Cool Person Alert: Hannah Whitehall Smith

Some of you have heard of Hannah Whitehall Smith.  Some of you are about to.

For reference - here's who we're talking about today:  

obviously ... she's hipster

obviously ... she's hipster

Smith - born nearly two hundred years ago - in Philedelphia was a Quaker.  Quakers were generally terrific pragmatists and Smith was no exception.  Because her entire personal theology grew out of the soil of her classic saying (above) "God is enough." she saw her primary role to living out that "enough" was through - not just submission - but surrender.  She used that personal surrender as a means - not to life long torture, denial, misery or any other such - but as a means to illuminating the path of truth to God's purpose for all.  If she didn't completely understand a promise in scripture - she would ask herself - for instance - if she was understanding that passage through the "I must" of obligatory duty or if she was understanding it through the "I get to" of love (though her way of writing that was "may I"

This simple distinction shouldn't be rushed over or glossed over.  Too quickly we are satisfied - in this age of one minute Bibles, and one-minute sermons and one-minute prayer ... we can be tricked by our appreciation for speed into underappreciating the tenacity of this woman who meditated, pondered, ruminated, and in all other ways teased apart and reconstructed scripture over and over until she understood it in a way that was like receiving a shot of God's love straight from His own heart.  All other interpretations - however convenient - were inferior to the one that reminded her of God's incredible love for her.  This unrelenting pursuit of a deeper comprehension of God's love through filtering all of God's word through that lens led to a curious result in Smith's life.

Smith was happy.  

No I mean really happy.  Ridiculously, enviably, and notably happy - in the midst of hard labor, a daunting schedule, farming by hand, travel by horses, no internet, petticoats and shoes - SHOES I tell ya! - with more buttons than the space station! (well ... practically) - her happiness began to attract attention.  A lot.

So much so - she was encouraged on all sides to explain herself.  So she did.  Her explanation led to more demands that she explain herself - and so it went until finally she sat down and wrote it all out in a book - which has failed to go out of print.  Her book - called The Christian's Secret to a Happy Life" 

Before sharing her message of understanding obedience totally through God's love and our loving God - she describes life this way:

"You do love your work in the abstract, but in the doing of it you find so  many cares and responsibilities connected with it, and feel so many misgivings and doubts at to your own capacity or fitness, that it becomes a very heavy burden, and you go to it bowed down and weary before the labor has even begun.  Then also you are continually distressing yourself about the results of your work, and greatly troubled if they are not just what you would like; and this of itself is a constant burden."

Now I know that while words like "Brexit" and "Sharenting" were all the rage in 2016 and "Uberization" looks like it's poised to leave a mark on 2017 - "Happiness" has been a big-whoopity-doo for a LOOOOONNNGG time.  And why not?  "Misery" has no pull to compare.  And I am all for being happy - especially when the alternative is a demeanor that compares to "sucking on lemons and guzzling vinegar"  I mean - I confess - I watched "The Pursuit of Happiness", read "Happiness Project" - and even the sequel.  I'm ALL FOR improvement, growth and that British baking show if that makes you smile. 

But - happiness as an end in and of it self - I believe - will fall short.  Every. Single. Time.  And - while a lot can be said for a pursuit of happiness in the midst of struggle as a way of making the best of things - I still feel compelled to point out that this word doesn't mean exactly now what it did then.  To many Quakers then - to be happy - was to feel blessed.  

The gift of this book is Smith's down-to-earth descriptions of conversations with numerous people she encountered - struggling through the difficulties of life in the mid-1800's.  Her book actually came out in 1875 - this was just a decade after the civil war ended and just two years after the financial panic of 1873 ... people were despairing.  

Also - contrary to many modern versions of the teaching that to obey God is to be blessed - some of which are just disastrous - Smith's definition of having received the "happiness of God" was that you wanted to be faithful.  In other words - to Smith - the ultimate reward for understanding God's word through the lens of love was more of God Himself.  Smith says it best herself:

"God's way of working therefore, is to get possession of the inside of us, to take the control and management of our will, and to work in it for us.  Then obedience is easy and a delight, and service becomes perfect freedom, until the Christian is forced to explain, "This happy service!  Who could dream earth had such liberty?" 

This quite a different message than some present today.  Her entire book is an argument for the trustworthiness of God.  She makes these arguments by presenting a passage - highlighting the promise therein - and then giving multiple examples of people who struggled with that very passage - but surrendered themselves to God's love and sovereignty and discovered not just love through obedience - but freedom.  

While updated versions exist with modern language - I do encourage you to try first the original - the language is different - but her voice comes through beautifully and her message will be less diluted.  

Lastly - this posts - as well as all my previous posts ... if this is as helpful to you as it was to me; thanks for stopping by.  If not; thanks for stopping by.  I am committed to pushing on regardless.