The Gate, The Key, and The Bridegroom, Part II
Should you fight back or give in?
I recently stood in line behind a mom and her toddler at the grocery store. The little girl spotted well placed, eye-level candy. She saw it, she wanted it. An existential moment of cloud-parting clarity, the three-year-old found her truth.
When her mom said “no,” the girl was ready to throw-down. War light blazed in her eyes, “Oh yeah?” Scanning each item at self checkout, Mom quietly and firmly refused each attack, as her daughter went full Hulk.
Who was the stronger person in this battle?
Back to Mariah Bertram
In part one of this article, we looked at Mariah Bertram—the seeming tower of strength. When alone outside a locked garden with her preferred lover, Henry, Mariah would not wait for the return of her fiancé. Instead of waiting for him to bring the key, she hopped the fence with Henry. She claimed her rights now.
Hopping fences always seems like strength. Give me what I want now. We live in a Disney age of “everything your heart desires shall come to you”—defy, resist, insist on your rights.
Yet the very thing that made Mariah seem strongest was, in fact, her greatest weakness.
How is that?
Let’s consider what’s going on here. Mariah was engaged to a man she did not love for the sake of his wealth. Henry comes along and flirts, flatters, and charms her. She was caught. Because she only consulted her own inclinations, her emotions controlled her. This made her easy prey. All someone had to do was toy with her feelings and she was made quick work of. This done, Henry got bored and dumped her.
When our wants are the only standard, we are easily manipulated. Eye-level candy turns us into slaves of our own impulses. In the role of omniscient narrator, Austen comments on Mariah’s problem:
“The politeness which she had been brought up to practice as a duty (made her appear outwardly polite) while the want of that higher species of self-command, that just consideration of others, that knowledge of her own heart, that principle of right which had not formed any essential part of her education made her miserable under it.” (Note: this particular comment concerned Mariah’s sister, Julia, but certainly applies to both sisters.)
In other words, Mariah and Julia had been brought up to sometimes control their impulses for appearance’s sake. But lacking that “higher species of self-command,” they hated it. They fought every moment for freedom from restraint, the fence hopping symbolically capturing Mariah’s true self. Yet she permitted herself to become a passing plaything, discarded when no longer necessary.
Because real strength is found only in submission.
The mom with the toddler in the story above submitted to a higher principle of not rewarding her daughter’s tantrum, (at least, I assume that was her motivation). Let’s say that her motivation was different. That she was simply saying “no” because she didn’t want to spend her money or be inconvenienced. Would that still make her stronger in the battle? Does it matter what the motivation is?
Motivation is Everything.
Mom submitted to a higher principle. And this made her strong in the face of a loud, public, attack. Bonus: it taught her daughter to live for something bigger than herself as well.
Thomas Jackson, a general in the confederate army, earned his nickname “Stonewall Jackson,” because he faced every battle exactly like that—a stone wall. He was famous for saying “My religious belief teaches me to feel as safe in battle as in bed. God has fixed the time for my death. I do not concern myself about that.”
When we submit to standards outside ourselves, we can face anything. It is both submission and defiance all wrapped up together. The Bible calls it meekness. We are submitting and yet can be attacked on all sides, as Fanny Price was, without caving.
This kind of submission does not mean possessing an weak, pushover, type of personality
This can be seen in the character of Lady Bertram, Mariah’s mother. She never knew what she wanted and did not really care. “Do I need Fanny to stay home with me?” She asked her husband when Fanny had been invited out to a dinner party.
Fanny Price had opinions and desires. She had longing, and loyalty, and affection. She was not a doormat like Lady Bertram. At the same time, she was not dictated by her inclinations as Mariah was.
Elizabeth Elliot put it this way: “meekness is not indecision, or laziness, or feminine fragility, or loose sentimentalism, or indifference, or affable neutrality.” When we submit our will to God, we can both resist at times, and surrender at others. We possess both qualities at once, because inner strength is based on fixed principles… not human rights, or human dreams, or inclinations.
Where is the Greatest Picture of Strength Ever Witnessed?
If submission is weakness than Jesus was weak—which he was not. Christ did not want to die on the cross. He prayed,
“Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.”
This was a moment of meekness. Of both yielding submission, and determined endurance, wrapped up at once. Because it is both of these things the world does not understand it. Yet this is where we must look to find what real strength actually looks like as we await Christ, our bridegroom, to return with the key.