Nov 15, 2023

Sarah Woolsey

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Letting go is hard yet hanging on can be harder still. Letting go of the past hurts and disappointments are difficult but holding onto them can make matters worse. C. S. Lewis wrote, “Getting over a painful experience is much like crossing monkey bars. You have to let go at some point in order to move forward.”  Letting go to move forward is the focus of today’s prayer. Paul writes in Philippians, “One thing I do, forgetting what is behind and reaching toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me” (Philippians 3.12). Sarah Chauncey Woolsey (1835-1905) has much to offer us about letting go. She worked as a Civil War nurse and afterward took up writing, adopting the pen name Susan Coolidge. She’s best known for her classic children’s novel, What Katy Did and its various sequels, modeled after her own family. Katy is a 12-year-old tall, gangly girl who wants to become beautiful and do something grand with her life. An accidental fall from a swing leaves her bedridden and despondent. Her cousin Helen, herself confined to a wheelchair, teaches her character in the face of adversity. Helen calls it attending “The School of Pain.” When Katy pushes her family away, Helen challenges her to make the best of her situation or risk losing her family’s love. Her four-year recovery involves letting go of the past in preparation for the future. Sarah was also an accomplished poet whose prose conveyed her deep trust in God’s mercy and forgiveness. Excerpts from her poem, “New Every Morning,” invite us to let go and let God:

All the past things are past and over.
The tasks are done, and the tears are shed.
Yesterday’s errors let yesterday cover.
Yesterday’s wounds, which smarted and bled,
Are healed with the healing which night has shed.

Yesterday now is a part of forever,
Bound up in a sheaf, which God holds tight,
With glad days, and sad days, and bad days, which never
Shall visit us more with their bloom and their blight,
Their fullness of sunshine or sorrowful night.
Let them go, since we cannot relive them,
Cannot undo and cannot atone.
God in his mercy, receive, forgive them!
Only the new days are our own.
Today is ours, and today alone.

Every day is a fresh beginning:
Listen, my soul, to the glad refrain,
And, spite of old sorrow and older sinning,
And puzzles forecasted and possible pain,
Take heart with the day and begin again.

Rev. Dr. Peter James served 42 years as the senior of Vienna Presbyterian Church in Vienna, VA — 21 years in the 20th century and 21 years in the 21st century. He retired in 2021 and now serves as Pastor-in-Residence at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.

Even as a pastor, prayer came slowly to Pete. Read Pete’s story.