Two days ago, I was feeling stressed. I was tired, having been woken up a bit earlier than I wanted by a frantic daughter who couldn’t find her popsicle stick that she wanted to use for a craft (the stick had been thrown away by an unsuspecting family member). I was feeling a little rushed, as we needed to get out of the house to make it to VBS on time. I was trying to answer a question my mom had posed. My daughter was trying to make herself heard. And my youngest was yelling at me at the top of his little lungs. I’d like to say I calmly told my kids to wait patiently while I answered my mother. No, instead, with impatience I yelled almost at the top of my little lungs the answer to my mom’s question. Lovely.
A week ago my mom and I and Little E all traveled down to beautiful Savannah to spend a little girl time together and enjoy a city none of us had visited. On the way, we listened to a wonderful children’s book: A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett. I had never read the book before, but I had watched the Shirley Temple movie and loved it when I was young. The book was much better than the movie, even if it was a little moralistic. Sara, the main character, is a bit too perfect in my opinion, but I don’t mind moralistic when the purpose is to get morals across to my five year old.
Sara Crewe is a very rich, very pampered, sweet little girl who sees the world in a unique way. When life throws her difficulties, she uses her imagination to withstand the hardships with grace. When her father has to leave her in a boarding school in England while he goes back to India without her, she imagines she’s a soldier like her father used to be. She acts brave because a good soldier would be brave. When she doesn’t have many friends due to being in a new place, she imagines her doll Emily is alive, listening to her every word and sympathizing with her. And when a few other girls treat her badly, she imagines she is a princess and chooses to act the way a truly well-bred princess would if someone spoke unkindly to her. This also leads her to treat servants and others thought below her in that society with generosity and kindness. She uses her imagination to spur her on to better behavior.
After confiding this latter imagining to a close friend, some older jealous girls find out about it and mock her, calling her princess Sara. They tell her it’s all very well for her to imagine she’s a princess when she has everything she wants, but what if she were poor? Sara answers that she imagines it would be very hard but all the more necessary. That very day she discovers that her father has died, leaving her with nothing. She is forced to give up all her luxuries and most of the respect given by the other girls and live in the cold attic, working hard to earn her living. Her superiors treat her cruelly, and yet after she mourns for her father, she again uses her imagination to better her situation and act nobly even when others treat her in a most ignoble manner (much more nobly than the character in the Shirley Temple movie behaves).
In fact, in a moving scene, Sara, who has gone without food for a day or longer and who is extremely thin, hungry, and cold, finds a fourpence on the ground, enough to buy four hot buns of bread. As she heads into a nearby bakery, she notices a small waif, turned almost animal-like in her deprivation, shivering on the side of the street. She remembers stories of princesses who shared what they had with those less fortunate than themselves even when their fortunes had turned badly, and they had little. She thinks that if she continues to imagine herself a princess, she could easily share with this starving child. She goes inside and because of the baker’s generosity due to the look of hunger in Sara’s eyes, is given six buns. Her largesse as a pretend princess prompts her to give five of her buns to the little girl.
This is, of course, a fictional tale. There is not a Sara Crewe in the world being treated terribly by malicious women. However, her story of abuse is not very different from many living their lives in the world today. Many of the true tales are much worse than this one, tales that put my little petty annoyances to utter shame. And yet I can imagine a person in such dire circumstances acting with dignity with God’s help as Sara does in this book. If so, how much better could I do with my little grievances?
I’m not steeped in princess culture as Sara is with the kinds of books she reads, but why can’t I do this, too? As Christians, why can’t we all? Maybe we won’t call ourselves princesses, but when life doesn’t go our way, we can imagine what someone of great nobility would do and with God’s help, do it! After all, if we have been adopted by God (Eph. 1:5), we are sons and daughters of the King of kings. We are indeed princes and princesses! Let’s ask for our King’s help and act like it!