Thursday, February 14, 2013
I feel a little silly reviewing this book for two reasons:
#1 Most people have already read it.
#2 I'm sorta embarrassed that I'm not one of them.
I can remember reading portions of Stepping Heavenward in the past, as well as good meaty quotes that seem to turn up here and there among other author's books. (Elisabeth Elliot quotes Elizabeth Prentiss in some of her works, for example.) I can also remember reading it aloud to my daughters when they were younger, but for some reason or another we never finished it. Up until last week I had never read Stepping Heavenward from cover to cover.
This book has earned a place in my top five favorite books I've ever read. It's an amazing read and if you are like me and have somehow missed it, I truly hope to persuade you to get yourself a copy asap. (Although I'm a "real book" kinda gal myself, you can read it or download it to a Kindle for free here.)
Stepping Heavenward, written in 1869 by the hymn writer Elizabeth Prentiss, begins as a young woman named Katherine starts a journal on her 16th birthday. The year is 1831. Selfishness and rebellion are common throughout Katherine's first journal entries even though she tries her best to "be good" and "do more to please mother". Each time Katherine resolves to please God and others, she fails. Sometimes she has a mild disgust with herself for these faults, other times she is calloused and more self-focused then ever. Throughout it all, her faithful mother continues to pray for and exhort her daughter.
The journal continues to chronicle the events of Katherine's life but more importantly, her relationship to God and her deeper understanding of Him year by year. Katherine is no stranger to daily disappointments and well as misery and sufferings. Her disappointments begin soon after she begins married life, as within days of living as a couple, her husband requires her to undertake the care of his elderly father and mean-spirited sister when they come to live with the newlyweds. The two make Katherine miserable day in and day out and she must learn to live with them and eventually, to love them as God would have her to.
To me personally, the motherhood aspect of the book was tremendously encouraging and re-fueled my eternal perspective in bearing and training up children. One of the most famous quotes from the book I will share here, but with a bit more background. See, Katherine's health was ill-affected each time she gave birth. With each baby she grew more frail and money was scarce, yet she rejoiced with each child the Lord gave her, even as those around her didn't understand her joyful acceptance of children. Her sister-in-law attempted to discourage her:
...She says I shall now have one mouth the more to fill and two feet the more to shoe, more disturbed nights, more laborious days, and less leisure or visiting, reading, music, and drawing.
Well! This is one side of the story, to be sure, but I look at the other. Here is a sweet, fragrant mouth to kiss; here are two more feet to make music with their pattering about my nursery. Here is a soul to train for God; and the body in which it dwells is worthy all it will cost, since it is the abode of a kingly tenant. I may see less of friends, but I have gained one dearer than them all, to whom, while I minister in Christ's name, I make a willing sacrifice of what little leisure for my own recreation my other darlings had left me. Yes, my precious baby, you are welcome to your mother's heart, welcome to her time, her strength, her health, her tenderest cares, to her lifelong prayers! Oh, how rich I am, how truly, how wondrously blest!
Stepping Heavenward spanned Katherine's life from the teen years to a woman with grown children. For this reason, every woman who reads it will see herself in Katherine no matter what season of life she is in. More than that, you will identify with her continuous struggle with pride, selfishness, rebellion and lack of trust in God's sovereignty and when you close the book you will be stirred to love God more.
I could write a book about this book. I think it should be on every Christian's shelf and be re-read yearly. Yes, it has affected me. I feel that I understand God more, understand His love for me more, understand His instruments of teaching me through disappointments and afflictions....because of the words of Elizabeth Prentiss. Consequently, I will never sing this hymn of hers, the same again.