Stepping Heavenward

Author: Elizabeth Prentiss


JANUARY 24. A Message came yesterday morning from Susan Green to the effect that she had had a dreadful fall, and was half killed. Mother wanted to set off at once to see her, but I would not let her go, as she has one of her worst colds. She then asked me to go in her place. I turned up my nose at the bare thought, though I dare say it turns up enough on its own account.

"Oh, mother!" I said, reproachfully that dirty old woman!"

Mother made no answer, and I sat down at the piano, and played a little. But I only played discords.

"Do you think it is my duty to run after such horrid old women ?" I asked mother, at last.

"I think, dear, you must make your own duties, she said kindly. "I dare say that at your age I should have made a great deal out of my personal repugnance to such a woman as Susan, and very little out of her sufferings."

I believe I am the most fastidious creature in the world. Sick-rooms with their intolerable smells of camphor, and vinegar and mustard, their gloom and their whines and their groans, actually make me shudder. But was it not just such fastidiousness that made Cha-no, I won’t utter his name----that made somebody weary of my possibilities? And has that terrible lesson really done me no good?

JAN. 26.-No sooner had I written the above than I scrambled into my cloak and bonnet, and flew, on the wings of holy indignation, to Susan Green. Such wings fly fast, and got me a little out of breath. I found her lying on that nice white bed of hers, in a frilled cap and night-gown. It seems she fell from her ladder in climbing to the dismal den where she sleeps, and lay all night in great distress with some serious internal injury. I found her groaning and complaining in a fearful way.

"Are you in such pain ?" I asked, as kindly as I could.

"It isn’t the pain," she said, "it isn’t the pain. Its the way my nice bed is going to wreck and ruin, and the starch all getting out of my frills that I fluted with my own hands. And the doctor’s bill, and the medicines; oh, dear, dear, dear!"

Just then the doctor came in. After examining her, he said to a woman who seemed to have charge of her:

"Are you the nurse?"

"Oh, no, I only stepped in to see what I could do for her."

"Who is to be with her to-night, then?"

Nobody knew.

"I will send a nurse, then," he said. "But some one else will be needed also,’ he added, looking at me.

"I will stay," I said. But my heart died within me.

The doctor took me aside.

"Her injuries are very serious," be said." If she has any friends, they ought to be sent for."

"You don’t mean that she is going to die?" I asked.

"I fear she is. But not immediately." He took leave, and I went back to the bedside. I saw there no longer a snuffy, repulsive old woman, but a human being about to make that mysterious journey a far country whence there is no return. Oh, how I wished mother were there!

"Susan," I said, "have you any relatives?"

"No, I haven’t," she answered sharply. "And if I had they needn’t come prowling around me. I don’t want no relations about my body."

"Would you like to see Dr. Cabot?"

"What should I want of Dr. Cabot? Don’t tease, child."

Considering the deference with which she had heretofore treated me, this was quite a new order of things.

I sat down and tried to pray for her, silently, in my heart. Who was to go with her on that long journey, and where was it to end?

The woman who had been caring for her now went away, and it was growing dark. I sat still listening to my own heart, which beat till it half choked me.

"What were you and the doctor whispering about?" she suddenly burst out.

"He asked me, for one thing, if you had any friends that could be sent for."

"I’ve been my own best friend," she returned. "Who’d have raked and scraped and hoarded and counted for Susan Green if I hadn’t ha’ done it? I ve got enough to make me comfortable as long as I live, and when I lie on my dying bed."

"But you can’t carry it with you," I said. This highly original remark was all I had courage to utter.

"I wish I could," she cried. "I suppose you think I talk awful. They say you are getting most to be as much of a saint as your ma. It’s born in some, and in some it ain’t. Do get a light. It’s lonesome here in the dark, and cold."

I was thankful enough to enliven the dark room with light and fire. But I saw now that the thin, yellow, hard face had changed sadly. She fixed her two little black eyes on me, evidently startled by the expression of my face.

"Look here, child, I ain’t hurt to speak of, am I?

"The doctor says you are hurt seriously."

My tone must have said more than my words did for she caught me by the wrist and held me fast.

"He didn’t say nothing about my-about it being dangerous? I ain’t dangerous, am I?"

I felt ready to sink.

"Oh Susan!" I gasped out; "you haven’t any time to lose. You’re going, you’re going!" "Going!" she cried; "going where? You don’t mean to say I’m a-dying? Why, it beats all my calculations. I was going to live ever so years, and save up ever so much money, and when my time come, I was going to put on my best fluted night-gown and night-cap, and lay my head on my handsome pillow, and draw the clothes up over me, neat and tidy, and die decent. But here’s my bed all in a toss, and my frills all in a crumple and my room all upside down, and bottles of medicine setting around alongside of my vases, and nobody here but you, just a girl, and nothing else!"

All this came out by jerks, as it were, and at intervals.

"Don’t talk so!" I fairly screamed. "Pray, pray to God to have mercy on you!"

She looked at me, bewildered, but yet as if the truth had reached her at last.

"Pray yourself!" she said, eagerly. "I don’t’ know how. I can’t think. Oh, my time’s come my time’s come!; And I ain’t ready! I ain’t ready! Get down on your knees and pray with all your, might and main."

And I did; she holding my wrist tightly in hard hand. All at once I felt her hold relax. After that the next thing I knew I was lying on the and somebody was dashing water in my face.

It was the nurse. She had come at last, and found me by the side of the bed, where I had fallen, ,and had been trying to revive me ever since. I started up and looked about me. The nurse was closing Susan’s eyes in a professional way, and performing other little services of the sort. The room wore an air of perfect desolation. The clothes Susan had on when she fell lay in a forlorn heap on a chair; her shoes and stockings were thrown hither and thither; the mahogany bureau, in which she had taken so much pride, was covered with vials, to make room for which some pretty trifles had been hastily thrust aside. I remembered what I had once said to Mrs. Cabot about having tasteful things about me, with a sort of shudder. What a mockery they are in the awful presence of death!

Mother met me with open arms when I reached home. She was much shocked at what I had to tell, and at my having encountered such a scene alone I should have felt myself quite a heroine under her caresses if I had not been overcome with bitter regret that I had not, with firmness and dignity turned poor Susan’s last thoughts to her Saviour. Oh, how could I, through miserable cowardice, let those precious moments slip by!

Feb 27.-I have learned one thing by yesterday’s experience that is worth knowing. It is this: duty looks more repelling at a distance than when fairly faced and met. Of course I have read the lines,

"Nor know we anything so fair As is the smile upon thy face;"

but I seem to be one of the stupid sort, who never apprehend a thing till they experience it. Now, however, I have seen the smile, and find it so "fair," that I shall gladly plod through many a hardship and trial to meet it again.

Poor Susan! Perhaps God heard my prayer for her soul, and revealed Himself to her at the very last moment.

March 2.-Such a strange thing has happened! Susan Green left a will, bequeathing her precious savings to whoever offered the last prayer in her hearing! I do not want, I never could touch a penny of that hardly-earned store; and if I did, no earthly motive would tempt me to tell a human being, that it was offered by me, an inexperienced, trembling girl, driven to it by mere desperation! So it has gone to Dr. Cabot, who will not use it for himself, I am sure, but will be delighted to have it to give to poor people, who really besiege him. The last time he called to see her he talked and prayed with her, and says she seemed pleased and grateful, and promised to be more regular at church, which she had been, ever since.

March 28.-I feel all out of sorts. Mother says it is owing to the strain I went through at Susan’s dying bed. She wants me to go to visit my aunt Mary, who is always urging me to come. But I do not like to leave my little Sunday scholars, nor to give mother the occasion to deny herself in order to meet the expense of such a long journey. Besides, I should have to have some new dresses, a new bonnet, and lots of things.

To-day Dr. Cabot has sent me some directions for which I have been begging him a long time. Lest I should wear out this precious letter by reading it over, I will copy it here. After alluding to my complaint that I still "saw men as trees walking," he says:

"Yet he who first uttered this complaint had had his eyes opened by the Son of God, and so have you. Now He never leaves His work incomplete, and He will gradually lead you into clear and open vision, if you will allow Him to do it. I say gradually, because I believe this to be His usual method, while I do not deny that there are cases where light suddenly bursts in like a flood. To return to the blind man When Jesus found that his cure was not complete, He put His hands again upon his eyes, and made him look up; and he was restored, and saw every man clearly. Now this must be done for you; and in order to have it done you must go to Christ Himself, not to one of His servants. Make your complaint, tell Him how obscure everything still looks to you, and beg Him to complete your cure He may see fit to try your faith and patience by delaying this completion; but meanwhile you are safe in His presence, and while led by His hand; He will excuse the mistakes you make, and pity your falls. But you will imagine that it is best that He should at once enable you to see clearly. If it is, you may be sure He will do it. He never makes mistakes. But He often deals far differently with His disciples. He lets them grope their way in the dark until they fully learn how blind they are, how helpless, how absolutely in need of Him.

"What His methods will be with you I cannot foretell. But you may be sure that He never works in an arbitrary way. He has a reason for everything He does. You may not understand why He leads you now in this way and now in that, but you may, nay, you must believe that perfection is stamped on His every act.

"I am afraid that you are in danger of falling into an error only too common among young Christians. You acknowledge that there has been enmity to towards God in your secret soul, and that one of the first steps towards peace is to become reconciled to Him and to have your sins forgiven for Christ’s sake. This done, you settle down with the feeling that the great work of life is done, and that your salvation is sure. Or, if not sure, that your whole business is to study your own case to see whether you are really in a state of grace. Many persons never get beyond this point. They spend their whole time in asking the question:

"’Do I love the Lord or no?
Am I His or am I not?’

"I beg you, my dear child, if you are doing this aimless, useless work, to stop short at once. Life is to precious to spend in a tread-mill.. Having been pardoned by your God and Saviour, the next thing you have to do is to show your gratitude for this infinite favor by consecrating yourself entirely to Him, body, soul, and spirit. This is the least you can do. He has bought you with a price, and you are no longer, your own. ’But,’ you may reply, this is contrary to my nature. I love my own way. I desire ease and pleasure; I desire to go to heaven, to be carried thither on a bed of flowers. Can I not give myself so far to God as to feel a sweet sense of peace with Him, and be sure of final salvation, and yet, to a certain extent, indulge and gratify myself? If I give myself entirely away in Him and lose all ownership in myself, He may deny me many things I greatly desire. He may make my life hard and wearisome, depriving me of all that now makes it agreeable.’ But, I reply, this is no matter of parley and discussion; it is not optional with God’s children whether they will pay Him a part of the price they owe Him, and keep back the rest. He asks, and He has a right to ask, for all you have and all you are. And if you shrink from what is involved in such a surrender, you should fly to Him at once and never rest till He has conquered this secret disinclination to give to Him as freely and as fully as He has given to you It is true that such an act of consecration on your part may involve no little future discipline and correction. As soon as you become the Lord’s by your own deliberate and conscious act, He will begin that process of sanctification which is to make you holy as He is holy, perfect as He is perfect. He becomes at once ,your physician as well as your dearest and best Friend, but He will use no painful remedy that can be avoided. Remember that it is His will that you should be sanctified, and that the work of making you holy is His, not yours. At the same time you are not to sit with folded hands, waiting for this blessing. You are to avoid laying hindrances in His way, and you are to exercise faith in Him as just as able and just as willing to give you sanctification as He was to give you redemption. And now if you ask how you may know that you have truly consecrated yourself to Him, I reply, observe every in indication of His will concerning you, no matter how trivial, and see whether you at once close in with that will. Lay down this principle as a law- God does nothing arbitrary. If He takes away your health, for instance, it is because He has some reason for doing so; and this is true of everything you value; and if you have real faith in Him you will not insist on knowing this reason. If you find, in the course of daily events, that your self-consecration was not perfect-that is, that your will revolts at His will-do not be discouraged, but fly to your Saviour and stay in His presence till you obtain the spirit in which He cried in His hour of anguish, ’Father, if Thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless, not my will but Thine be done.’ Every time you do this it will be easier to do it; every such consent to suffer will bring you nearer and nearer to Him; and in this nearness to Him you will find such peace, such blessed, sweet peace, as will make your life infinitely happy, no matter what may be its mere outside conditions. Just think, my dear Katy, of the honor and the joy of having your will one with the Divine will, and so becoming changed into Christ’s image from glory to glory!

"But I cannot say, in a letter, the tithe of what I want to say. Listen to my sermons from week to week and glean from them all the instruction you can, remembering that they are preached to you.

"In reading the Bible I advise you to choose detached passages, or even one verse a day, rather whole chapters. Study every word, ponder and pray over it till you have got out of it all the truth it contains.

"As to the other devotional reading, it is better to settle down on a few favorite authors, and read their works over and over and over until you have digested their thoughts and made them your own.

"It has been said ’that a fixed, inflexible will is a great assistance in a holy life.’

"You can will to choose for your associates those who are most devout and holy.

"You can will to read books that will stimulate you in your Christian life, rather than those that merely amuse.

"You can will to use every means of grace appointed by God.

"You can’ will to spend much time in prayer, without regard to your frame at the moment.

"You can will to prefer a religion of principle to one of mere feeling; in other, words, to obey the will of God when no comfortable glow of emotion accompanies your obedience.

"You cannot will to possess the spirit of Christ; that must come as His gift; but you can choose to study His life, and to imitate it. This will infallibly lead to such self-denying work as visiting the poor, nursing the sick, giving of your time and money to the needy, and the like.

"If the thought of such self-denial is repugnant to you, remember that it is enough for the disciple to be as his Lord. And let me assure you that as you penetrate the labyrinth of life in pursuit of Christian duty, you will often be surprised and charmed by meeting your Master Himself amid its windings and turnings, and receive His soul-inspiring smile. Or, I should rather say, you will always meet Him wherever you go."

I have read this letter again and again. It has taken such hold of me that I can think of nothing else. The idea of seeking holiness had never so much as crossed my mind. And even now it seems like presumption for such a one as I to utter so sacred a word. And I shrink from committing myself to such a pursuit, lest after a time I should fall back into the old routine. And I have an undefined, wicked dread of being singular, as well as a certain terror of self-denial and loss of all liberty. But no choice seems left to me. Now that my duty has been clearly pointed out to me, I do not stand where I did before. And I feel, mingled with my indolence and love of ease and pleasure, some drawings towards a higher and better life. There is one thing I can do, and that is to pray that Jesus would do for me what He did for the blind man-put His hands yet again upon my eyes and make me to see clearly. And I will.

MARCH, 30.-Yes, I have prayed, and He has heard me. I see that I have no right to live for myself, and that I must live for. Him. I have given myself to Him as I never did before, and have entered, as it were, a new world. I was very happy when I began to believe in His love for me, and that He had redeemed me. But this new happiness is deeper; it involves something higher than getting to heaven at last, which has, hitherto, been my great aim.

March 31.-The more I pray, and the more I read the Bible, the more I feel my ignorance. And the more earnestly I desire holiness, the more utterly unholy I see myself to be. But I have pledged myself to the Lord, and I must pay my vows, cost what in may.

I have begun to read Taylor’s "Holy Living and Dying." A month ago I should have found it a tedious, dry book. But I am reading it with a sort of avidity, like one seeking after hid treasure. Mother, observing what I was doing, advised me to read it straight through, but to mingle a passage now and then with chapters from other books. She suggested my beginning on Baxter’s "Saints’ Rest," and of that I have read every word. I shall read it over, as Dr. Cabot advised, till I have fully caught its spirit. Even this one reading has taken away my lingering fear of death, and made heaven awfully attractive. I never mean to read worldly books again, and my music and drawing I have given up forever.

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Chicago: Elizabeth Prentiss, Stepping Heavenward, ed. White, John S. (John Stuart), 1847-1922 in Stepping Heavenward (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1908, 1917), Original Sources, accessed June 17, 2024,

MLA: Prentiss, Elizabeth. Stepping Heavenward, edited by White, John S. (John Stuart), 1847-1922, in Stepping Heavenward, Vol. 22, New York, D. Appleton and Company, 1908, 1917, Original Sources. 17 Jun. 2024.

Harvard: Prentiss, E, Stepping Heavenward, ed. . cited in 1908, 1917, Stepping Heavenward, D. Appleton and Company, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 17 June 2024, from