Stepping Heavenward: Four Ways to Peace

Stepping Heavenward: Four Ways to Peace December 20, 2019

Stepping Heavenward, Chapter XIII

This chapter opens with Lucy’s 15th birthday, March 1st. Lucy, as you remember, is Katy’s Aunty’s daughter, who was adopted and sometimes treated somewhat dismissively, but who has been in everyone’s good favor ever since she saved the life of little Emma, Aunty’s biological daughter.

Aunty sent for us all to dine with her to-day to celebrate Lucy’s fifteenth birthday. Ever since Lucy behaved so heroically in regard to little Emma, really saving her life, Ernest says Aunty seems to feel that she cannot do enough for her.

For her birthday, Lucy asked Aunty if they could invite Katy’s mother to come stay for a visit—Lucy has taken quite a linking to Katy. Katy’s mother stays for nearly two months, much to Katy’s delight. She immediately “found out something to like in father, and then something good in Martha.” In fact, Katy’s mother tells her that she should appreciate everything Martha does to economize, and all of her work in the running of the household.

“For my part, it is a great relief to me to know that with your delicate health you have this tower of strength to lean on.”

I am baffled by this, because later in this very chapter Aunty writes a letter to Katy’s mother lamenting how awful and horrid Martha is, and how she treats Katy.

Tower of strength to lean on, my ass.

But that’s not the theme of this section! The theme of this section is this:

I have just been to see Mrs. Campbell. In answer to my routine of lamentations, she took up a book and read me what was called, as nearly as I can remember, “Four steps that lead to peace.”

“Be desirous of doing the will of another rather than thine own.”

“Choose always to have less, rather than more.”

“Seek always the lowest place, and to be inferior to every one.”

“Wish always, and pray, that the will of God may be wholly fulfilled in thee.”

I was much struck with these directions; but I said, despondently:

“If peace can only be found at the end of such hard roads, I am sure I shall always be miserable.”

Um. No. This is bad.

There’s a lot to be said for accepting things you can’t change. I have been in situations—particularly on family vacations, it always seems—where everything seems to go wrong and I realize that I can either be miserable or I can find a way to have a good time despite everything. I’ve sometimes thought of it as shaping memories—do I really want to remember this vacation by everything that went wrong?

So, yes, the attitude one brings to one’s circumstances is important. But this? This is crap. “Choose always to have less, rather than more.” “Be desirous of doing the will of another rather than thine own.” “Seek always the lowest place, to be inferior to every one.” The only one of that makes any sense is the last one: “Wish always, and pray, that the will of God may be wholly fulfilled in thee.” I mean, sure, it only makes sense from a Christian perspective, but it’s not as overtly harmful as the others.

I get not putting yourself forward. I get working on being content with what you have. But this? This is taking things way farther than it makes any sense to take them. But don’t worry! We’ll see its utter absurdity revealed in a moment!

The one helpful thing Mrs. Campbell tells Katy is this:

“But do you see, with equal clearness, that your sanctification must be as fully His gift, as your salvation is?”

“No,” I said, after a little thought. “I have had a feeling that He has done His part, and now I must do mine.”

“My dear,” she said, with much tenderness and feeling, “then the first thing you have to do is to learn Christ.”

Katy has been very distracted by trying and trying to become sanctified—to become a better person. She has almost worn herself out over it. The idea that sanctification is a gift God gives her—and not something she must work out—sounds almost relaxing by contrast.

Of course, that might open a whole host of other problems itself, but at this point I’m solidly on team Katy needs to relax a little.

Speaking of relaxing! Katy has a baby on October 4th. We hear nary a word of it until that day, when Katy’s diary gives way to a flurry of letters to her mother—letters from Ernest, from Aunty, and from James, Katy’s brother who lives with them—announcing the birth of “a very fine little boy.” So we can say for sure at this point that this book was definitely written in the 19th century.

Katy is in awe of her baby, to the extent that Ernest’s father accuses her of idolatry. Because of course he does. I was practically cheering for her when she pushed back:

‘But, father,” I persisted, “God gave me this child, and He gave me my heart, just as it is.”

But I promised you some followup too Mrs. Campbell’s four steps that lead to peace, didn’t I? Well, we’re there. It is now Katy and Ernest’s 2nd wedding anniversary, January 16, 1839.

After dinner [Ernest] gave me a book I have been wanting for some time, and had asked him for-“The Imitation of Christ.” Ever since that day at Mrs. Campbell’s I have felt that I should like it, though I did think, in old times, that it preached too hard a doctrine. I read aloud to him the “Four Steps to Peace”; he said they were admirable, and then took it from me and began reading to himself, here and there. I felt the precious moments when I had got him all to myself were passing away, and was becoming quite out of patience with him when the words “Constantly seek to have less, rather than more,” flashed into my mind. I suppose this direction had reference to worldly good, but I despise money, and despise people who love it, The riches I crave are not silver and gold, but my husband’s love and esteem. And of these must I desire to have less rather than more? I puzzled myself over this question in vain, but when I silently prayed to be satisfied with just what God chose to give me of the wealth I crave, yes, hunger and thirst for, I certainly felt a sweet content, for the time, at least, that was quite resting and quieting.

Um. No. Wow.

See, this is the problem with these “four steps to peace.” Katy gets it in her head that it means she should work to desire less love and esteem from her husband. Actually, it’s worse than that. The exact rule is “Constantly seek to have less, rather than more.” So she’s supposed to seek to have less love and esteem from her husband. What does that even look like? Getting drunk and making a fool of herself at a party—to try to drive down her husband’s esteem for her?

But of course, Katy doesn’t ever have to actually puzzle that out:

And just as I had reached that acquiescent mood Ernest threw down his book, and came and caught me in his arms.

“I thank God,” he said, “my precious wife, that I married you this day. The wisest thing I ever did was when I fell in love with you and made a fool of myself!”

What a speech for my silent old darling to make! Whenever he says and does a thing out of character, and takes me all by surprise, how delightful he is! Now the world is a beautiful world, and so is everybody in it.

Sweet. Problem solved. She gets to have her cake and eat it too.

Actually, there was one hint of Katy’s pregnancy, which I didn’t see on the first read-through, and only noticed after getting to the letters announcing the baby’s birth.

This, two months before the baby’s birth:

I feel a perfect weight of depression that makes me a burden to myself and to poor Ernest, who, after visiting sick people all day, needs to come home to a cheerful wife. But he comforts me with the assurance that this is merely physical despondency, and that I shall get over it by and by. How kind, how even tender he is! My heart is getting all it wants from him, only I am too stupid to enjoy him as I ought.

Poor Katy still very much up and down.

Oh—and also, in her letter to Katy’s mother after the birth of Katy’s baby, Aunty wrote the following:

I need not add that our darling Katy behaved nobly. Her self-forgetfulness and consideration for others were really beautiful throughout the whole scene. The doctor may well be proud of her, and I took care to tell him so ill presence of that dreadful sister of his. I never met so angular, so uncompromising a person as she is in all my life. She does not understand Katy, and never can, and I find it hard to realize that living with such a person can furnish a wholesome discipline, which is even more desirable than the most delightful home. And yet I not only know that is true in the abstract, but I see that it is so in the fact. Katy is acquiring both self-control and patience and her Christian character is developing in a way that amazes me. I cannot but hope that God will, in time, deliver her from this trial; indeed, feel sure that when it has done its beneficent work He will do so.

It would have been nice if Katy’s mother could have taken a moment to understand, when she visited, why Katy so hates living with Martha. Sure, Martha helps the family economize and has taken on much of the burden of running the household, but couldn’t she do this without treating Katy like shit?

See for instance this, which Katy wrote after the baby was born:

During my whole sickness, Martha has been so hard, so cold, so unsympathizing that sometimes it has seemed as if my cup of trial could not hold another drop. She routed me out of bed when I was so languid that everything seemed a burden, and when sitting up made me faint away. I heard her say to herself, that I had no constitution and had no business to get married.

So that’s fun.

But it’s good for Katy! Living with someone who is mean and wantonly cruel is building her character! Being bullied in her own home is making her a better person! So it’s all to the good!

I’m sure you could work that into at least one of the “four steps to peace,” if not all four.

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