It was New Year’s Day. A winter’s sun sparkled on a snow-blanketed world, beautiful and calm as though a heavenly benediction were resting upon it. Things were different inside the Bryant household, however. Regardless of New Year’s Day, Mrs. Bryant found it necessary to do her regular weekly washing. It seemed there was no end to the work she had to do, and what was more unbearable, in her breast throbbed an aching heart. Bitter thoughts beat against her brain as she worked alone in the basement of their apartment home in a large city of the Middle West. She was a failure, she told herself, a failure in her husband’s life, in her home, everywhere.
Here she was nothing but housekeeper, with every talent she possessed buried beneath a mountain of washing, ironing, mending, cleaning, and cooking. Her frail body was unequal to the never-ending labor of the house. A tear trickled down her cheek and splashed into the tub of rinsing water. To cry seemed her only means of self-expression.
She had tried to be a good wife and mother; she had prayed earnestly for wisdom to train her children in the “nurture and admonition of the Lord,” and yet this very morning her eldest son, now a lad of twelve years, had arrived in a surly, disobedient mood. She had given him his regular work to do. He was to help his sister tidy up the house. Instead of helping his sister, he had done everything to hinder her. Cheerfully the little daughter did her part of the work, and then left the house to play in the snow.
Several hours later, when Mrs. Bryant came upstairs, her eyes swollen and red from the hot tears she had shed, her tired body aching in every limb, and her soul crushed within her, she found that her boy, who could have been a help and comfort to his mother, had sullenly and deliberately disobeyed her. His work was untouched.
“Leonard,” she said, “I will give you just one hour in which to finish your work, and if it is not done within that time, you will get the hardest spanking you have ever had.” Without saying more she returned to the work in the basement. She expected to be through with the washing in less than an hour.
With his mother out of sight, Leonard continued to slight the work that was waiting for him. The kitchen clock ticked away ten minutes—twenty minutes—and before the boy realized it, half of his hour of grace had flown by.
Suddenly, as if the demon of naughtiness had been cast out of him, Leonard became strangely sweet, in contrast to his previously sullen and morose temper. He flew at his work with frantic haste. He well knew that his mother would keep her promise; for he had several painful memories of past spankings. It was a gallant race he staged with the kitchen clock, but the odds were too great. The hour had dwindled to only five minutes when he heard his mother’s steps coming up the basement stairs. His heart stood still, but he never slackened his efforts to do all he possibly could in the time that was left.
When Mrs. Bryant came into the kitchen, she found a boy different from the one she had limited to only an hour to complete his allotted tasks. Instead of being sullen, he was sweet; no longer defiant and stubborn, he was humble and willing. His understanding mother recognized the change immediately; nevertheless, she had promised him a hard whipping if the work was not done within the limited time, and the hour had passed. There was but one thing to do.
“Leonard,” Mrs. Bryant said in a kindly tone (Leonard thought he heard it tremble a little), “do you wish to take your punishment now or wait until you have finished your work? You may have your choice.”
Leonard shot an anxious glance at the kitchen clock as it stood ticking away the minutes on the gas range. He was defeated. He might have been furious and argued the question with his mother; but instead he only looked down contritely without answering.
“All right, then, I would rather you take it now. Come with me into the bedroom.” Leonard stepped forward like the little man he was away down deep in his heart.
The door closed behind them, and Mrs. Bryant sank wearily onto the bed. It would take all the strength and grace she had left if she performed what she conceived to be her duty.
Quietly she began to reason with her son, as he stood before her, his sober downcast eyes mirroring deep repentance.
“My boy, I’d much rather you would take a strap and give me the punishment. It would be much easier for me. But I must do it for your own sake. If you go on cherishing that disobedient, rebellious spirit, it will lead you on and on, perhaps into crime and the penitentiary, or even the electric chair. It is hard to whip you today, but it would be worse to see you grow up to be a wicked man.”
Taking the Bible from a near-by stand, she turned its pages and read certain texts from Proverbs which admonish parents to punish their sons and spare not for their crying. The words of Holy Writ seemed to have a profound effect on the contrite little lad.
“Don’t you think you deserve to be punished, and punished hard, for being as naughty as you were?” Mrs. Bryant continued. To her profound amazement, Leonard bravely answered that he deserved a severe whipping. He had never before admitted deserving punishment. His sweet and submissive attitude was making it harder every moment. How easy it would have been for her to drop the matter there. Leonard had changed and was showing in every way his sincere repentance. Nevertheless, her efforts to teach him the enormity of sin and the danger of disobedience would be lost if she stopped short of giving him all she had promised.
“But, Leonard, I do not have the strength to whip you,” Mrs. Bryant said. “We must pray that Jesus will strengthen me to keep my promise to you and to give you what you deserve.”
Together they knelt beside the bed and prayed. Tears unbidden rushed down Mrs. Bryant’s face as she devoutly prayed for strength to do her mother’s duty. And, unlike a boy’s nature as it seems, Leonard actually prayed, “Dear Jesus,”—a big tear ran down his nose,--“forgive me for being so naughty to mother. I ought to be whipped. Give mother the strength to do it hard. Amen.” They arose.
“Son, I hope this is the last whipping I shall ever have to give you. Take off your belt.”
He obeyed promptly and handed it to his mother. She took it and fully kept her promise. The stinging blows fell with peculiar force across his shoulders. Like a soldier he took his just deserts; only once did he act as though he would resent it, but a warning checked even that. It was a very hard whipping, indeed.
In a few seconds it was all over. Weeping and penitent, Leonard threw his arms about his mother’s neck.
“O mama, I love you. I’m sorry that I was naughty. Forgive me, I’ll try hard to be a better boy.”
He did try, and his efforts were not without success.
As the evening sun sank to rest below the western horizon, flinging back its crimson banners through the frosty sky, a peace settled over the heart of Mrs. Bryant, tired but faithful mother. The pain was gone; a ray of light from the great white throne shone in her soul to encourage her. The day’s experience, hard and bitter as it was, had shown her that she was not a failure, that the Father of light was guiding her on through trials and heartaches to success and happiness.
“It started out to be the hardest day I have yet had, and ended the best,” she told her husband that night. And it was even so.
--James A. Ward, Youth’s Instructor, Feb. 2, 1938