I found this small but profound book at a library book sale a couple of years back. The book is by Anna Robertson Brown, Ph. D. It was a paper read in Philadelphia to the Association of Collegiate Alumnae. Though the copyright date is 1893, this little gem is still invaluable 122 years later! Thinking that most of the copies of this book are long gone I wanted to share the parts that spoke the most to me with you. Time seems to go by so quickly these days so in this first month of January 2015, let’s concentrate on what is truly worthwhile.
WHAT IS WORTHWHILE?
Only one life to live! We all want to do our best with it. We all want to make the most of it. How can we best get hold of it? How can we accomplish the most with the energies and powers at our command? What is worthwhile?
...To begin with, What may we let go? Who shall say? By what standard shall we measure? By what authority decide? Each of us must answer that question for herself. In looking about for an answer, I find only one that satisfies me. It is this: We may let go all things which we cannot carry into the eternal life.
...We may drop pretense. Eternity is not good for shams...Whatever we really are, that let us be, in all fearlessness. Whatever we are not, that let us cease striving to seem to be.
...We may drop worry...For only the serene soul is strong. Every moment of worry weakens the soul for its daily combat. Worry is an infirmity; there is no virtue in it. Worry is spiritual near sightedness: a fumbling way of looking at little things, and of magnifying their value. True spiritual vision sweeps the universe and sees things in their right proportion... Seen in their true relations, there is no experience of life over which one has a right to worry. Ruskin says, “God gives us always strength enough, and sense enough for every thing he wants us to do.”
...We may let go discontent...In life I find two things that make for discontent. One is lack of harmony with one’s environment. The other is dissatisfaction with one’s present opportunities. Of these, the first may be overcome; the second may be put out of one’s life... To take life “as God gives it, not as we want it,” and then make the best of it, is the hard lesson that life puts before the human soul to learn. One’s environment may be very disagreeable. It may bring constant hurts of heart, mortification, tears, angry rebellion, and wounded pride, but there is a reason for that environment. To become strong, the soul must needs fight something, overcome something. It cannot gain muscle on a bed of eider-down...So long as we are at war with our town, our relatives, our family, our station, and our surroundings, so long will much of the force of our lives be spent uselessly, aimlessly...We can never work well while there is friction in our lives, nor gain in our work that “beauty which is born of power, and the sympathy which is born of love” of which Ruskin speaks. Let us say, God put me among these scenes, these people, these opportunities, these duties...This is exactly the place He means me to be in, the place I am capable of filling: there is no mistake. My life is in its proper setting. But with this thought in mind, we need not sit down in idleness. There are things in the circumstances of our lives that we can change; there are opportunities that our own efforts may enlarge. We can conquer many of the difficulties that beset our career, and, so conquering, be strong! I believe more and more that there is no impediment that cannot be overcome, no hindrance to usefulness that cannot be removed. If we go through life timidly, weakly, ineffectively, the fault is neither with our endowment nor our environment. It is with ourselves.
...As for our opportunities, we can make a heroic life out of whatever is set before us to work with or upon. Dr. Miller tells of a poor artist who was regally entertained in a castle. He had nothing with which to repay his friends. But he shut himself up in his room for some days before he left them, locking the door, and refusing to come out, or to let any one in. When he went away the servant found the sheets of his bed missing, and thought that he must have stolen them. But in searching further they were found in one corner of the room, and when unrolled were discovered to have a glorious picture of Alexander in the tent of Darius painted upon them.
Carlyle says, “the thing thou seekest is already within thee, ‘here or nowhere, couldst thou only see!”
If an artist can paint a great picture on a bedsheet, can we not find opportunity and material in our present environment for the thing we wish to do?
We may let go of self-seeking. In the eternal life there is no greed. One hears of neither “mine” nor “thine." All things are for all. The richest experiences of life never come to those who try to win them selfishly. If they do gain their desires, they find them as ashes to the taste. But all blessings are in the way of him who, forgetful of self tries to be helpful to the world, and who spends his life in loving deeds.
Pretense, worry, discontent, and self-seeking, -- these are the things that we may let go. Now what are the things in life that are worth while? -- that we should lay hold of, keep guard, use?