I recently watched Season 1 and 2 of the miniseries “Cranford”. It is a BBC (British Broadcasting Channel) production set in the 1840’s based on the novels written by Elizabeth Gaskell. Cranford is a fictional village in the county of Cheshire, North West England.
This tale focuses on five friends in the town. The main characters are two sisters Matilda (Matty) and Deborah Jenkins who live together; neither of them ever married. Mary Smith from Manchester comes to visit them and they immediately set about teaching their new house guest how things are done and what is expected in Cranford – where appearances are foremost and doing things in a “proper” fashion is expected.
Deborah and Matty have three close friends: Octavia Pole (the town gossip), Augusta Tomkinson, and Mrs. Forrester (and her best friend “Bessie” the cow). They have another friend named Mrs. Jamieson (a widow of substantial breeding who is rather pretentious). They are all very ‘proper’.
As you can imagine, there is much gossip, pomp and circumstance wherever the ladies gather. The series is a drama with a comedic twist.
This is a little different than any of the posts that I’ve done previously. But as I viewed this miniseries I quickly picked up on a valuable teaching idea. And I wanted to give you a little background and set the stage for the teaching point.
Even with all of the ladies’ faults and idiosyncrasies, you would be hard pressed to find better neighbors and friends. You might judge them snobbish, rigid, and set in their ways to a fault, but never uncaring or neglectful of those in need.
For instance, in one episode, the town doctor needed to perform surgery but found himself without candles with which to perform the needed operation before morning light. (Candles were a luxury and a scarcity in Cranford – and very costly indeed. So they were much set by and one did not use them lavishly. Deborah and Matty restrained themselves to spending their evenings by the glow of a single candlelight.) However, when the doctor needed candles, all the ladies dug deep into their secret stashes to provide them joyfully and without restraint or remorse – even though for them it meant poorly lit parlors and that evening entertainment would be limited to conversations by firelight.
In another episode, Deborah and Matty’s neighbor dies and her sister (Jesse) is left alone to take care of the arrangements for the funeral while her father is away. In Cranford there were rigid rules of etiquette and one of those rules was that a ‘woman’ could never attend a funeral. It was simply not done. However, Jesse felt strongly that she must attend or else there would be no family member attending her sister’s funeral. Deborah tried to talk Jesse out of going, but to no avail – Jesse was determined to do right by her sister and endure the dishonor and disgrace from the townspeople. Now, Deborah Jenkins was a stickler for keeping the rules of etiquette in Cranford, but when Jesse walked the main street of Cranford in the funeral procession, it was Deborah that quietly, determinedly donned her black lace veil and trudged each reprehensible step by her side.
One more example – Deborah dies and Matty is left alone. In her grief, she finds that the bank where she has placed her money has gone insolvent and she has lost all her savings. Her friends and neighbors have a secret meeting to discuss Matty’s plight. They make a pact with one other to secretly fund Matty’s income without her ever becoming aware of their benevolence. They spared Matty’s self-respect by soliciting the bank’s manager to tell Matty that there had been a mistake in calculations to explain the sudden ‘reappearance’ of her funds.
There were many other examples of their compassion and kindness. The point that I wanted to make is that their benevolence went beyond casual kindness. They showed selfless compassion even to their own detriment.
The Bible speaks about this type of kindness:
Philippians 2:3-4 says, “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.”
How often do we go out of our way, dig into our own beloved treasures, or give until it hurts in order to help someone else?
James 2:15-16 says, “If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, and one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doeth it profit.”
It is easy to say that we care about the needs of others, but how often do we actually do something to help even to the point that it costs us something – money, time or personal convenience. Words mean very little without action to accompany them. I once had a wallpaper on my computer at work that said, “Love is a VERB!”
In the Cranford miniseries, the night before Deborah Jenkins decided to break all the rules of etiquette and walk in the funeral procession along with Jesse and risk the ridicule and shunning of the townspeople, she spent the entire night in her room sitting on the side of her bed praying to the Lord for guidance and perhaps courage to do the right thing.
Like Deborah, let’s be much in prayer for guidance. Let’s ask our Father to show us a person in need, how to minister to them, and to give us the generosity to do it sacrificially.
I believe that the deeper we dig and the more it costs us personally (in time, money, inconvenience, forgiveness, kindness, etc.) the greater joy it will bring to us as well.
Here is a poem by Helen Steiner Rice that portrays this thought so beautifully:
An Old Chinese Proverb…
There’s an old Chinese proverb that, if practiced each day,
Would change the whole world in a wonderful way..
It’s truth is so simple, it’s so easy to do,
And it works every time and successfully, too..
For you can’t do a kindness without a reward,
Not in silver nor gold but in joy from the Lord.
You can’t light a candle to show others the way
Without feeling the warmth of that bright little ray..
And you can’t pluck a rose, all fragrant with dew,
Without part of its fragrance remaining with you.
~ Helen Steiner Rice
Ask God how you can be a blessing to someone today. It may be something as simple as a smile. Whatever you give away, whether it be candles or kindness, will bring warmth to your own soul as well.
Copyright © 2017 Sandra J. Briggs