The Legacy of a Great Mother

No doubt, among the most influential Christian leaders who ever lived was the amazing John Wesley who, along with his brother, Charles, “founded the Methodist movement within the Church of England.” And John Wesley writes simply, “I learned more about Christianity from my mother than from all the theologians in England.” 

If you read even a little about Susanna Wesley, you’ll get a picture of an incredible lady of faith. The quality of Susanna’s and John’s relationship is portrayed particularly beautifully in the letters they wrote each to the other, some of which have survived.

Susannah was the 25th of 25 children, and she gave birth to 19 of her own, 10 of which survived infancy. She not only gave her children physical life, she led them to spiritual life in Christ and, in the process, touched, and continues to touch millions.

“There are two things to do about the gospel,” Susanna Wesley wrote. “Believe it and behave it.”

She had no doubt about the importance of the role and responsibility of parents in training their children. “Subduing the will” of the child was a gift of love meant to make present and eternal blessing for the child (and those whose lives intersected the child’s) real and possible. She refused to let her children grow up stunted, living undisciplined lives, crippled and chained by their own selfish and shifting passions. “The child that never learns to obey his parents in the home will not obey God or man out of the home.” Susanna “believed that for a child to grow into a self-disciplined adult, he/she must first be a parent-disciplined child.”

In the Wesley home, the task of teaching and raising the children fell almost completely to Susanna as her husband, Samuel, to put it charitably, lived with his head in the clouds, was often away, and was much less than helpful. An internet search will quickly lead you to Susanna’s “16 Rules of Parenthood.” With only minor differences in detail, they could easily have been written by my own mother. Most striking to me is the combination of her deep love  for her children coupled with high standards. She loved her Lord and knew that freedom and blessing were found in submitting to him. She would require their obedience, even as she would never be stingy with her love. (My mother, for sure!)

Lying was not tolerated, and, to reinforce truth-telling, she would “punish no fault” which was “first confessed and repented of.” She would “never allow a sinful act to go unpunished,” but she would “never punish a child twice for a single offense.”

She tried her best to be completely fair. I get the feeling that she intuitively knew the truth that James Dobson would write about many years later: A wise parent knows the difference between childish irresponsibility (dealt with patiently) and willful defiance (which a wise and loving parent will punish swiftly and decisively, to the great benefit of all). The children were to know that (what we’d call) spanking was more than theoretically possible.

No eating between meals, she said. No fussing about taking medicine. Children were to be in bed by 8:00 p.m. (and, she mentions elsewhere, they were expected to be able to go to sleep on their own).

No child was ever to receive anything it “cried for” or requested impolitely. “Property rights” were inviolable. (You don’t mess with other people’s stuff!) Both child and parent were to “strictly observe all promises.” The children were taught to pray as soon as they could speak, and they were expected to be “still during family worship.”

Her “rules” make it clear that, far ahead of her time, Susanna gave the education of the girls the same priority as the education of the boys, and that, though she was strict, she required herself to “comment and reward good behavior.”

Susanna expected and required much of her children, but all of her discipline of them was meant to be fair and just and to allow them to grow “capable of being governed by reason and piety.” She loved them fiercely and, as they certainly came to realize, required more of herself than she did of them. What an incredibly wise and devoted woman!

I can’t imagine how my mother spent so much time with Susanna Wesley, but it certainly seems that she did.

You’re invited to visit my website, and I hope you’ll take a look there at my new “Focus on Faith” Podcast. At the website, just click on “Podcast.” Blessings!

Copyright 2023 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

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