My friend writes a great blog. She wrote today about a letter she read that was written by Susanna Wesley, to her son, John Wesley. Carla asked me to read it and give her my input. I love the discussions Carla and I have regarding just about anything so I jumped at the chance. I tried to comment on her blog but I am too wordy and after cutting tons of points out of my response, my comment was still too long. In desperation I have decided simply to link to Carla's article and post my opinion here. I am lazy and verbose, a bad combination I admit. Carla's article is here. And the Susanna Wesley letter which Carla has painstakingly typed out can be found on her blog or here.
And now for my opinion....
I love this letter and I think this woman was brilliant. Absolutely brilliant and spot on with what we now know about how people learn best. The first thing she did was set her children into a routine. Studies show children do far better and are more confident when they know what is expected of them and when they have regular sleep and meals.
Perhaps our initial reaction to reading that her children were taught to fear the rod at one or before is because the word rod makes us certain that the children were beaten into submission with an instrument of torture. Perhaps we ourselves have had a ruler cracked over our hands or something similarly painful and assume that this is what she meant. I am not convinced that she wasn't using a phrase or idiom that simply meant discipline. Should a child of one be disciplined? Yes. It's done all the time. So what about teaching them to cry softly? What is wrong with that? Are we assuming that inhumane methods were used? What's wrong with teaching a child to suffer the consequences of not having whatever it is they want or whatever punishment was meted out to them without allowing them to make others in the household miserable?
It seems to me that she is loving mother concerned with her children's overall welfare. The children are rocked while sleeping, not confined to three meals until their bodies are strong enough to bear it and taught everything to keep them from future misery. Kmart and Walmart were not available, why would you allow a child to select what they wanted to eat? I think this freedom is one of the reasons I am fat like most of Western culture. Food is not life sustaining, it is enjoyment. How many children would make wise nutritional choices when left to their own devices?
As for conquering a child's will and leaving room for the Holy Spirit to change them, the two are not the same thing. It is perfectly acceptable to break a child's will so that their behavior meets a godly standard while allowing the Holy Spirit to change their heart. Behaviorism and a changed heart are not the same thing. She said her children were DISPOSED to piety, not that they were pious. She did all she could to mould their behaviors, teach them manners and incline them to piety.
Desire often follows habit. I think it is common to be prone to legalism prior to being saved. I don't think there is anything she's said that says she raised her children under this formula to assure their salvation but rather to give them every opportunity to see piety and discipline as a good and reasonable thing. She seems to have treated her children according to their abilities with some receiving their training earlier because of their ability or need.
I was raised by a tyrant and so I can fully understand a natural aversion to the language and the early age of her children's training. However, given the culture, times and resources available I am not distressed by her words. I am in awe that she had the wisdom to see that the lack of discipline was injurious and abusive. As is discipline that is too harsh and capricious. We ask entirely too little of our children given the ease with which we survive. The numbers of children we have in trouble with the law, on drugs or suicidal reflects how little they respect or value God, their parents and themselves. They are victims of their appetites and parents who want to befriend them with permissiveness and understanding and what they need is a little more shock and awe, starting with their parents. Parents need to be held in check when they are too harsh and exasperate children. Sin effects both roles, parent and child. Parenting is the hardest thing I have ever done and wouldn't want to be starting again. Of course Mrs Wesley had different challenges in raising her children than we currently have but she had the same God. Our Lord's standards don't change with the times and may He be forever praised for that!