Advice to Readers on Managing the World

For many years Isabella wrote a popular advice column for a Christian magazine. She used the column to answer readers’ concerns—from a Christian perspective—on a variety of topics.

In 1912 she received a letter from a shy young woman who didn’t want her name or letter printed for fear she might be identified; so, Isabella summarized the young lady’s question.

The situation in brief is this: She is away from home earning her living as a bookkeeper, and is a member of a young people’s religious organization, which she enjoys on Sundays, but with their week-day social life she is not in sympathy. They, it seems, “dance a good deal.” They go frequently to the theater, not being “over particular” as to the plays they choose, “although multitudes of good Christian people older than they go to the same plays.” They are very frequent attendants at the moving-picture shows, where pictures that she, at least, does not approve, are being constantly shown.

Black and white illustration of young men and women greeting each other on the street.

They take evening walks, long ones, with young men, and frequent candy stores and ice-cream saloons, and accept “treats” from the men, and talk loud on the streets and laugh a great deal; and, in short, do not appear to be of her world at all.

The question is, how shall she manage this world in which she finds herself? Shall she mingle occasionally with the others in the least objectionable of their doings, even though they are not to her taste? Or shall she hold herself aloof from them altogether and bear the stigma of “prig” and ‘‘prude” and names of that sort? She has reason to think that she has already gained the ill-will of some by her “offishness,” and “almost thinks” that in order to win an influence over them she must sacrifice her own views and cater to theirs.

Illustration of a young woman and man approaching a second woman, who appears unsure if she wants to speak with them.

Here is Isabella’s advice:

This dear girl, who is not yet twenty, imagines that these conditions are peculiar to herself, whereas the fact is that she has presented a fair picture of the church and the world in one of the great problems that confront us today. It takes varying forms. In some places it is outspoken and aggressive. In others it is mild and insinuating. It is sometimes very cultured and sometimes it is bald and coarse, but whatever its guise, it is the same old spirit of worldliness that in some form is all but sure to meet and attack the young and growing Christian.

The most insidious of its attacks, the most specious of its arguments, is to try to convince the young person that in order to win others to His side she must yield certain of her—not principles; oh, no, indeed!—but “notions,” not allowing herself to become conspicuous in any way so as to be marked as “peculiar” or “narrow.” There is a class of people in the world today who seem to have discovered that the unpardonable sin is “narrowness.”

It is not so important to get the opinion of any individual with regard to this whole matter, as it is to find what the Guide Book says. It is very explicit. From its first hint, given by the Master himself—to the effect that he was not of this world and that the world hated him before it hated his disciples— to his distinct statement that in the world they should have tribulation, there is a steadily cumulative testimony that “the friendship of the world is enmity with God.”

Illustration of a young woman entering a room where a second woman is seated, reading a book.

This being conceded as the state of things foretold, of what use is it to talk about compromising in order to win the world?

When it is distinctly understood and frankly acknowledged that there is and has always been, and always will be, antagonism between the world and a follower of Jesus Christ, until that time comes when “he whose right it is shall reign,” it clears the whole question up wonderfully.

There are four rules that, being set down as a guide post for our daily living, may clear the atmosphere. They might be formulated somewhat in this way:

  1. I will carefully and prayerfully distinguish between principles and “notions,” studying at the same time the trade-marks of worldliness as set down in the Guide Book.
  2. I will give up in Christ’s name and for Christ’s sake all mere “notions” that, being examined, fail to bear the superscription of the Master, but seem to have been born of prejudice and self-will.
  3. I will yield not one hair’s breadth of principle, even though I lose, or seem to be losing, my influence over every human being. “To his own Master he standeth or faileth.”
  4. I will uphold principles which I believe honor Christ, in the spirit that he has directed, cultivating daily love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, faith, meekness.

May I, in closing, remind you of the secret of Christian influence? It is never in compromise of principle but adherence in gentleness, in meekness, in long-suffering; “against such there is no law.”

There is a kind of sledge-hammer adherence that wounds, and stings, and repels; the law of Christ is against it, and it fails. The other war, in the long run, sometimes through tribulation, wins.

Remember who it was who said: “Be of courage, I have overcome the world.”


What did you think of the advice Isabella gave?

Have you ever had to make choices similar to the ones the young bookkeeper described?

Did you know …

Isabella often referred to the Bible as “the Guide Book” because (as she said in Four Girls at Chautauqua) it held “the light” and instruction to guide believers on their Christian journeys.

Advice to Readers on Memorizing Bible Verses

For many years Isabella wrote a popular advice column for a Christian magazine. She used the column to answer readers’ questions on a variety of topics.

In 1916 a Sunday-school teacher wrote to Isabella about a unique problem.

Here is her letter:

I want to know if you think there is any use in a woman past thirty—who has never been in the habit of committing to memory—trying to learn Bible verses by heart? Our pastor wants the Sabbath-school children trained to commit their lessons to memory, or at least to commit a verse a day, and he wants the teachers to set them an example; but I find it very hard to do, never having been accustomed to it. Would you say you couldn’t?

Illustration of hand holding the Bible.

Here is the advice Isabella gave her:

Indeed, I would not. There is every use in it, and there is no good reason why you should not conquer and be far richer in your own life, as well as being able to set a good example.

Nearly all Bible verses are capable of careful analysis, and the finding out exactly what they say goes a long way toward fixing the word on the memory. Let me illustrate by the verse I am memorizing this morning, Romans 1:5:

“Through whom we received grace and apostleship, unto obedience of faith among all the nations, for his name’s sake.”

Notice those four short words: “Through,” “unto,” “among,” “for.” They are pegs on which the thoughts hang. My attention once called to them, my mind naturally asks questions:

Through what? Unto what? Among whom? For what?

Getting those four statements fastened to their connecting word gave me the verse. And what an amazing verse it is! Well worth memorizing, and living by. Already this morning I have several times been reminded that my tardy and faulty obedience is due to my lack of faith in God’s assured word. I need to pray for the “obedience of faith.”

Photograph dated about 1915 of woman sitting in wooden chair, reading a book.

I must not take time to talk about my verses. This is only to illustrate how readily they can be picked to pieces in a way to aid the memory.

One thought I must add: Don’t fail to memorize chapter and verse. I have spent precious hours in looking for the whereabouts of verses with which I was perfectly familiar.

Pansy.

What do you think of the advice Pansy gave?

What tips or advice would you give someone who is just beginning to memorize Bible verses?

Advice to Readers on Praying Aloud in Public

For many years Isabella served as an editor and contributor to a Christian magazine in which she had a very popular advice column. She used the column to answer readers’ concerns—from a Christian perspective—on a variety of topics.

One letter came from a woman who was having trouble overcoming a very common problem: She was terrified of praying aloud in front of other people.

Antique illustration of women praying in church.

The writer described herself as a grown woman, “not very young” of age. She believed it was her duty to pray before others in Sunday-school class or at prayer meetings, but she found it “almost impossible” to do so. Even when she planned out what to say ahead of time, she would forget, and stammer and stutter; and she often ended her prayer feeling embarrassed and pledging never to pray before others again.

Here is the advice Isabella gave her:

First, let me assure you that your “name is Legion.” As a worker among those that are moving toward middle age, I have found this feeling a constant hindrance.

My friend, by all means persevere, no matter how much you stumble, nor how many carefully-thought-out sentences you “forget.” Stammering lips often carry a message straight to the throne of God, and it is to God that we speak when we pray.

Do not let Satan blind you with that specious argument of his that you cannot pray to “edification.” That is not the first object of prayer. Moreover, God often uses the stammering tongue for his glory. I remember and am helped to this day by the thought of the hesitating, sometimes broken, sentences of a dear father who thought that he could not pray aloud.

Young woman dressed in black with white lace collar and cuffs is seated at a table. A Bible is open on the table and her hands are clasped together on top of the open Bible.

Now for a few hints that I have found helpful:

First: Cultivate the habit of praying in an audible voice when alone in your room. Perhaps no one thing will give you self-control more speedily than this. We are creatures of habit, and when we have grown accustomed to the daily sound of our own voices when on our knees, habit, after a little, asserts itself when we kneel before others. Because of habit, the kneeling posture is, I think, the most helpful one to assume, even in public prayer, wherever this is feasible.

Next, grow very familiar with Bible prayers, those terse sentences pregnant with meaning:

“Create in me a clean heart, O Lord.”

“In thee, O Lord, do I put my trust.”

“Be thou to me a strong rock.”

“Send out thy light and thy truth.”

The Bible is very rich as a prayer-book. If we linger much among such petitions, habit will again come to our aid, and the Bible words will rush in upon us when we pray before others. When I was a beginner in public prayer, I used to write out certain of these Bible prayers that voiced my desires, and spread them before me, lest my memory should prove treacherous. I found this a good crutch for a time.

For a like reason I used sometimes to write out my own form of prayer, carefully avoiding set phrases and sentences that I should never think of using if alone, going over and over the form to make it simple and direct, and to be sure that it expressed only what I really felt. This I would read aloud, with bowed head; and it helped me in overcoming timidity.

Let me close as I commenced, with an urgent appeal to you to overcome the temptation to shirk this duty; and to resolve to conquer in His name.

Pansy

What do you think of Isabella’s advice?

Do you think her suggestions were helpful?

Advice to Readers Living Humdrum Lives

For many years Isabella served as an editor and contributor to a Christian magazine in which she had a very popular advice column.

Usually her column fielded questions from young people who needed help navigating adolescent life, but in 1912 Isabella published a letter from a grown woman who had a much more adult problem on her hands.

Here is her letter:

I do not belong to the young people, but all the same I’m going to try to get in and get help if I can. I belong to the hum-drum class. Do you know them? I haven’t a grievance in the world that is worthy of the name. I’m a farmer’s wife, living with my husband and one son of nineteen on a fairly prosperous farm.

My husband is a good, kind, hard-working man, and our son is following in his footsteps. We have comfortable and fairly convenient things about us and I don’t have to work too hard. Then what, in the name of common sense, do I want help about? It’s a fair question, and I can’t answer it. I’m not even sure that there is any common sense in my want; but I know that I’m not satisfied.

Mrs. Alden, we work and eat and sleep, and work and eat and sleep again; that’s the whole of our life. Now, is that living? I used not to think so. I married for love and I love my husband, and am sure he loves me, but it would scare either of us to mention it.

Oh, we go to church every Sunday; but we live out a couple of miles—too far, I suppose, for people to walk, and we know no one but the minister, who calls once a year; my boy is timid and doesn’t make acquaintances easily so he has none. We know a number of people by name, and bow to them when we meet, but that is all. We go nowhere, and see no one from month’s end to month’s end. We read, all of us, and have books, and papers, but we have a habit of reading by ourselves, and I don’t know that we ever talk about anything together. We have acquired habits of silence, except for the necessary words. Understand me, we are not cross or “grouty,” but we are each of us alone; and I, at least, am dreadfully lonesome. I have some rather nice clothes, but what is the use of wearing them? Neither husband nor son would know whether I wore a calico wrapper or a blue satin gown; I’ve given up dressing.

I could say a good deal more, but I presume I shall think by tomorrow that I have said a great deal too much. If you print any of this, sign it …

A Farmer’s Wife.

Here is Isabella’s Reply:

Your letter makes me want to tell you a little story about a home that was like, and yet unlike yours, in which I spent some pleasant months. Father, mother and a son past 25 made up the family. The parents were past middle age and lived out of town; the son was in business in town and boarded at home. The usual cares incident to country life were upon them, so that they were very busy people, but their home was the cheeriest, most home-like, most comfortable and restful place that could well be imagined. Even in their busy hours they gave one, somehow, the impression of abundant leisure; I think this was in part due to the fact that their time was carefully systematized.

They, too, went “to church every Sunday,” and had by dint of steady service and genial helpfulness made themselves such a power there that after a time they became not only known, but sought after and leaned upon. In the Sunday school, in the prayer meeting, in the young people’s societies, in the official work of the church, it came to be understood that they could be depended upon.

But it was not so much or such matters that I wished to talk as of the so-called trifles which, in their quiet home-life created an atmosphere that breathed out perfume. Your “nice clothes” reminded me of this home-keeper. She always looked the perfection of neatness and suitability when about her multiform household tasks, and she always carefully dressed for supper; and always there were flowers on the table.

Meal-time in the home was a genuine social gathering, at which time not only the pleasant happenings of the day were considered, but the larger news of the country, of all countries. The mother, although she often deplored the fact that she was not able to carry out her desire for a higher education, is nevertheless a well-educated, cultured woman; both father and mother made such splendid use of the opportunities they had as to be far above the average in general knowledge, and the life they live and the reading they do daily adds to their store.

They had also trained themselves in other ways. You, my friend, do not think husband or son would know whether you wore wrapper or house dress to the supper table, but I doubt that; it is rather that they, like a great many others, have become speechless about many things. This family tells out its pleasant thoughts.

One evening I came suddenly upon a little by-play not intended for my ears and sight. It chanced that the mother’s simple home dress was unusually becoming, and the gray-haired husband, calling her by a pet name, said, “You look pretty enough to kiss,” suiting the action to the word.

The wife’s little laugh showed her pleasure n the token, and also the fact that this was no amazing exception to general rules. As a matter of fact, this husband and wife never separated for even a few hours without exchanging good-by kisses.

“You see, we are a pair of old lovers,” the mother said to me one day, with a half apologetic laugh, adding immediately, “Why not? I never believed that love and kisses were to be confined to the young; do you?”

As for “the boy,” which is the way that father and mother fondly speak of him, he is a man in every sense of the word, taking a man’s part in business, in the church, in civic affairs, and has about him the masculine air of authority and protection, even when he piles the box high with wood, that his mother may take no extra steps, and the masterful air with which he takes the pail or the heavy pitcher from her hand and makes her sit, laughing, to rest a minute, while he waits upon her; yet nothing sweeter or stronger or more holy has been shown to me than the loving comradeship that exists between those two.

The son walks to and from his place of business, and his cheery voice can be heard in the early morning, and again at noon, after his keen eyes have swept kitchen, pantry and porch to see if perchance he may take some further step to save his mother.

“Come mother, are you ready?” and away they tramp down the long, tree-lined avenue to the “lower gate,” chatting, laughing, enjoying each other, for all the word like a boy and girl out for a lark. I have a shrewd suspicion, also, that this is sometimes the hour for confidences.

Once, the father, looking after them with tender eyes, said to me: “She always goes to the big gate with him. If it should have to be given up, I don’t know which would miss it most, the boy or his mother.” And one, an old man, looking thoughtfully after the two from an upper window, said, “Only a good man would care for that.”

Is my little sermon preached, dear friend? There is no humdrum living in that home. There might have been; all the conditions that can so easily degenerate into humdrumness are there; but outspoken love and unselfish service have glorified them.

What do you think of the advice Pansy gave?

Do you think it made a difference the  lives of the farmer’s wife and her family?

Quotable

One of Isabella’s great talents (out of many!) was her ability to state Christian truths simply and meaningfully. You can find examples of this in all her writings, from stories and Sunday school lessons, to daily Bible studies.

This “quotable” comes from her Daily Thoughts for June, a monthly column she wrote for The Pansy magazine:

Image of a bouquet of pansies with the words "Christ is the great Peace-maker, and all God's children should have the family likeness. - Isabella Alden"

You can follow these links to read all of Isabella’s Daily Thoughts columns: January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September, October, November, December.

You can find more of Isabella’s words of wisdom like the one above, which you can print and share. Just enter “quotables” in the search box on the right to see more.

Advice to Readers on Bashfulness

For many years Isabella served as an editor and contributor to a Christian magazine in which she had a very popular advice column. She used the column to answer readers’ concerns—from a Christian perspective—on a variety of topics.

This letter came from a teen in Kansas:

I want to ask if there is any way to overcome being painfully bashful. I am really a sufferer with this disease. I get good marks in school when the work is largely in writing, but as sure as I am called upon to talk, I am scared out of my wits.

In Voice Culture class it is the same. I am said to have a fine voice and my teachers say my “scares” are all that keep me back. I am always swallowing at the wrong place. I have been so humiliated by this drawback that there are times when I think I would like to run away where no one who knows me would ever see me again.

My dear mother is planning to have me go to college, and I know I shall fail on account of timidity; that is the only drawback, for I like to study.

Kansas.

Here is Isabella’s Reply:

Yours is by no means an uncommon affliction, dear friend. Indeed, it sometimes seems as though the world of young people was made up of two classes: those who have no timidity about anything and rush in where thoughtful persons hesitate, and those who, as the letters quoted from express it, are “painfully bashful.”

Before the remedy can be applied with any degree of success, the cause of the disease must be determined; and at the risk of having some of the afflicted start back in protesting dismay, I am going to diagnose it as pride, overweening self-esteem, egotism, any of the words by which we define undue self-consciousness.

Illustration of an 1888 classroom of young girls. One girl stands; she is holding a book, her head is bent and she holds up her arm to cover her face. The other students are seated; one tries to comfort the embarrassed student. Two others whisper and smile together; while two more are reading a book in the back. A teacher stands near the window of the room.

I know that to some it will sound like a contradiction to say that a timid person has too much self-esteem, yet I believe that in nine cases of “bashfulness” out of ten, this will be found to be the case. The remedy, therefore, suggests itself. Anything that will help us to forget ourselves entirely will go far toward removing the trouble: and there is really nothing else that is likely to do much good.

Photo dated about 1905 of a classroom of female students in their teens. One female students stands beside a large document hung on the wall and uses a pointer to indicate one section of the document. All other students are seeated at desks and are looking in her direction..
A student recites in history class. (Credit: Keystone-Mast Collection, UCR/California Museum of Photography, University of California at Riverside.

In a school recitation, if we have made such close and careful preparation that the subject has got hold of us and we are filled with admiration (or indignation, or curiosity) over the thoughts expressed by the author we study, it will be those thoughts and not ourselves that we will think about when we recite.

Photo dated about 1910. A teacher stands at the classroom blackboard where words and shapes are drawn, and points to one section of the blackboard. One little girl stands facing the teacher (her back to the camera) to answer the teacher's question. All other students sit at desks with their backs to the camera. Some students have their hands raised to answer the question.

In Voice Culture this is harder, because the inane syllables on which the pupil is compelled to practice afford no chance for thought; but as soon as one is allowed to sing words—if they are worth singing—the performer can train himself to be absorbed in the thought they express, and in the wonder that the human voice has power to render varying feeling and emotion; and in curiosity to see what range of expression he has himself, until he forgets entirely to wonder, or to fear, what other people think of his performance, and becomes an artist, lost in his art. Such a singer will not be troubled with timidity. Ordinary singers can train toward this height, and overcome self by degrees.

Illustration of a group of young people in a drawing-room about 1875. Some are seated, some are standing. One man sits at a piano and looks at a young  woman who stands beside the piano, singing and holding sheet music.

In social life the ideal way to overcome the form of self-consciousness that expresses itself in timidity, is to fix one’s attention on some other person, a stranger perhaps, or one not accustomed to society, who, for these or other reasons, is not having a good time; and resolve that he or she shall have a pleasant evening. The reflex result will astonish those who try it for the first time.

I knew a timid, shrinking girl, given to fancying herself awkward or stupid or conspicuous in some unpleasant way, who was one evening roused to sympathy for a young woman not so well dressed as the others, and evidently painfully aware of it. In struggling to make that one forget her too short dress and gloveless hands and other defects of costume and have a good time in spite of them, she forgot all about herself.

Illustration of two young women in old period dress, standing close together with a small branch of a pink flowering bush.

Here is what she told her mother on reaching home.

“We had a lovely time, mamma; and Miss Haven says I sang better than she ever heard me; that my voice didn’t tremble a bit. And don’t you believe I forgot all about being scared! I asked that Bennett girl to take the alto, and I was so interested in having her do well that I never once thought of how I was singing!”

A young woman stands holding sheet music and singing. Beside her another young woman is seated, playing a piano.

All of which goes to prove that the old, old rule which, being freely translated is: ”Think always of others and never mind about yourself.” It’s a good one to apply to the great, and the trivial acts of our lives. Once, a girl told me that she thought it would be irreverent to try to imagine what the Lord Jesus Christ thought of her when she stood up in class, or whether he was pleased with her work.

Do you know, I want no such Savior as that girl must have thought she had? I want one who knows our infirmities, “was tempted in all points” as we are, who is interested in the very hairs of our heads, and in the minutest trivialities of our daily lives. Suppose we thought much more about what he is thinking of us than we do? Would it help?

Pansy.

What do you think of Isabella’s advice to the teen in Kansas?

Advice to Readers about Boys and Books

For many years Isabella served as an editor and contributor to a Christian magazine in which she had a very popular advice column. She used the column to answer readers’ concerns—from a Christian perspective—on a variety of topics.

This letter came from a teen named Betsy:

Do you think there is any harm in girls of, say, fifteen to seventeen or eighteen, giving parties and inviting their boy friends? Some people seem to think so; what do you think?

I wish you would name a list of books for girl to read. Father doesn’t like me to read “Little Women” and such stories, and I’m sure I don’t know what is good if they are not.

Betsy.

Here is Isabella’s reply:

About the parties, Betsy, they belong to the class that the logicians call an “open question.” There are parties, and “parties.” A girl of fifteen, or sixteen, or seventeen, whose mother heartily approves the plan and joins with her daughter in making ready and in preparing the list of invitations—giving careful consideration to the names of the boys— and whose father and mother are to act as host and hostess, may safely give a party such as all her friends will approve and enjoy. In short, a party thoroughly mothered and fathered is, as a rule, a safe and pleasant place for young people to gather occasionally.

Note the use of that word “occasionally.” Even under the most favorable circumstances, with fathers and mothers as wise as serpents, parties are like rich cake; as an occasional luxury it is delicious and comparatively harmless; but used as a steady diet, interfering with substantial food, the normal appetite soon turns from it with dislike; and for the abnormal one, it works mischief.

Do you know, Betsy, I don’t more than half believe in the party that your question is planning. I more than half believe that either mother or father, or both, have been trying to convince you that you have not time, or, perhaps, strength, for such functions; perhaps, that there have already been too many parties in your circle this season; perhaps, that they cannot afford to indulge you in this matter; perhaps, that some of the boys, and even, possibly, certain of the girls, whom you wish to invite, are not such as they like to welcome as your friends; and you have not been convinced by them; hence your question.

If I am wrong in reading between the lines of your letter, forgive me; I may be wrongly judging you by others. I know such girls; indeed, I am answering their letters at this moment. through yours. I want to say to them that nothing is safer in this world than for girls of sixteen or seventeen, or any age that marks them as girls, to be guided by the judgment, by the fears, by the notions, even, of good mothers and fathers; and that just as surely as they break away from such advice and guidance, whether in the matter of parties or anything else, just as surely the day is coming when they will regret it. I am an old woman, and I am saying what I know is true. I have seen it bitterly regretted when it was too late.

About books. Lists, when they come from strangers, are doubtful helps. Personal tastes and acquirements, as well as the environment of the readers, must be taken into consideration to make them helpful.

I do not know your father’s reason for objecting to Little Women, but my personal objection to that and other volumes by the same gifted author is that, while charmingly written, they present views of life that are fascinating and false. Many of the characters described live beautifully, unselfishly, sacrificially, not for the sake of love, but for the sake of duty; and they do it steadily, climbing to the heights of self-abnegation, growing day by day in all the graces of the Christian religion, but they do it without a Savior. Jesus Christ is to them a friend, a guide, a beautiful pattern, but never a Redeemer. Such living is impossible. For this reason I deplore the charms of that class of books.

Betsy, dear, why not get that good father of yours to make a list of books that he would like you to read? I’m nearly certain that he would do it if you asked him, and equally certain that he would be gratified at the request.

When you get your list, let me beg you to begin at the beginning and read the books through carefully, conscientiously; not skimming a page, not skipping a line; even though they be as dry as chips baked in a summer’s sun and you fall asleep over them a dozen times. If he is the father that I think he is, I can predict the result with the certainty of a prophet.

I can even imagine a typical scene; a day when you will stand with one of the time-worn volumes in your hand, a dreamy look on your face, a tenderness in your voice, and an undertone of pathos, as you say:

I can never be grateful enough to my dear father for persuading me when I was a girl of sixteen to read this old book, and the others that were on the list he gave me. Some of them have had an abiding influence over my life. I truly believe that my taste for real literature of the best kind began to be formed while I was struggling through this first volume, for father’s sake. Dear father! He did a great deal more for me than he knew.

Believe me, Betsy, now is the time to plant seeds that may bloom, some day, over father’s grave. It will be blessed for you if you do such gardening now that if, in the faraway future, you stand one day beside the resting places of father and mother, there will be flowers of memory in your heart, instead of that thorny plant: “Oh, I wish I hadn’t!”

What do you think of Isabella’s advice to Betsy?

What To Do with Christmas Cards?

In a February 1883 issue of The Pansy magazine, Isabella turned an average question—What shall we do with Christmas cards we receive?—into a lesson for children in being thoughtful of others.

What Shall We Do with Our Christmas Cards?

All those bright pretty affairs that came flying in from the postman’s fingers at Christmas time to make us so happy—why can’t we make them give happiness to someone else the whole year? Someone sick and suffering, with little to brighten and amuse? Why, they would be very messengers of sweet charity to such.

Here is work for you, dear little Pansies who belong to the “P. S. Society.” Make a scrap book of all those cards which you think it right to give away, saying your whisper motto, For Jesus’ Sake, as you tuck in the dainty bit of color, and the pretty verses, then send it all on loving wing to the Children’s Ward of the hospital of your city.

Think of the eyes that will rest on it when the pain makes the tears come; think of the little ones who must lie on their beds, weary day after weary day, when you are running, and skating, and sleigh-riding!

And best of all, think how the children will love the book, just because some other child made it for them.

How many members of the “P. S.” will do this? Who will be first, I wonder?

If you want to make a very pretty book, cut leaves of white, and pink, and light blue cambric or sateen; tie them together at back with ribbon or braid, putting strings of same on front.

An 1869 home-made cloth scrapbook (from Worthpoint.com).

Paste all dark pictures on the white cloth; all delicately tinted ones on the colored cloth. The effect will be very lovely—I know the “Children’s Ward” will think so.

A cloth scrapbook from the 1860s (from RubyLane.com).

You can learn more about the “P.S. Society” and the “whisper motto, “For Jesus’ Sake” by clicking here.

Do you send and receive Christmas cards each year?

What creative things have you done with them once the holiday is over?

Advice to Readers about Forgiveness

In the early 1900s Isabella wrote a regular column for a Christian magazine in which she answered reader letters and offered advice—from a Christian perspective—on a variety of subjects.

The letter below came from a teen in California:

I am in sore need of help. I find that I cannot use the whole of the Lord’s Prayer. Our pastor talked last Sunday about the Lord’s Prayer being a “model,” but I cannot model my praying after it. The words that trouble me are, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.”

Now, there is one person whom I cannot forgive. She has purposely come between me and my best friends. She has said untrue things about me—dozens of them—and she loses no opportunity to be hateful to me.

How can I pretend to forgive such a creature? The last thing she wants is my forgiveness—why, she says that she despises me, and wouldn’t speak to me, nor stay in the same room with me for the world!

I cannot understand why I should be expected to forgive her. Even God doesn’t forgive people unless they ask him to, does he? And yet, the prayer says, “Forgive us our debts AS we forgive.” Doesn’t that mean that if I pray that prayer I am actually asking God to forgive me in the same way that I am forgiving her? That seems to me an awful prayer!

I want God to forgive me: and I want to serve him, yet it seems as though that said I mustn’t ask him, because I cannot forgive her! I don’t understand it, and I don’t know what to do. And there is that verse about “loving your enemies”—that is simply impossible! And yet I do truly love Jesus and want to follow him. What shall I do?

Here’s how Isabella responded to her letter:

Undoubtedly your pastor is right, and the Lord Jesus gave us a “model prayer.” Yet the phrase you quoted has not the exact meaning you give to it. It is not a challenge to God to treat us, in the matter of forgiveness, just as we are treating somebody else; it is rather our acknowledgment to God that we have obeyed his directions.

Do you remember that in the chapter preceding the one with the Lord’s Prayer, the words of Jesus are plainer and stronger than those in the prayer? When you go to pray and remember that your brother has something against you, go first and be reconciled to him, then come and offer your gift of prayer.

The duty of forgiveness is so plainly and repeatedly taught in the Bible that there is no way of escaping it. Nor are we by any means to wait to be asked. Note the language of that direction in Mat. 5:23:

“And there rememberest that thy brother hath aught against thee.”

Not even necessarily you against him but he against you.

You speak of God having to be asked before he forgives, but you forget what is involved. When God forgives, he absolves from sin, and presents eternal life; and the plan of salvation is, there is no compulsion, the sinner is free, he may accept or refuse, but forgiveness, remember, is offered, and God waits for its acceptance.

If I understand your letter (or, rather, your letters, for the quotation is gathered from several who, with varying surroundings, have much the same problem), your main trouble is, I think, that you do not take in the real meaning of that word “forgiveness,” or that word “love,” as applied to your enemies. It is not that you are directed to have pleasure in the society of the one who has injured you, or to feel the same toward her that you do toward a friend.

It is not that you should trust her, so long as she continues to prove herself unworthy of trust, nor that you should love her in the way that you love those who please you. None of these things would you be able to do. But there is higher ground than this, and the Christian, because of God in his life, can reach it.

You can refrain from talking about this one who has injured you, and making the wounds deeper by spreading them open.

You can be kept from brooding in private over what has been done.

You can be helped to genuinely want good and not evil to come to that one.

You can learn to pray daily for her highest good.

You can grow into an earnest desire to be helpful to her in any way that may open.

All this is possible and reasonable, and his been done by God’s children again and again. It may look impossible to you but it is not, because the impossible is God’s part.

Yield yourself to him, and what he sees that you honestly want he will grant. This is loving our enemies and forgiving them their debts. It is not a love of enjoyment in their society necessarily, until there is a radical change in them—but it is higher than that, because it is divine. It is thinking God’s thoughts after him.

Don’t imagine for a moment that you can run away from the obligation that is upon you to forgive, by skipping the Lord’s Prayer. Remember that its spirit must pervade all real prayer.

What do you think of Isabella’s advice?

Do you think she gave the right counsel to the teen from California?

You can read Isabella’s Advice to Readers about Ornaments by clicking here. 

Daily Thoughts for December

This post contains the final installment of Isabella’s monthly Bible devotional series titled “Daily Thoughts,” which she wrote for The Pansy magazine in 1885.

Isabella’s “Daily Thoughts” for the month of December focus on Chapters 139 and 46 of the Book of Psalms.

Please Note: You will see that the PDF version of the original 1885 “Daily Thoughts” for December contains two errors:

  1. There is no verse for December 31 (unfortunately for us!).
  2. The verses for December 25 through 30 are incorrectly attributed to Chapter xli (Chapter 41) of the Book of Psalms. This was probably just a printing error in the original issue of The Pansy magazine. The correct chapter is Psalms xlvi (Chapter 46).

Click here to open a PDF version of Isabella’s “Daily Thoughts” for November, which you can read, print, save, and share with others.

Or, click here to download a simplified Word version.

If you missed Isabella’s “Daily Thoughts” for previous months, you can find them here: January  February  March  April  May  June  July  August  September  October November