Having donned warm clothes and buckled myself into our Jeep this morning, I grumbled in my heart while driving to a Moms in Prayer meeting. Last week I finally got myself out the door to attend for the first time, so I’m still getting used to including this commitment in my weekly schedule. My regular morning routine on weekdays is to guide the children in getting ready for school, making sure they get there in time, then coming home for aaaahhhhh…. time off.
Self-discipline is an area in which I sorely lack. As I drove down the street grumbling about the need for this introvert to leave her warm home and a second cup of coffee, I remembered the following scene from Chapter Nine of Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park:
“Now,” said Mrs. Rushworth, “we are coming to the chapel …. Prayers were always read in it by the domestic chaplain, within the memory of many; but the late Mr. Rushworth left it off.”
“Every generation has its improvements,” said Miss Crawford, with a smile, to Edmund.
Mrs. Rushworth was gone to repeat her lesson to Mr. Crawford; and Edmund, Fanny, and Miss Crawford remained in a cluster together.
“It is a pity,” cried Fanny, “that the custom should have been discontinued. …. A whole family assembling regularly for the purpose of prayer is fine!”
“Very fine indeed,” said Miss Crawford, laughing. “It must do the heads of the family a great deal of good to force all the poor housemaids and footmen to leave business and pleasure, and say their prayers here twice a day, while they are inventing excuses themselves for staying away.”
“That is hardly Fanny’s idea of a family assembling,” said Edmund. “If the master and mistress do not attend themselves, there must be more harm than good in the custom.”
“At any rate, it is safer to leave people to their own devices on such subjects.” [Miss Crawford replied.] “Everybody likes to go their own way—to chuse their own time and manner of devotion. The obligation of attendance, the formality, the restraint, the length of time—altogether it is a formidable thing, and what nobody likes; and if the good people who used to kneel and gape in that gallery could have foreseen that the time would ever come when men and women might lie another ten minutes in bed, when they woke with a headache, without danger of reprobation, because chapel was missed, they would have jumped with joy and envy. Cannot you imagine with what unwilling feelings the former belles of the house of Rushworth did many a time repair to this chapel? The young Mrs. Eleanors and Mrs. Bridgets— starched up into seeming piety, but with heads full of something very different—especially if the poor chaplain were not worth looking at—and, in those days, I fancy parsons were very inferior even to what they are now.”
For a few moments she was unanswered. Fanny coloured and looked at Edmund, but felt too angry for speech; and he needed a little recollection before he could say, “Your lively mind can hardly be serious even on serious subjects. You have given us an amusing sketch, and human nature cannot say it was not so. We must all feel at times the difficulty of fixing our thoughts as we could wish; but if you are supposing it a frequent thing, that is to say, a weakness grown into a habit from neglect, what could be expected from the private devotions of such persons? Do you think the minds which are suffered, which are indulged in wanderings in a chapel, would be more collected in a [prayer] closet?”
“Yes, very likely. They would have two chances at least in their favour. There would be less to distract the attention from without, and it would not be tried so long.”
“The mind which does not struggle against itself under one circumstance, would find objects to distract it in the other, I believe; and the influence of the place and of example may often rouse better feelings than are begun with.”
(bold emphasis added; italics emphasis in original)
I can attest from my own experience that Jane Austen was right. My personal devotions are a shriveled, anemic thing—mostly because they have never been taught, developed and strengthened. I am the person who would lie abed ten extra minutes, headache or no. It’s difficult as an adult to develop new habits. But I look at my children and realize that I am doing very little to develop such habits within them. This is an area in which we can improve as a family. So, the question I must ask myself is: What am I going to do to make it happen?
As I drove this morning, I remembered this scene from Mansfield Park and smiled. I knew that better feelings would be roused by meeting with fellow moms to pray for our children and schools. I wasn’t disappointed.
I love Miss Crawford’s line, “… starched up into seeming piety …” In the wilds of Idaho, no one is starched up into anything. I am blessed to have the opportunity to meet and pray with people who possess authentic faith in Jesus.