Wednesday, July 24, 2013

From the Day Book: Hannah More

My collection of quotes and small readings keeps growing, and I often find myself wanting to ruminate on them. Today, it's this quote from Hannah More that has me thinking.

More, by the way, was a member of the Clapham Sect, a group of British Christians responsible, in part, for the healthy reforming of English society and the abolition of slavery in Great Britain. She was also a devotional writer.


"Remember that life is not entirely made up of great evils or heavy trials. The perpetual recurrence of petty evils and small trials is the ordinary and appointed way to mature our Christian graces. To bear with the moodiness of those about us, with their infirmities, their bad judgments, their perverse tempers; to endure neglect where we feel we have deserved attention, and ingratitude where we expected thanks — to bear with the whole company of disagreeable people whom Divine Providence has placed in our way, and whom God has perhaps provided on purpose for the trial of our virtues — these are the best exercises for our graces; and the better because not chosen by ourselves. To meekly bear with . . .

continual vexations in our homes,
disappointments in our expectations,
interruptions in our times of rest,
the follies, intrusions, and disturbances of others;
in short, to meekly bear with whatever opposes our will and contradicts our desires is the very essence of self-denial. These constant, inevitable, and lesser evils, properly improved, furnish the best moral discipline for the Christian."
~Hannah More

 "The perpetual recurrence of petty evils and small trials" -- that covers a lot of our every-day lives, doesn't it? If we're honest, most of us don't deal with the big stuff on a regular basis: the major evils, the ordeals and trials that feel too heavy to bear. While we can be thankful that is not the stuff of every-day, sometimes the "small stuff" can be the most wearing...but also the most useful in terms of training us in holiness, "the best exercises for our graces."
I love the thought that graces, virtues, holy habits, need exercise. And we get the best exercise through learning to bear with those little things that almost drive us crazy. The tweak I would add to More's words above is that we don't just have to deal with *other* people's moodiness, infirmities, bad judgements, irritable tempers -- but with our own. Chances are, we've all been the "disagreeable person" that someone else has learned their graces through, and sometimes bearing with someone else's shortcomings can feel easier than bearing with our own. This is why we need times when we're just full-out honest before God, confessing to him all the petty stuff in our own hearts and letting him wash us clean. 
Self-denial isn't a very easy thing for most of us (and we like to relegate it to seasons, like Lent) but when we stop to consider, we really practice some form of it every day. Whenever we put aside our preferences and comfort for the sake of someone else's, that's a form of self-denial. It doesn't have to be a big deal, and if we've "done our exercises," hopefully we'll discover after a time that we do the small forms without thinking about it. Such actions become second nature -- literally a "second nature," because it's really only possible for us to live in such loving, freeing ways because we've been freely loved and forgiven. Life being what it is, generally once we learn one lesson we need to learn, in bearing with our own or someone else's frailties, we discover that's just a step toward learning something else we need to learn. We grow, we learn, and God stretches us to keep learning and growing. It's a lifelong process, and Jesus is unfailingly patient and kind as we fall down, get back up, and try again.  He sees who we are and who we are becoming, and he gives us the strength we need.

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