trial of non-appreciation. That is what made Martha so mad with Mary. The younger sister had no estimate of her older sister's fatigues. As now, men bothered with the anxieties of the store, and office, and shop, or coming from the Stock Exchange, they say when they get home: "Oh, you ought to be in our factory a little while; you ought to have to manage eight, or ten, or twenty subordinates, and then you would know what trouble and anxiety are!" Oh, sir, the wife and the mother has to conduct at the same time a university, a clothing establishment, a restaurant, a laundry, a library, while she is health officer, police and president of her realm! She must do a thousand things, and do them well, in order to keep things going smoothly; and so her brain and her nerves are taxed to the utmost.

[256]I know there are housekeepers who are so fortunate that they can sit in an arm-chair in the library, or lie on the belated pillow, and throw off all the care upon subordinates who, having large wages and great experience, can attend to all of the affairs of the household. Those are the exception. I am speaking this morning of the great mass of housekeepers—the women to whom life is a struggle, and who, at thirty years of age, look as though they were forty, and at forty look as though they were fifty, and at fifty look as though they were sixty. The fallen at Chalons, and Austerlitz, and Gettysburg, and Waterloo are a small number compared with the slain in the great Armageddon of the kitchen. You go out to the cemetery and you will see that the tombstones all read beautifully poetic; but if those tombstones would speak the truth thousands of them would say: "Here lies a woman killed by too much mending, and sewing, and baking, and scrubbing, and scouring; the weapon with which she was slain was a broom, or a sewing machine, or a ladle."

A WEARING LIFE.

You think, O man of the world! that you have all the cares and anxieties. If the cares and anxieties of the household should come upon you for one week you would be a fit candidate for Bloomingdale—I mean [257]insane asylum. The half-rested housekeeper arises in the morning. She must have the morning repast prepared at an irrevocable hour. What if the fire will not light; what if the marketing did not come; what if the clock has stopped—no matter, she must have the morning repast at an irrevocable hour. Then the children must be got off to school. What if their garments are torn; what if they do not know their lessons; what if they have lost a hat or sash—they must be ready. Then you have all the diet of the day, and perhaps of several days, to plan; but what if the butcher has sent meat unmasticable, or the grocer has sent articles of food adulterated, and what if some piece of silver be gone, or some favorite chalice be cracked, or the roof leak, or the plumbing fail, or any one of a thousand things occur—you must be ready.

Spring weather comes, and there must be a revolution in the family wardrobe, or autumn comes, and you must shut out the northern blast; but what if the moth has preceded you to the chest; what if, during the year, the children have outgrown the apparel of last year; what if the fashions have changed. Your house must be an apothecary's shop; it must be a dispensary; there must be medicines for all sorts of ailments—something to loosen the croup, something to cool the burn, something to poultice [258]the inflammation, something to silence the jumping tooth, something to soothe the ear-ache. You must be in half a dozen places at the same time, or you must attempt to be.

ASSURED SYMPATHY.

If, under all this wear and tear of life, Martha makes an impatient rush upon the library or drawing room, be patient, be lenient. Oh, woman, though I may fail to stir up an appreciation in the souls of others in regard to your household toils let me assure you, from the kindliness with which Jesus Christ met Martha, that he appreciates all your work from garret to cellar; and that the God of Deborah, and Hannah, and Abigail and Grandmother Lois, and Elizabeth Fry, and Hannah More is the God of the housekeeper.

Jesus was never married that he might be the especial friend and confidante of a whole world of troubled womanhood. I blunder; Christ was married. The Bible says that the Church is the Lamb's wife, and that makes me know that all Christian women have a right to go to Christ and tell Him of their annoyances and troubles, since by His oath of conjugal fidelity He is sworn to sympathize. George Herbert, the Christian poet, wrote two or three verses on this subject:

"The servant by this clause
Makes drudgery divine;
Who sweeps a room, as for Thy laws,
Makes this and the action fine."

Again, there is the trial of

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SEVERE ECONOMY.

Nine hundred and ninety-nine households out of the thousand are subjected to it—some under more and some under less stress of circumstances. Especially if a man smoke very expensive cigars, and take very costly dinners at the restaurants, he will be severe in demanding domestic economies. This is what kills tens of thousands of women—attempting to make five dollars do the work of seven. How the bills come in! The woman is the banker of the household; she is the president, the cashier, the teller, the discount clerk; and there is a panic every few weeks! This thirty years' war against high prices, this perpetual study of economics, this life-long attempt to keep the outgoes less than the income, exhausts millions of housekeepers.

A PREPARATION.

Oh, my sister, this is a part of the divine discipline! If it were best for you, all you would have to do would be to open the front windows and the ravens would fly in with food; and after you had baked fifty times from the barrel in the pantry the barrel, like the one of Zarephath, would be full; and the shoes of the children would last as long as the shoes of the Israelites in the wilderness—forty years. Beside that, this is going to [260]make heaven the more attractive in the contrast. They never hunger there, and consequently there will be none of the nuisances of catering for appetites. And in the land of the white robe they never have to mend anything, and the air in that hill country makes everybody well. There are no rents to pay; every man owns his own house, and a mansion at that.

It will not be so great a change for you to have a chariot in heaven if you have been in the habit of riding in this world. It will not be so great a change for you to sit down on the banks of the river of life if in this world you had a country-seat; but if you have walked with tired feet in this world what a glorious change to mount celestial equipage; and if your life on earth was domestic martyrdom, oh, the joy of an eternity in which you shall have nothing to do except what you choose to do! Martha has had no drudgery for eighteen centuries! I quarrel with the theologians who want to distribute all the thrones of heaven among the John Knoxes and the Hugh Latimers, and the Theban Legion. Some of the brightest thrones of heaven will be kept for Christian housekeepers. Oh, what a change from here to there—from the time when they put down the rolling-pin to when they take up the sceptre! If Chatsworth Park and the Vanderbilt mansion on Fifth Avenue were [261]to be lifted into the celestial city they would be considered uninhabitable rookeries, and glorified Lazarus would be ashamed to be seen going in and out of either of them.

THE TRIAL OF SICKNESS.

There are many housekeepers who could get along with their toils if it were not for sickness and trouble. The fact is, one-half of the women of the land are more or less invalids. The mountain lass, who has never had an ache or pain, may consider household toil inconsiderable, and toward evening she may skip away miles to the fields and drive home the cattle, and she may until ten o'clock at night fill the house with laughing racket; but oh, to do the work of life with wornout constitution, when whooping cough has been raging for six weeks in the household, making the night as sleepless as the day—that is not so easy.

Perhaps this comes after the nerves have been shattered by some bereavement that has left desolation in every room of the house, and set the crib in the garret, because the occupant has been hushed into a slumber which needs no mother's lullaby. Oh, she could provide for the whole group a great deal better than she can for a part of the group now the rest are gone! Though you may tell her God is taking care of those who are gone, it is mother-like to brood [262]both flocks; and one wing she puts over the flock in the house, the other wing she puts over the flock in the grave.

There is nothing but the old-fashioned religion of Jesus Christ that will take a woman through the trials of home life. At first there may be a romance or a novelty that will do for a substitute. The marriage hour has just passed, and the perplexities of the household are more than atoned by the joy of being together, and by the fact that when it is late they do not have to discuss the question as to whether it is time to go! The mishaps of the household, instead of being a matter of anxiety and apprehension, are a matter of merriment—the loaf of bread turned into a geological specimen; the slushy custards; the jaundiced or measly biscuits. It is a very bright sunlight that falls on the cutlery and the mantel ornaments of a new home.

THE PROSE OF MATRIMONY.

But after a while the romance is all gone, and then there is something to be prepared for the table that the book called "Cookery Taught in Twelve Lessons" will not teach. The receipt for making it is not a handful of this, a cup of that and a spoonful of something else. It is not something sweetened with ordinary condiments, or flavored with ordinary flavors, or baked in ordinary [263]ovens. It is the loaf of domestic happiness; and all the ingredients come down from heaven, and the fruits are plucked from the tree of life, and it is sweetened with the new wine of the kingdom, and it is baked in the oven of home trial. Solomon wrote out of his own experience. He had a wretched home. A man cannot be happy with two wives, much less six hundred; and he says, writing out of his own experience: "Better is a dinner of herbs where love is, than a stalled ox and hatred therewith."

GLORIOUS SELF-SACRIFICE.

How great are the responsibilities of housekeepers! Sometimes an indigestible article of food, by its effect upon a commander or king, has defeated an army or over-thrown an empire. Housekeepers by the food they provide, by the couches they spread, by the books they introduce, by the influences they bring around the home, are deciding the physical, intellectual, moral, eternal destiny of the race.

You say your life is one of sacrifice. I know it. But, my sisters, that is the only life worth living. That was Florence Nightingale's life; that was Payson's life; that was Christ's life. We admire it in others, but how very hard it is for us to cultivate ourselves. When in this city young Dr. Hutchison, having spent a whole night in [264]a diphtheritic room for the relief of a patient, became saturated with the poison and died, we all felt as if we would like to put garlands on his grave; everybody appreciates that. When in the burning hotel at St. Louis a young man on the fifth story broke open the door of the room where his mother was sleeping, and plunged in amid smoke and fire, crying: "Mother! where are you?" and never came out, our hearts applauded that young man. But how few of us have the Christ-like spirit—a willingness to suffer for others!

A BARBAROUS PEDAGOGUE.

A rough teacher in a school called upon a poor, half-starved lad, who had offended against the laws of the school, and said: "Take off your coat directly, sir." The boy refused to take it off, whereupon the teacher said again: "Take off your coat, sir," as he swung the whip through the air. The boy refused. It was not because he was afraid of the lash—he was used to that at home—but it was from shame; he had no undergarment, and as at the third command he pulled slowly off his coat there went a sob through the school. They saw then why he did not want to remove his coat, and they saw the shoulder-blades had almost cut through the skin, and a stout, healthy boy rose up and went to the teacher of the school [265]and said: "Oh, sir, please don't hurt this poor fellow; whip me; see, he's nothing but a poor chap; don't you hurt him, he's poor; whip me." "Well," said the teacher, "it's going to be a severe whipping; I am willing to take you as a substitute." "Well," said the boy, "I don't care; you whip me, if you will let this poor fellow go." The stout, healthy boy took the scourging without an outcry.[4] "Bravo," says every man—"Bravo!" How many of us are willing to take the scourging, and the suffering, and the toil, and the anxiety for other people! Beautiful thing to admire, but how little we have of that spirit! God give us that self-denying spirit, so that whether we are in humble spheres or in conspicuous spheres we may perform our whole duty—for this struggle will soon be over.

A CHRISTIAN HOUSEKEEPER.

One of the most affecting reminiscences of my mother is my remembrance of her as a Christian housekeeper. She worked very hard, and when we would come in from summer play, and sit down at the table at noon, I remember how she used to come in with beads of perspiration along the line of [266]gray hair, and how sometimes she would sit down at the table and put her head against her wrinkled hand and say: "Well, the fact is, I'm too tired to eat." Long after she might have delegated this duty to others she would not be satisfied unless she attended to the matter herself. In fact, we all preferred to have her do so, for somehow things tasted better when she prepared them. Some time ago, in an express train, I shot past that old homestead. I looked out of the window and tried to peer through the darkness. While I was doing so one of my old schoolmates, whom I had not seen for many years, tapped me on the shoulder and said: "De Witt, I see you are looking out at the scenes of your boyhood." "Oh, yes," I replied, "I was looking out at the old place where my mother lived and died."

That night, in the cars, the whole scene came back to me. There was the country home. There was the noonday table. There were the children on either side of the table, most of them gone never to come back. At one end of the table my father, with a smile that never left his countenance even when he lay in his coffin. It was an eighty-six years' smile—not the smile of inanimation, but of Christian courage and of Christian hope. At the other end of the table was a beautiful, benignant, hard-working, aged Christian [267]housekeeper, my mother. She was very tired. I am glad she has so good a place to rest in. "Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord; they rest from their labors, and their works do follow them."