Sunday, May 2, 2010

Stepping Heavenward by Elizabeth Prentiss

Stepping Heavenward (Inspirational Library Series)I read Stepping Heavenward almost twenty years ago when it was first reprinted by Calvary Press and highly recommended by Elisabeth Elliot. Although I'm sure I reread it at least once in my late teens, I deeply regret that I didn't return to it more often in the ensuing years. That was partly due to the fact that I always seemed to give away any copies I had on hand, but I'm sure I could have used its wisdom as much or more than those I shared it with. Needless to say, when our church's women's Bible Study decided to read and discuss this book this spring (using Stepping Heavenward: A Bible Study Guide as a starting point for discussions), I was very excited to revisit an old friend.

Elizabeth Prentiss writes with incredible insight into a woman's character and shows how an impetuous, selfish girl is transformed into the image of Christ by growing in grace and sanctification through years of inward and outward struggles. Stepping Heavenward is written as a diary that the protagonist, Katy, begins on her 16th birthday and continues into her early forties. Although it is set in the mid-1800's, it is truly remarkable to see how little human nature has changed in almost 200 years. This novel seems to capture that so remarkably (as opposed to other classics from this time period) because there is comparatively little description of time or place, and the most striking cultural differences seem to be in the susceptibility to illness and the general frailty of life that we forget in the 21st century. Instead, the setting is primarily Katy's heart and inward life, though of course she describes how her own actions and interactions with others, as well as other trials and circumstances, refine her spirit until she eventually exclaims, "Yes, I love everybody! That crowning joy has come to me at last. Christ is in my soul; He is mine; I am as conscious of it as that my husband and children are mine; and His Spirit flows forth from mine in the calm peace of a river whose banks are green with grass and glad with flowers" (339).

Here are some more of my favorite quotations, several of them pertaining to motherhood, since it seems I need those reminders most at this stage of my life, but many of them pertaining to the "journey to godliness" which is not bound by life's stages or circumstances.

"I wonder if, after all, mothers are not the best friends there are!" (51). I know this is true for me - my Mom has been my best friend for years and years!

"'Go home and say over and over to yourself, "I am a wayward, foolish child. But He loves me! I have disobeyed and grieved Him ten thousand times. But He loves me! I have lost faith in some of my dearest friends and am very desolate. But He loves me! I do not love Him; I am even angry with Him! But He loves me!"'" (59)

"'I hope [my heart] is renewed,' I replied. 'But I know there is a great work still to be done in it. And the more effectually it is done, the more loving I shall grow. Don't you see, Father? Don't you see that the more Christ-like I become, the more I shall be filled with love for every living thing?" (175)

"God never gives us hindrances. On the contrary, He means, in making us wives and mothers, to put us into the very conditions of holy living. But if we abuse His gifts by letting them take His place in our hearts, it is an act of love on His part to take them away or to destroy our pleasure in them. It is know that there are some generous souls on earth who love their dear ones with all their hearts yet give those hearts unreservedly to Christ" (212)

"Here is a sweet, fragrant mouth to kiss; here are two more feet to make music with their pattering about my nursery. Here is a soul to train for God; and the body in which it dwells is worthy all it will cost, since it is the abode of a kingly tenant. I may see less of friends, but I have gained one dearer than them all, to whom, while I minister in Christ's name, I make a willing sacrifice of what little leisure for my own recreation my other darlings had left me. Yes, my precious baby, you are welcome to your mother's heart, welcome to her time, her strength, her health, her tenderest cares, to her lifelong prayers! Oh, how rich I am, how truly, how wondrously blest!" (228-229)

"What I am, that I must be, except as God changes me into His own image. And everything brings me back to that, as my supreme desire. I see more and more that I must be myself what I want my children to be and that I cannot make myself over even for their sakes. This must be His work, and I wonder that it goes on so slowly; that all the disappointments, sorrows, sicknesses I have passed through have left me still selfish, still full of imperfections!" (287)

"But I see now that the simple act of cheerful acceptance of the duty imposed and the solace and support withdrawn would have united me more fully to Christ than the highest enjoyment of His presence in prayer could. Yes, every act of obedience is an act of worship..." (311)

There are few books that I would consider reading on a yearly basis, but Stepping Heavenward is one that I think I need to read annually. I urge every woman to read it, too, and give it away liberally if at all possible. Whatever stage of life you might be at, you will find encouragement and above all truth!

While you can find Stepping Heavenward on Amazon (if you purchase through the links in this post I'll get a teeny, tiny percentage to support my book fund), this and several other of Elizabeth Prentiss's books are also available through Grace & Truth Books, and many facsimiles of old editions are entirely online. I am particularly interested to read The Home at Greylock, which is described as "A masterpiece which explains the task of Christian parenting in story form."


Carrie said...

I LOVE this book. It's been years since I've had a visit with it though and your post here makes me want to snatch it up right quick. Oh for all the time in the world!

Great post and a good reminder of a fabulous Christian classic.

Amy said...

I have this one on my shelf and have never read it! You've inspired me!

Great review!

ibeeeg said...

I loved this book! I read it when it first when it was reprinted by Lamplighter in hard cover. I have purchased several copies and given them as gifts. My copy sits on my bookshelf, my special shelf for special reads. I was looking at it the other day and thought to myself that I ought to re-read the book soon.

Stepping Heavenward is a powerful book that resonated within me. Thanks for this great post. Loved your quotes.

bekahcubed said...

I read this first in my early teens when my church was having a girls' book discussion group. I enjoyed it then, but it might be time to pick it up again! Thanks for the review.

Anonymous said...

I read this book about 5 years ago. When I first looked at it I thought I wouldn't like it partly because of the victorian language. But was I surprised. Since I read it I've acquired several copies and I keep giving them away. Everyone I recommend it to loves it. After I gave a copy to my sister, lo and behold, she found our Grandmother's copy in some things our mom had given to her. It is copyright dated 1899 and it's in wonderful condition considering the age. What a treasure!

Maxine said...


I saw this post on a search which I was doing for this wonderful work by Mrs. Prentiss. This was a delightful and insightful review of my favorite book. I have been looking for people to invite to my new blog entitled "Writings of Elizabeth Prentiss." Stop by for a visit when you get time. You can find the link on my list of blogs.

This is a very well done blog you have here.

Bets said...

I feel the same way!! I read it every few months, not on schedule but just because I hunger for the wisdom flowing out of Prentiss' pen. I recently let my friend borrow it but I want it back soon!