On Character — Chapter 1 “Sweetness and Strength” (Part 2)

Disciplined--a good soldier of Christ.

Disciplined–a good soldier of Christ.

More of Ms. Soulsby this Wednesday! It’s surprisingly difficult to choose just a few thoughts from each chapter–maybe simply because I’m realizing my own deficiencies of character as I read–but I will condense it a little more thoroughly going forward.

In the latter half of the first chapter, Ms. Soulsby condemns what she refers to “silly, sentimental friendships” as passion which “nearly always indicates a loveless nature.” [Ch. 1, pg. 14] These friendships are the sort of shallow attachments we girls are apt to form during high school, into which we pour much energy and affection, but do not really have any substance to them. They fall to the wayside later in life because–unfortunately–they had most to do with discussing other people from our social set rather than sharing proper interests or goals. Ms. Soulsby advises, “When you keenly enjoy talking about a person, hold your tongue,–you are on the verge of mischief!” [Ch. 1, pg. 13] Likewise she reminds us that “‘Silly women’ have no conversation except about themselves…” [Ch. 1, pg. 13] Nonetheless, she remarks that these friendships can be turned into worthy relationships, part of the “‘business of eternity.'” [Dr. Thomas Arnold, The Life and Correspondence of Thomas Arnold Vol 1, pg. 285]

She does eventually return to the theme which has meant so much to me–namely, “cultivat[ing] instant obedience to the tiniest call of duty…a soldier-like, well-drilled nature is not often liable to weak emotion and silly feelings, and can master them in any case.” [Ch. 1, pg. 16] The key to this cultivation is prompt obedience to conscience, which our author further describes as follows:

Prompt obedience to conscience is a habit which will clothe you, as with magic armour, in all future dangers. You cannot yet realize the difficulties of health and temperament and feelings which will probably beset you by-and-by, but you can forge the armour which will keep you safe through all, and that is why I care so tremendously…that you should learn duty-doing in trifles…Controlled feeling is the most powerful of forces…” [Ch. 1, pg. 17]

I feel ought to start writing Scripture references in my notes, as well, because all of the principles Ms. Soulsby lays out in practical terms are always biblically based. God calls us to immediate obedience to the promptings of the Holy Spirit [2 John 1:6], to put others’ needs above our own comfort [Philippians 2:3], to “enduring hardness as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.” [2 Timothy 2:4]

…but the same remedy applies to all these emotional feminine difficulties:–form the habit of doing your regular occupation and paying your customary dues of pleasantness to the world around you, no matter what frame of mind you are in–
‘The tasks in hours of insight willed
can be through hours of gloom fulfilled.’
“Strive for Reserve about your soul, Reserve about your affections, Reserve about your depression,–your sorest enemy is inside you and he is best fought by starvation!”

I love how she brings home the lesson–of course we ought to be stalwart and bear great difficulties when we are faced with them, but can I have a general air of peace and warm cordiality when I have a headache? Can I laugh it off when someone spills my coffee or messes up my order? These are the simplest of Christian duties to pay, and sometimes the ones I feel most entitled to shrug off for one reason or another.

The last bit about Reserve is touches on the extraordinarily simple truth, oft overlooked, that we don’t need to share every detail of our personal lives with everyone–and that we grow more by refraining. I wonder what Ms. Soulsby would think of social media! Put into practice, it means that I ought to be taking always to my prayer closet, less often to close friends, and never to a public forum to garner sympathy.

Aren’t these impossible ideals? I must answer that in my own strength, even if I could form the habits, these characteristics would be meaningless and self-serving (who doesn’t want to be more likeable?). However, in God’s hands, my soul becomes moldable–a conduit for His work.

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