Leadership Lessons from the Life of a Great Mother: Susanna Wesley

Susanna Wesley was the mother of prominent Methodist preachers, John Wesley and Charles Wesley. Her life is a pointer to the fact that greatness and leadership begin at home. Today, she is a woman globally recognised but interestingly, she never had a job or title or position of influence in society. She was just a mother. However, because she had a deep understanding of this role and its importance to the society, she did not take it lightly, and today the world recognises her, as the mother of two great men.
Sadly, many look down on the job of being a mother (many do not even recognise it as a job to begin with). They give their time and attention to becoming executives of global corporations and delegate maternal duties to the paid help. With this attitude to mothering, is it any wonder that we produce, drug addicts, rapists, and gang members instead of the kind of children Susanna Wesley produced?
As we celebrate Mother’s Day 2015, I call all mothers, myself included, to remember that our priority ought to be, God first, family second and career third. If this is not the case, then it is time to re-prioritise. What joy is there in having children whose disgraceful behaviour destroy all we have laboured for years to build?
Below is a brief summary of the life of the great woman and mother, Susanna Wesley, taken from Wikipedia. After reading her story, I feel sure that you will agree that she is a good example to all mothers and would-be-mothers and certainly the right case study for Mother’s Day Celebration 2015.
Susanna Wesley (20 January 1669 – 23 July 1742), born Susanna Annesley, was the daughter of Dr. Samuel Annesley and Mary White, and the mother of John and Charles Wesley.
“…although she never preached a sermon or published a book or founded a church, (she) is known as the Mother of Methodism. Why? Because two of her sons, John Wesley and Charles Wesley, as children consciously or unconsciously will, applied the example and teachings and circumstances of their home life.”[1]
Susanna Wesley was the 25th of 25 children. Her father, Dr. Samuel Annesley, was a dissenter of the established church of England. At the age of 13, Susanna stopped attending her father’s church and joined the official Church of England.
She and Samuel Wesley were married on 11 November 1688. Samuel was 26 and Susanna was 19.[2]
Susanna and Samuel Wesley had 19 children. Nine of her children died as infants. Four of the children who died were twins. A maid accidentally smothered one child. At her death, only eight of her children were still alive.
Susanna experienced many hardships throughout her life. Her husband left her and the children for over a year because of a minor dispute.
To her absent husband, Susanna Wesley wrote:
I am a woman, but I am also the mistress of a large family. And though the superior charge of the souls contained in it lies upon you, yet in your long absence I cannot but look upon every soul you leave under my charge as a talent committed to me under a trust. I am not a man nor a minister, yet as a mother and a mistress I felt I ought to do more than I had yet done. I resolved to begin with my own children; in which I observe the following method: I take such a proportion of time as I can spare every night to discourse with each child apart. On Monday I talk with Molly, on Tuesday with Hetty, Wednesday with Nancy, Thursday with Jacky, Friday with Patty, Saturday with Charles.
Samuel Wesley spent time in jail twice due to his poor financial abilities, and the lack of money was a continual struggle for Susanna. Their house was burned down twice; during one of the fires, her son, John, nearly died and had to be rescued from the second story window. She was the primary source of her children’s education.
After the second fire, Susanna was forced to place her children into different homes for nearly two years while the rectory was rebuilt. During this time, the Wesley children lived under the rules of the homes they lived in. Susanna was mortified that her children began to use improper speech and play more than study.
“Under no circumstances were the children permitted to have any lessons until they had reached their fifth year, but the day after their fifth birthday their formal education began. They attended classes for six hours and on the very first day they were supposed to learn the whole of the alphabet. All her children except two managed this feat, and these seemed to Susanna to be very backward.”[3] “The children got a good education. Daughters included, they all learnt Latin and Greek and were well tutored in the classical studies that were traditional in England at that time.”[4]
During a time when her husband was in London, defending a friend against charges of heresy, he had appointed a locum to bring the message. The man’s sermons revolved solely around repaying debts. The lack of diverse spiritual teaching caused Susanna to assemble her children Sunday afternoon for family services. They would sing a psalm and then Susanna would read a sermon from either her husband’s or father’s sermon file followed by another psalm. The local people began to ask if they could attend. At one point there were over two hundred people who would attend Susanna’s Sunday afternoon service while the Sunday morning service dwindled to nearly nothing.[5]
Wesley practised daily devotions throughout her life, and in her reply to her son Charles’s letter, she addressed her experience of the depravity of her human nature, and the grace of God. The letter also shows that she has been fully awakened to the spiritual enjoyments for many years, with which her sons were only recently made acquainted.[6]
Her husband Samuel spent his whole life and all of the family’s finances on his exegetical work of the Book of Job. However, his work was not remembered and had little impact on his family other than as a hardship. In contrast Susanna wrote several pieces that would be fundamental in the education of their children. “In addition to letters, Susanna Wesley wrote meditations and scriptural commentaries for her own use. She wrote extended commentaries on the Apostles Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments. Alas many of these were lost in the rectory fire, but many survive. The most accessible means to her writings is Charles Wallace’s excellent and important Susanna Wesley, Her Collected Writings.”[1]
Leadership Lessons from the Life of Susanna Wesley are as follows;
Great mothers understand that a great mother is recognised by the achievements of her children. She cannot be called a great mother unless she has great children. Therefore, she does everything in her power to ensure that her children get a sound foundation in their formative years to enable them become the people they were created to be. Then she sits back with a smile in her later years as her children take their “thrones” and she is referred to as the mother of such and such.
Great mothers understand that a great child is not wished for but worked for. Our children will become not what we desire that they become, but what we consciously work for them to become. Great children are created through quality time and prayers, right words (which are prayers in themselves), right daily practices which become habits and form a strong character which is required to hold up a destiny of greatness.
Great mothers are not those who have never experienced loss; no, great mothers are those who do not allow their loses stop their vision. They mourn the loss of a child but bounce back to care for the children that are alive. They understand that what has been lost cannot be recovered and move on to salvage what remains from loss.
Great mothers understand that to bring change to the society they must begin with their children. Great leaders begin leading first themselves and those immediately within their sphere of influence. Susanna understood this so instead of trying to impact others, she began by impacting her children and that impact went far because her children went on to make an impact on their generation. And though they have been dead many years, that impact still speaks.
Great mothers spend quality time with their children. To talk with them, understand them and pray with them. They understand that this is an important part of a child’s development and cannot be replaced with anything. They also recognise that this is a task that cannot be delegated.
Great mothers place value on good education for all their children. They know that if a child will go far in life, the right education is necessary. They do not leave this process of educating the child entirely up to the educational institutes but understand they have a major role to play. Susanna was the primary source of her children’s education.
Great mothers do not make others responsible for the spiritual nourishment of their children. No, not the pastor, not the Sunday school teacher, and not the Christian school. They understand that God has called them to do more than just take their children where the word of God is taught. That God requires that they teach His word to their children according to His commandment in Deuteronomy 6:6-7 which says; “And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.” When Susanna realised that there was a lack of diverse spiritual teaching, she assembled her children for Sunday afternoon services.
In conclusion, I will say this; when the going gets tough, tough mothers rise up and get going (with or without money and with or without a husband by their side). And when fathers fail to shoulder their God given responsibilities, great mothers rise up to shoulder the same.They have challenges, sometimes more than others, but they rise above each one to become great mothers of great children.
Happy Mother’s Day 2015!!!
Eturuvie Erebor

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