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  • Writer's pictureRevShirleyMurphy

Susanna Wesley's House Rules!!!

It seems that no one is a big fan of rules. I get that. I am someone who is always prone in breaking rules right from when I was a child. Rules can feel constricting at times and breaking the rules almost always lands us in hot water. But, deep down we all know that rules are a good thing.

The same is true for house rules. As we manage our homes, we need to thoughtfully establish rules in order to avoid chaos and conflict. But this is easier said than done. Create too many rules, and our children feel overburdened and may be prone to rebellion later on. Create too few rules, and our children don’t learn how to cope well in the world, and they may be prone to rebellion later on. It’s a tough tightrope to walk.

One of my mum heroes is Susanna Wesley, mother to John and Charles Wesley. By all accounts, Susanna was a strict mother. But for Susanna, the proof that her house rules worked is in the pudding.

Born in London in 1669, Susanna Wesley was the youngest child of Dr. Annesley, a prominent dissenting minister who gave every attention to her education. She learned Greek, Latin, French, logic and metaphysics and was deeply interested in the religious discussions of the day. At age 19, she met and married Samuel Wesley, a curate in London, who was earning a meagre income of £30 a year. Though Samuel had also come from a strong Non-Conformist family, the couple would later decide to renounce dissent and abide by the Church of England.

Susanna Wesley served as a spiritual guide to her family, adhering to a daily method of Bible reading, prayer, sacrament, fasting, and meditation.

She gave birth to 19 children, and 10 survived. Many of her letters are consumed with great worry about basic provision. She worked tirelessly and without much assistance from her husband, who was often absent. She was given a remarkable mind, the ability to write and reason, bright children, teaching gifts, a pious upbringing, a challenging marriage, and ultimately a fulfilling death

Susanna Wesley was also a spiritual guide and theological mentor to her children. She instructed them in the basics of the faith, taught them to read and reason, and to live out a “practical divinity.” She encouraged them in self-examination, prayer, and charity. She also served as a type of a soul friend to whom some of her adult children turned even as adults.

Because of the family's constant struggle with poverty, the task of educating the ten children had been left to Susanna, and for six hours a day for 20 years, she continued this work. She believed in forming children's minds by "conquering their will and bringing them to an obedient temper," though she also believed in overlooking small transgressions. "Self-will is the root of all sin and misery," she said. "Whatever checks it promotes their future happiness."

Susanna’s household organisational skills are the stuff of legend. She knew from personal experience that quality one-on-one time with a parent is hard to come by in a family with many children, yet powerfully important. So she set a rotating schedule through which each of her children spent an hour with her alone before bedtime on a designated night each week. Each night of the week was set aside for one child.

What is more, she somehow found a way to manage the household and give her large brood of children a world-class education that included both classical and biblical learning. Her girls got the same rigorous education as did her boys, something virtually unheard of in that day. School hours were from 9:00 a.m. to noon and then 2:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m., six days a week. All but the smallest children completed their assigned chores promptly before the start of the school day.

Susanna’s son, John, was an 18th Century English preacher and theologian. Many came to know Christ through Wesley’s preaching, and he eventually ignited a movement that became the Methodist Church. John’s brother, Charles, also played a key role in the revival movement writing hymns like “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today,” and the Christmas classic, “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.”

Where did Charles and Wesley learn the discipline needed to preach, write, study God’s Word, and pray for revival? From their mum Susanna, of course!

Here’s a list of the house rules in the Wesley household, established by Susanna:

Sixteen Rules of Susanna Wesley

1. Eating between meals is not allowed. 2. Children are to be in bed by 8 p.m. 3. They are required to take medicine without complaining. 4. Subdue self-will in a child, and work together with God to save the child’s soul. 5. Teach a child to pray as soon as he can speak. 6. Require all to be still during Family Worship. 7. Give them nothing that they cry for, and only that when asked for politely. 8. To prevent lying, punish no fault which is first confessed and repented of. 9. Never allow a sinful act to go unpunished. 10. Teach children to fear the rod. 11. Never punish a child twice for a single offense. 12. Comment on and reward good behaviour. 13. Any attempt to please, even if poorly performed, should be commended. 14. Preserve property rights, even in the smallest matters. 15. Strictly observe all promises. 16. Require no daughter to work before she can read well.

Though they grew up under her strict and closely guided regimen, none of the Wesley children seem to have resented their mother; in fact, they matured into caring and loving adults.

Susanna gives us a great pattern for our own house rules. She emphasised the importance of spiritual things and found the balance between firm rules and a loving atmosphere. It’s the same balance that God modelled for us when he handed down his own “house rules” in the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17). Here’s an abbreviated version:

1. You shall have no other gods before Me. 2. Do not make or worship idols. 3. Do not take God’s name in vain. 4. Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. 5. Honour your father and mother. 6. Don’t murder. 7. Don’t commit adultery. 8. Do not steal. 9. Don’t lie about your neighbour. 10. Don’t covet what others have.

What is the result when we follow God’s house rules? Order, peace, and . . . God is honoured! The same can be true if we thoughtfully create and enforce house rules in our homes patterned after the virtues and behaviours that are esteemed in God’s Word.

Don’t just make the rules all about what your kids can and cannot do. Follow Susanna’s example and throw some rules into the mix for how you as parents will relate to your kids.

Always create and enforce rules in our own homes that reflect the heart of God.

Finally I would like to end with a prayer by Susanna Wesley

You, O Lord, have called us to watch and pray. Therefore, whatever may be the sin against which we pray, make us careful to watch against it, and so have reason to expect that our prayers will be answered. In order to perform this duty aright, grant us grace to preserve a sober, equal temper, and sincerity to pray for your assistance. Amen.


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