Do you know why I like reading biographies? One of the reasons is that they remind me that people don’t change and God doesn’t change. People are always sinful and God is always faithful! The four women discussed in this month’s book In Trouble and In Joy reminded me of this. I identified with Sarah Edwards the most, but found all of the women to be an inspiration for different reasons.
This week, we look at the 17th Century Puritan Margaret Baxter who married the much-older Richard, loving and respecting him through much persecution. Her story would make for a riveting film – glamorous privileged girl falls in love with poor, principled, older man and sacrifices luxury for persecution! The young Margaret was obsessed by clothing, socializing and romance. When she was thrown out of childhood home (no less than a castle!) her new humble surroundings provoked the rebellious Margaret to dress as splendidly as she possible could!
From Riches to Rags
But God had other ideas for Margaret and she fell for her inspiring pastor. They married after a long courtship, during which no doubt, they were weighing up the 24 year difference and their different backgrounds. She loved and encouraged Richard despite the fact that it severely changed her station in life: wealth and status in youth became persecution and poverty in her married life.
Margaret was a great ‘helper’ to her husband. We mustn’t underestimate the impact of Richard Baxter’s ministry – his preaching, writing, evangelising and pastoring have left an enormous legacy today. As his wife, she “was always there for him: comforting him, caring for him in his frequent illnesses, shouldering all of the practical concerns of life” (p35), and enabling his prolific writing. She consistently denied herself materially for the sake of his ministry and submitted to him in political and ecclesiastical decisions that had devastating consequences on the couple.
A great example to us!
Throughout their married lives, they seemed to be constantly moving house (including a stint in a local prison!). I was very challenged by Margaret’s response to this. There was not a hint of complaining or controlling - she managed to love people in whatever circumstance she found herself, generously serving those less fortunate than herself. Even Richard had to ask her to exercise some restrain in her generosity!
Godly, yet anxious!
Spiritually, Margaret was an inspiration. She epitomised the Puritan way of life – careful study and meditation of the Scriptures and prayerful and reflective examination of her spiritual state. She was devoted to evangelism, compassionate to the poor, joyful and thankful in disposition. But, she was also a perfectionist and her high standards caused her much anxiety.
Health-Anxiety: A struggle of Margaret’s … a struggle of mine!
She also suffered from health-anxiety and spent much of her life assuming and fearing grave illness. This is an area I have struggled with myself. God hasn’t promised that we will avoid suffering and yet, I need to remind myself that He gives me the grace to endure the suffering that does come my way. “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day enough trouble of its own”. (Matt 6:34)
A dear friend reminded me that God doesn’t give us the strength, courage and grace to deal with all the different scenarios down the track, but simply the scenario you are in RIGHT NOW. So we don’t need to be anxious, but trusting. We don’t need to plan for all the contingencies and possibilities. We just need to endure this day and whatever it brings. I think this is a very common struggle for today’s woman. Partly, because we know too much from global news and internet diagnoses (cyber-chondria!) and partly because we know too many people and too many problems. It seems that every week I hear of someone who has discovered a grave illness (but are there actually more or do we just know more?) We have been commanded not to be anxious, we have been commanded not to worry about tomorrow – so when I am persistently anxious about my health or the health of my family – I am sinning! I need to confess and then trust! Not trust that everyone will be healthy, but trust that God will give me the grace I need to deal with whatever comes my way.