Susanna Wesley’s unwaveringly disciplined home life set an example of holy living that has impacted many generations.
Like John Wesley, I grew up with a mother who served as my extremely involved pastor. She introduced the Bible through its fascinating stories, which absolutely delighted me and my younger sister. I was very inquisitive and probably a bit doubtful, which is why one of the first verses she asked me to memorize was John 20:29, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
Her pastoral responsibility was comprehensive, touching every aspect of life. Since we were also very poor, she managed our meals and made sure that we were good stewards of our meager resources. She strictly imposed policies regarding studies, house chores, and play time. Like a pure-blooded Puritan, she had high moral standards that she clearly articulated and expected her children to live out. She was also not one to keep silent should we commit wrongs or omit rights. Later on, as a Bible College student preparing for full-time ministry, I was exhilarated to learn about Susanna Wesley and her household strategy, because they reinforced my desire and commitment to a disciplined life. My appreciation for my mother also deepened.
The ethos of the Church of the Nazarene easily connected with me from a young age. The denominational emphasis on godly thinking, decision-making, and acting—grounded in our doctrine of holiness—resonated with me. In fact, because of my experiences at home, any other lifestyle was unthinkable. The denomination’s emphasis on holiness was what attracted me the most. It made sense that we ought to love God with our whole being. It is proper that we love others as ourselves.
As a Nazarene, and by extension a son of Susanna, the importance of discipline runs through my blood.
This does not mean that I never made mistakes, because I did. It is precisely because I have high standards for myself that failures bring me crying on my knees before God. I am always humbled by the wide gulf between who I should be and where I currently am. When I read about the background story for John Wesley’s stringent use of personal funds, I smiled, because we share the same ways of self-introspection. Like John, I espouse a ruthless honesty and self-criticism, always reflecting how I may have responded to circumstances with greater grace. The disciplined life is a reflective life. This is especially true for someone in the ministry.
The life of holiness affects every aspect of our lives. I always remind myself that every financial, social, physical, and relational decision is a spiritual decision. We too easily separate the spiritual from the mundane, the private from the public. But what if holiness pervades our work ethic, our financial planning and expenditures, our entertainment choices, our relationship goals, our dietary consumption, and our physical activities? A holy life requires disciplined decision-making and acting. We should learn how to translate holiness in practical and concrete terms.
The life of discipline is crucial to the holy life. For example, if a person knows he or she should wake up early for an important appointment, that person rightly sets up an alarm clock and puts it beside the bed. These steps demonstrate commitment, but the real test of character comes the moment the alarm goes off. Will we get up or will we press the snooze button and return to sleep? This is a simple illustration, but it speaks to the potential disconnect between our knowledge of and desire for holy living, and living it out with discipline. The true son of Susanna lacks neither knowledge nor discipline. Only by coming out of the house of Susanna can we truly be a holiness people.
My childhood experience and the theology of holiness have led me to accentuate Christian formation, especially among children and youth. Discipline is hard to learn the older we get. I believe that a formative emphasis is as crucial as informative and transformative ministerial emphases.
For nonbelievers, the transformative aspect is where holiness begins, but for Christian families, particularly those with children and youth, the formative aspect is crucial.
Discipleship starts at home.
There is a connection between who we are right now and how we were raised as children. The piety, spiritual attunement, and disciplined lifestyle that John Wesley exemplified in his career have their background in his childhood experiences.
Susanna modeled what Paul admonished the Ephesian believers to do by bringing children “in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4). The two original Greek words in this verse complement each other. Nousthesia is a matter of verbal teaching while paideia refers to teaching by means of strict discipline. Christian discipleship at home must have both. It is not enough to inform children about the gospel truths; it is important to form them through a disciplined living out of the gospel truths. This is what I do in my own home, especially with my 6-year old daughter. We have Bible readings every night, but we also expect her to live in accordance with what she is reading.
Local church ministry is like rearing a family. In a sense, the church is our home, with the pastor as a parent responsible for the members of the household. As a parent, I am responsible to teach them the Word of God, but this is not enough. The life of holiness is not a matter of listening and memorizing Scripture verses; it is a matter of eating, drinking, working, talking, buying, socializing, relaxing, earning, and living it out in a disciplined lifestyle. Knowledge, piety, and discipline go together.
This is the legacy of Susanna that I inherited. It is also what I want to pass on to my children and to generations to come.
Dick O. Eugenio is professor of theology at Asia-Pacific Nazarene Theological Seminary in the Philippines.