THE FIRST EPOCH IN MY RELIGIOUS LIFE
IN the story of my religious life four epochs stand out clearly before me. The first one dawned as I have said when I was sixteen. In a dim mysterious way I began to be filled with vague longings after something that would satisfy my interior nature. In my diary of the autumn of 1848 I find records of these longings, and of a blind reaching out for something to fill what I called in the tragic language of youth “the aching void in my heart.” In the midst of this I fell head over ears in love with one of the young teachers in the school I was attending, and her influence changed my life. I find a record in my diary of all the steps of my acquaintance with her—of my longings to speak to her and to beg for her love, and of my hesitation for fear of bothering her. I write about it as follows:—“1848. Sixteen years old. This is an important time for me. Now is the forming time of my character. I feel as I never felt before. The great and solemn duties of life have, for the first time come before me. I was not born to be an idler, for I feel something within me, which tells me—
“‘Life has imports more inspiring
Than the fancies of thy youth;
It has hopes as high as heaven
It has labour, it has truth.
It has wrongs that may be righted,
Noble deeds that may be done.
Its great battles are unfought
Its great triumphs are unwon.’
“Something which points onwards, far onwards into the future, beyond this into a brighter, happier world, and tells me of the glorious reward of those who fulfill their duties. I have not felt this long:—three months ago I was a careless, happy child. I am still a child, but an earnest reflecting one, no longer careless or indifferent. How can I be so, when there is so much, so very much to be thought about; and so much to be done? What has caused this change? Then there was an aching void in my heart. I felt a want of something, something I knew not what, something indefinable which would cause me to sit dreamily for hours and look into the sky, and watch the pale stars or the moon, until my very being seemed merged into theirs and I almost forgot I was on earth, while my thoughts wandered far off to the pathless regions over which they presided, and I would strive in vain to pierce the mysteries of their existence. Study, I thought, would fill that void, but I found I was mistaken. In such a state was my mind when, in the beginning of ninth month we left our darling little cottage home and returned to the city. If I had then met with one whom I could have loved but whose principles were bad, I shudder to think what would have been the consequences, for I am very easily influenced by those I love. But my Heavenly Father was willing to extend a little mercy towards me. He sent across my path one in whom I found a true friend. She was a young girl employed by Miss Maryanna as composition teacher named Anna S——. I was prepared to love her even before I saw her, for one whom I love had told me of her loveliness. For two weeks after she first came to school I never spoke to her, I believe, but once; and then I saw her looking for a book and handed one to her asking if that was the right one. I thought we never would get acquainted. I used to sit and watch her and wish I dare speak to her and kiss her, and this very longing made me particularly retiring. I would see her put her arms around other girls, and I would turn away in sorrow to think she would not do the same to me. At last one day, how well I remember it, I was standing at my desk when she came up and spoke about A. S. F. How happy I felt! How I longed to throw my arms around her neck and beg her to let me love her! My heart was all in a tumult, yet I answered her calmly and without emotion and she soon left me. However the ice was broken, we began to speak more frequently, and one morning she kissed me. That kiss was engraven on my heart. I felt that she loved me, and the thought was happiness. From that moment I have loved, nay almost idolized her. The aching void in my heart now is partly filled, for I have listened to her sentiments, I have seen her noble principles of action, and I have found that ‘life is real, life is earnest,’ and is not to be passed in idle dreaming, or wasted in frivolous amusements. She has taught me, not in so many words but quietly, by her influence, that I have a mission to fulfill on earth, and straightway I must set to work to perform it. That henceforward I must struggle earnestly to become pure and holy and noble-hearted that I may be great in the world and perform faithfully my part in the great battle of life. Her influence has aroused me from my dream of childhood. In one short month I have become a woman. Oh! how blessed has her friendship been to me! I hope, earnestly hope I may not abuse the privilege.”
A day or two later I wrote:—“Every day I feel grateful to my Heavenly Father for blessing me with such a friend as Anna. This is such an important period of my life. I tremble when I think of the awful responsibility resting upon me. My character is forming, and I have power to be what I choose. Oh, may I choose to be a good and noble woman! To-day, as I walked along the street and thought of what might be my future destiny, it made me almost shrink. I may be destined for some great work. I feel that within me which tells me I could accomplish it. At any rate I shall do a great deal of good or evil. I will choose the former. Oh, my Father who art in Heaven, wilt Thou not assist me to advance in the path of self-conquest, which must be my first great battle. What a glorious triumph it will be if I succeed!”
According to my diary, every day now seemed to awaken my spiritual nature more and more, until at last a sort of climax arrived, and on 11th mo. 28th, 1848, I wrote:—“An eventful day! Eventful I mean in my spiritual life. To-day I have felt and thought enough for a year. My friend Anna read to us in class a book called ‘Other Worlds,’ and also ‘Future Existence,’ from the ‘School Boy,’ by Abbott. It was all intensely interesting, and had an almost overpowering effect on me. As I listened to the accounts of those mighty worlds which are everywhere scattered around us, some of which are so distant that the rays of light from them which enter our eyes have left these stars six thousand years ago! As I reflected that these worlds were all moving on regularly, never disturbing each other, but all obedient to one mighty Creator, the grandeur of the thought was intense, and for a few minutes I felt as though the happiness of being born into a universe so limitless, so magnificent, so glorious, was too great. And as I heard of our future existence, of the glorious unimaginable happiness in store for us, of the perfect bliss of the good and holy, I inwardly thanked my Creator for placing me among beings whose anticipations were so happy. But then came the awful, the overwhelming thought that that eternity of endless bliss was only for the good, and the remembrance that I could have no share in it unless my heart was changed. Oh, I cannot describe the misery of that moment! It was almost too great to be borne. And these thoughts linger with me. Why is it?”
The impression made upon me by this glimpse, as it were, into the magnificence of the universe has never to this day left me. At the bottom of all my questionings about God there has always been a conviction of His illimitable power which nothing would ever be able to withstand. But for a long time, as will be seen, I thought of this power as being a selfish power, engaged, not on my side, but against me; and my one question for many years was as to how I could win the God who possessed it over to my side.
Table of Contents Chapter 15 Home The Writings of Hannah Whitall Smith