Popular culture has taken our once-pious culture by storm — fashion, entertainment, sports, noise masquerading as music, social media and an unwarranted admiration for crassness; stupidity, ignorance and vulgar living have become the new cultural norm.
Having served most of my adult life as a bivocational minister, working in high schools and colleges, I have seen a multitude of saddening examples of the new cultural norm. A community shares in the impact its collective values and expectations have upon an impressionable child; however, the lion’s share of the load is shouldered by the parents. Each child is a free moral agent before God and society, yet we as parents must bear the influence of godliness, piety, righteousness, peace and joy into our children so that they are equipped to make mature and holy choices.
Is it possible to be the #bestparentever and still have children that go astray? Indeed! The allurements of vain trinkets, the siren song of sinful activities, ungodly environs and the foolishness in a young person’s heart all lay siege against proper upbringing. There are, however, numerous examples of those parents whose impact upon their children have left an imprint in the hearts and minds of generations.
One such parent, a stay-at-home mom, was Susanna Wesley. It’s true that she’s not a contemporary of ours, nor has she had to raise her children within the context of our set of circumstances, but England and France at that time were both on the verge of revolution. Both empires stood at the same fork in the road; France chose the way of revolution and turmoil.
England’s destiny was carved by an army of itinerant Methodist preachers who saved the nation by offering personal and cultural transformation rather than violent revolution. Granted, Methodism may not have had this as their motive and goal, however that is always the net result of the Gospel of the Kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The founders of Methodism were John and Charles Wesley. Numerous Holiness, Methodist, Wesleyan and Pentecostal churches/denominations and educational institutions are the children of the Wesleys. John and Charles were the sons of Susanna. Their impact — her impact — resounds with us today and serves as a model of best practices parenting.
Susanna (Annesley) Wesley (Jan. 20, 1669–July 23, 1742), was the youngest of 25 children born to Dr. Samuel and Mary White Annesley.
She married Samuel Wesley on Nov. 11, 1688. He was 26 years old, and she was 19. They had 19 children; however, nine died in infancy, including two sets of twins. One of the deceased children was accidentally smothered by a maid, and by the time Susanna died, two more of the Wesley siblings had passed, leaving only eight of her children.
Susanna experienced many hardships throughout her life. Her husband left her and the children for more than a year because of a political dispute.
In a letter to her husband, she wrote:
“Though the superior charge of the souls contained in it lies upon you, yet in your long absence I cannot but look upon every soul you leave under my charge as a talent committed to me under a trust. I am not a man nor a minister, yet as a mother and a mistress I felt I ought to do more than I had yet done.
“I resolved to begin with my own children … I take such a proportion of time as I can spare every night to discourse with each child apart. On Monday I talk with Molly, on Tuesday with Hetty, Wednesday with Nancy, Thursday with Jacky, Friday with Patty, Saturday with Charles.”
Finances were always a struggle for the Wesleys to the extent that Samuel spent time in jail twice. Their house was burned down twice; during one of the fires, son John nearly died and had to be rescued from the second-story window.
Susanna did not “school” her children until they were 5 years old, but the day after their fifth birthday she began their formal education. The child was supposed to know the entire alphabet by the end of that first day. All her children received an excellent education, which included learning Greek and Latin as well as being tutored in the classical studies.
On Sunday afternoons, in the absence of her husband while he was in London, Susanna and her children would sing a psalm. Then Susanna would read a sermon from either her husband’s or father’s sermon file, and then they would sing another psalm. The local people wanted to attend her services. Eventually, more than 200 folk were attending her afternoon service, to the demise of the Sunday morning church service.
Susanna’s child rearing included “16 House Rules,” which instilled a sense of Christian destiny into each of her children. Among them:
Subdue self-will in a child, and those working together with God to save the child’s soul.
Teach a child to pray as soon as he can speak.
Give them nothing they cry for and only that when asked for politely.
To prevent lying, punish no fault that is first confessed and repented of.
Any attempt to please, even if poorly performed, should be commended.
Susannah Wesley believed that for a child to grow into a self-disciplined adult, he or she must first be a parent-disciplined child. To her, the stubborn flesh was the hardest battle for Christians to fight, and godly parents would do well to equip their children to overcome it early.
Where are the Susanna Wesleys of our day?
Parents, we can achieve greater spiritual, academic, relational and life skills successes with our children if we will adhere to simple parenting advice like the points listed above. If more families will commit to the goal of raising reasonable and pious children, then the grip of popular culture with its resulting rebellion and vanities will loosen and give way to a new virtuous, excellent culture and world-changing children.
Michael Frausto is pastor of Greenfield