[Written June 23, 2011]
When I first started reading “Self Raised” by Southworth, it was immediately after I had finished “Ishmael.” I was excited to read more of the man’s life, but soon realized that the story was shifting back and forth from Ishmael to Claudia in Scotland. She had been tricked by this Viscount, who plotted to strip her of her wealth. It was quite easy for me to see her victim of her own scheming and deserving all the humiliation and helplessness she was receiving. I felt very little pity for her, and as the plot of this story was more intertwined than linear, I did not realize what the author had for me to learn, other than Ishmael, ever faithful to God and His calling, undertaking the journey to rescue the very undeserving girl. My focus was singular, though, and my opinion of Claudia fixed. She was selfish and prideful, and she was receiving justice from God. It wasn’t until she was received by the benevolent Berenice that I realized how foolish I was in both not trusting the author and not believing that God can change Claudia. It is also an indictment of my character and a theme throughout my life.
Haughty and privileged, I couldn’t help but sneer at her inwardly and say, ‘good riddance, Bee is a much better woman for Ishmael.’ In my own life, I have consistently had this outlook on the rich and prideful, on the beautiful and privileged. As a child, I tended to hate them. As an adult, I have tended to mistrust them. As a Christian…well, I’ve still done both. This clear attitude of mine is certainly very reflective of how I view some people at church and a lot of the teens. ‘They are silly and young and very unspiritual. Oh, except for a few.’ Which few? Have I really studied them? Have I taken the time to speak with them and get to know them? Not really, and those I have gotten to know…well, they are the exceptions. I think I am being very severe and too absolute with myself, but I would rather exaggerate the issue and so better see and remove it!
I did not see that humiliation and helpless are gifts from God. I did not remember that loneliness can be chamber for reflection, where morals can be evaluated and choices reflected upon, and where the spirit of God can make straight what is crooked. We do not have to be fixed and unchanging. Haven’t I changed greatly from my childhood? Didn’t I come from being Dostoevsky’s “underground man” to faith in God my Father? Is it that I am so far removed that I have slipped into dullness? Am I really that unmerciful still? I do believe God is directing me to serve with the teens, but if I am to serve, I can learn from the service of Berenice to Claudia.
Berenice came to the aid of Claudia and lead her in every way. She comforted her and supplied her needs. She brought her to church and brought her with her to serve the poor. Her view had changed from greed to service, seeing herself as only a steward of God’s money. In her words, “’the next day, Monday, we will make our weekly round among the poor. That will occupy the third day, to the exclusion of everything else! For if there is one employment more than another that will make us forget our personal anxieties it is ministering to the wants of others.’”
In summary, if I am to serve God I must believe that people can change, at every moment, even those that I don’t necessarily like. If I see them only as rich privileged self-centered snobs, it is I who must first change how I see them, and then to remember that God is working to bring them to repentance. I must remember who I am and what I came from, and that what I see is not what God sees.