Not for all sunshine, dear Lord, do we pray– We know such a prayer would be vain; But that strength may be ours to keep right on our way, Never minding the rain!
It is a great thing to be young, when every vein throbs with energy and life, when the rhythm of life beats its measures into our hearts and calls upon us to keep step with Joy and Gladness, as we march confidently down the white road which leads to the Land of our Desire. God made every young thing to be happy. He put joy and harmony into every little creature’s heart. Who ever saw a kitten with a grouch? Or a little puppy who was a pessimist? But you have seen sad children a-plenty, and we are not blaming the Almighty for that either. God’s plans have been all right, but they have been badly interfered with by human beings.
When a young colt gallops around the corral, kicking and capering and making a good bit of a nuisance of himself, the old horses watch him sympathetically, and very tolerantly. They never say; “It is well for you that you can be so happy–you’ll have your troubles soon enough. Childhood is your happiest time–you do well to enjoy it, for there’s plenty of trouble ahead of you!”
Horses never talk this way. This is a distinctively human way of depressing the young. People do it from a morbid sense of duty. They feel that mirth and laughter are foreign to our nature, and should be curbed as something almost wicked.
“It’s a fine day, today!” we admit grudgingly, “but, look out! We’ll pay up for it!”
“I have been very well all winter, but I must not boast. Touch wood!”
The inference here is that when we are healthy or happy or enjoying a fine day, we are in an abnormal condition. We are getting away with a bit of happiness that is not intended for us. God is not noticing, and we had better go slow and keep dark about it, or He will waken up with a start, and send us back to our aches and pains and our dull leaden skies! Thus have we sought to sow the seeds of despondency and unbelief in the world around us.
In the South African War, there was a man who sowed the seeds of despondency among the British soldiers; he simply talked defeat and disaster, and so greatly did he damage the morale of the troops that an investigation had to be made, and as a result the man was sent to jail for a year. People have been a long time learning that thoughts are things to heal, upbuild, strengthen; or to wound, impair, or blight. After all we cannot do very much for many people, no matter how hard we try, but we can contribute to their usefulness and happiness by holding for them a kind thought if we will.
There are people who depress you so utterly that if you had to remain under their influence they would rob you of all your ambition and initiative, while others inspire you to do better, to achieve, to launch out. Life is made up of currents of thought as real as are the currents of air, and if we could but see them, there are currents of thought we would avoid as we would smallpox germs.
Sadness is not our normal mental condition, nor is weakness our normal physical condition. God intended us to laugh and play and work, come to our beds at night weary and ready to sleep–and wake refreshed.
“As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he!” No truer words were ever spoken, and yet men try to define themselves by houses and lands and manners and social position, but all to no avail. The old rule holds. It is your thought which determines what manner of man you are. The respectable man who keeps within the law and does no outward harm, but who thinks sordidly, meanly, or impurely, is the man of all others who is farthest from the kingdom of God, because he does not feel his need, nor can anyone help him. Thoughts are harder to change than ways.
“Let the wicked man forsake his ways, and the unrighteous man his thoughts,” declared Isaiah long ago, and there is no doubt the unrighteous man has the hardest and biggest proposition put up to him.
When the power of thought is understood, there will be a change in our newspapers. Now the tendency is to ignore the good in life and underline the evil in red ink. If a man commits a theft, it will make a newspaper story, bought and paid for at regular rates. If it is a very big steal, you may wire it in and get telegraphic rates. If the thief shoots a man, too, send along his picture and you may make the story two columns. If he shoots two or three people, you may give him the whole front page, and somebody will write a book about him. It will sell, too. How much more wholesome would our newspapers be, if they published the good deeds of men and women rather than their misdoings. Why should not as much space be given to the man who saves a life, as is given to the man who takes a life? Why not let us hear more of the boy who went right, rather than of the one who went wrong? I remember once reading an obscure little paragraph about a man who every year a few days before Christmas sent twenty-five dollars to the Postal Department at Ottawa, to pay the deficit on Christmas parcels which were held up for insufficient postage. Such a thoughtful act of Christian charity should have been given a place on the front page, for in the words of Jennie Allen: “Life ain’t any too full of nice little surprises like that.” Why should people enjoy the contemplation of evil rather than good? Is it because it makes their own little contribution of respectability seem larger by comparison?
We have missed a great deal of the joy of life by taking ourselves too seriously. We exaggerate our own importance, and so if the honor or distinction or the vote of thanks does not come our way, we are hurt! Then, too, we live in an atmosphere of dread and fear–we fear poverty and hard work–we fear the newspapers and the neighbors, and fear is hell!
When you begin to feel all fussed up, worried, and cross, frayed at the edges, and down at the heel–go out and look up at the stars. They are so serene, detached, and uncaring! Calmly shining down upon us they rebuke the fussiness of our little souls, and tell us to cheer up, for our little affairs do not much matter anyway.
The earthly hope men set their hearts upon Turns ashes, or it prospers–and anon Like snow upon the desert’s arid face, Cooling a little hour or two–is gone! It is a great mistake for us to mistake ourselves for the President of the company. Let us do our little bit with cheerfulness and not take the responsibility that belongs to God. None of us can turn the earth around; all we can ever hope to do is to hit it a few whacks on the right side. We belong to a great system; a system which can convince even the dullest of us of its greatness. Think of the miracle of night and day enacted before our eyes every twenty-four hours. Right on the dot comes the sun up over the saucer-like rim of the earth, never a minute late. Think of the journey the earth makes around the sun every year–a matter of 360,000,000 miles more or less–and it makes the journey in an exact time and arrives on the stroke of the clock, no washout on the line; no hot box; no spread rail; no taking on of coal or water; no employees’ strike. It never drops a stick; it never slips a cog; and whirls in through space always on the minute. And that without any help from either you or me! Some system, isn’t it?
I believe we may safely trust God even with our affairs. When the war broke out we all experienced a bad attack of gloom. We were afraid God had forgotten us and gone off the job. And yet, even now, we begin to see light through the dark clouds of sorrow and confusion. If the war brings about the abolition of the liquor traffic, it will be justified. Incidentally the war has already brought many by-products which are wholly good, and it would almost seem as if there is a plan in it after all.
Life is a great struggle against gloom, and we could fight it better if we always remembered that happiness is a condition of heart and is not dependent on outward conditions. The kingdom of heaven is within you. Everything depends on the point of view.
Two prisoners looked out once through the bars, One saw the mud, the other saw the stars. Looking into the sky one sees the dark clouds and foretells rain, and the picnic spoiled; another sees the rift of blue and foretells fine weather. Looking out on life, one sees only its sad grayness; another sees the thread of gold, “which sometimes in the patterns shows most sweet where there are somber colors”! Happiness is a condition, and if you are not happy now, you had better be alarmed about yourself, for you may never be.
There was a woman who came with her family to the prairie country thirty-five years ago. They built a house, which in those days of sod roofs and Red-River frames seemed quite palatial, for had it not a “parlor” and a pantry and three bedrooms? The lady grieved and mourned incessantly because it had no back-stairs. In ten years they built another house, and it had everything, back-stairs, dumb-waiter, and laundry shoot, and all the neighbors wondered if the lady would be happy then. She wasn’t. She wanted to live in the city. She had the good house now and that part of her discontent was closed down, so it broke out in another place. She hated the country. By diligently keeping at it, she induced her husband to go to the city where the poor man was about as much at home as a sailor at a dry-farming congress. He made no complaint, however. The complaint department was always busy! She suddenly discovered that a Western city was not what she wanted. It was “down East.” So they went. They bought a beautiful home in the orchard country in Ontario, and her old neighbors watched development. Surely she had found peace at last–but she hadn’t. She did not like the people–she missed the friendliness of the new country; also she objected to the winters, and her dining-room was dark, and the linen closet was small. Soon after moving to Ontario she died, and we presume went to heaven. It does not matter where she went–she won’t like it, anyway. She had the habit of discontent.
There’s no use looking ahead for happiness–look around! If it is anywhere, it is here.
“I am going out to bring in some apples to eat,” said a farmer to his wife.
“Mind you bring in the spotted ones,” said she who had a frugal mind.
“What’ll I do if there are no spotted ones?” he asked.
“Don’t bring any–just wait until they do spot!”
Too many people do not eat their apples until they are spotted.
But we know that life has its tragedies, its heartaches, its gloom, in spite of all our philosophy. We may as well admit it. We have no reason to believe that we shall escape, but we have reason to hope that when these things come to us we will be able to bear them.
“Thou shalt not be afraid of the terror by day, nor of the arrow that flieth by night, nor for the pestilence that walketh in darkness, nor for the destruction that wasteth at noonday.”
You will notice here that the promise is that you will not be afraid of these things. They may come to you, but they will not overpower you, or destroy you utterly, for you will not be afraid of them. It is fear that kills. It is better to have misfortunes come, and be brave to meet them, than to be afraid of them all your life, even if they never come.
Gloom and doubt and fear paralyze the soul and sow it thick with the seeds of defeat. No man is a failure until he admits it himself.
Tramps have a way of marking gateposts so that their companions who may come along afterwards may know exactly what sort of people live inside, and whether it is worth while to ask them for a meal. A certain sign means “Easy people–no questions”; another sign means “Nothing stirring–don’t go in”; another means “Beat it or they’ll give you a job with lots of advice!” and still another means “Dog.” Every doubt and fear that enters your heart, or tries to enter, leaves its mark upon the gatepost of your soul, and it serves as a guide for every other doubt and fear which may come along, and if they once mark you “Easy,” that signal will act as an invitation for their twin brother “Defeat,” who will, without warning, slip into your heart and make himself at home.
Doubts and fears are disloyalty to God–they are expressions of a want of confidence in Him, but, of course, that’s what is wrong with our religion. We have not got enough of it. Too many of us have just enough religion to make ourselves miserable–just enough to spoil our taste for worldly pleasures and not enough to give us a taste for the real things of life. There are many good qualities which are only an aggravation if we have not enough of them. “Every good and perfect gift cometh from above.” You see it is not enough for the gift to be “good”–it must be “perfect,” and that means abundant. Too long we have thought of religion as something in the nature of straight life insurance–we would have to die to get the good of it. But it isn’t. The good of it is here, and now we can “lift” it every day if we will. No person can claim wages for half time; that’s where so much dissatisfaction has come in, and people have found fault with the company. People have taken up the service of God as a polite little side-line and worked at it when they felt like it–Sunday afternoons perhaps or rainy days, when there was nothing else going on; and then when no reward came–no peace of soul–they were disposed to grumble. They were like plenty of policy-holders and did not read the contract, or perhaps some agent had in the excess of his zeal made it too easy for them. The reward comes only when you put your whole strength on all the time. Out in the Middle West they have a way of making the cattle pump their own water by a sort of platform, which the weight of an animal will press down, and the water is forced up into a trough. Sometimes a blase old ox who sees the younger and lighter steers doing this, feels that he with his superior experience and weight will only have to put one foot on to bring up the water, but he finds that one foot won’t do, or even two. He has to get right on, and give to it his full weight. It takes the whole ox, horns, hoofs and tail. That’s the way it is in religion–by which we mean the service of God and man. It takes you–all the time; and the reward is work, and peace, and a satisfaction in your work that passeth all understanding. No more grinding fear, no more “bad days,” no more wishing to die, no more nervous prostration. Just work and peace!
Did you ever have to keep house when your mother went away, when you did not know very well how to do things, and every meal sat like a weight on your young heart, and the fear was ever present with you that the bread would go sour or the house burn down, or burglars would come, or someone would take sick? The days were like years as they slowly crawled around the face of the old clock on the kitchen shelf, and even at night you could not forget the awful burden of responsibility.
But one day, one glorious day she came home, and the very minute you heard her step on the floor, the burden was lifted. Your work was very much the same, but the responsibility was gone, and cheerfulness came back to your eyes, and smiles to your face.
That is what it feels like when you “get religion.” The worry and burden of life is gone. Somebody else has the responsibility and you work with a light heart. It is the responsibility of life that kills us, the worry, fear, uncertainty, and anxiety. How we envy the man who works by the day, just does his little bit, and has no care! This immunity from care may be ours if we link ourselves with God.
Think of Moses’ mother! There she was hired to take care of her own son. Doing the very thing she loved to do all week and getting her pay envelope every Saturday night. So may we. God hires us to do our work for Him, and pays us as we go along–the only stipulation being that we do our best.
“I have shown thee, O man, what is good!” declared Micah long ago. “What doth now the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, to love mercy and walk humbly with thy God!” In “walking humbly, doing justly, and loving mercy,” there is no place for worry and gloom; there is great possibility of love and much serving, and God in His goodness breaks up our reward into a thousand little things which attend us every step of the way, just as the white ray of light by the drop of water is broken into the dazzling beauty of the rainbow. The burning bush which Moses saw is not the only bush which flames with God, and seeks to show to us a sign. Nature spares no pains to make things beautiful; trees have serrated leaves; birds and flowers have color; the butterflies’ wings are splashed with gold; moss grows over the fallen tree, and grass covers the scar on the landscape. Nature hides her wounds in beauty. Nature spares no pains to make things beautiful, for beauty is nourishing. Beauty is thrift, ugliness is waste, ugliness is sin which scatters, destroys, integrates. But beauty heals, nourishes, sustains. There is a reason for sending flowers to the sick.
Nature has no place for sadness and repining. The last leaf on the tree dances in the breezes as merrily as when it had all its lovely companions by its side, and when its hold is loosened on the branch which bares it, it joins its brothers on the ground without regret. When the seed falls into the ground and dies, it does it without a murmur, for it knows that it will rise again in new beauty. Happy indeed is the traveler on life’s highway, who will read the messages God sends us every day, for they are many and their meaning is clear: the sudden flood of warm sunshine in your room on a dark and dreary afternoon; the billowy softness of the smoke plume which rises into the frosty air, and is touched into exquisite rose and gold by the morning sun; the frosted leaves which turn to crimson and gold–God’s silent witnesses that sorrow, disappointment and loss may bring out the deeper beauties of the soul; the flash of a bluebird’s wing as he rides gaily down the wind into the sunlit valley. All these are messages to you and me that all is well–letters from home, good comrade, letters from home!
God knew that some would never look Inside a book To know His will, And so He threw a varied hue On dale and hill. He knew that some would read words wrong, And so He gave the birds their song. He put the gold in the sunset sky To show us that a day may die With greater glory than it’s born, And so may we Move calmly forward to our West, Serene and blest!
In Times Like These by Nellie L. McClung