Betty was in her mid-thirties, struggling to keep her head above water, when she found an unlikely friend who gave her a little hope that things could be different. Popular author Anne Morrow Lindbergh, wife of famed aviator Charles Lindbergh, became a mentor of sorts to her through her best-selling book, Gift from the Sea. It touched a deep cord with many women by giving voice to their feelings in a time when men were in charge not only of the family but of all the cultural, economic, political, and religious systems.
Lindbergh, married to a strong, famous, highly ambitious man, urged women to develop and live from their own unique center rather than being constantly drawn into and drained by the energy of their husbands. She encouraged women to take time to care of themselves, to simplify their external lives, and spend some time each day being still, quiet, and inwardly attentive to their own feelings and longings, and God’s presence with them. She spoke of a solitude that could be therapeutic and life giving rather than fearsome and debilitating. Betty was amazed to read that she had the courage to leave her family and take a weeklong retreat just to be alone and walk on the beach. Lindbergh described the feeling of being soothed by the rhythm of the waves and the freedom of quietly contemplating all that God was teaching her through the sights, smells, and sounds of the sea.
These words deeply resonated with Betty and were awakening something within her while affirming her love for the sea and all of God’s creation. On one of her own beach walks, she found a moon shell like one Lindbergh used in her book to illustrate the need for focus and singleness of heart in the search for Truth. In the midst of the chaos in the world of her reality, Betty would gaze at that moon shell sitting on her desk and be reminded of her own need for singleness of purpose and total commitment to persevere into the heart of Love.
At times I struggle with what seems to be heavy chains!
They bind me.
For too often I lose sight of love.
I know it is God that is calling me at these times
to take another step into Love’s bondage.
Yet as I follow Him as best I can,
in full commitment, I find the struggle ends.
The chains are lifted.
“In an odd way, Lindbergh’s ideas made me more insecure because here was something I longed for desperately but didn’t think I could ever attain. Claim a week to myself? I needed it desperately but was far too fearful to do it. Finally, I got up the courage to tell Bryant I wanted to rent a small place at the beach for a week. He said it was fine on the condition that I took all the kids, so I did. It was a disaster. I was sitting there with my nose in a book, totally disconnected from my four children, who were crying because they were having no fun at all crammed in this little house with no one to play with and nothing to do. They needed me to be crabbing and swimming and building sand castles with them, but I was totally detached, sitting there in my chair thinking about God, with my head in the clouds, reading Anne Morrow Lindbergh and Florence Nightingale!”
In Gift from the Sea, Lindbergh expressed the reality of Betty’s day-to-day life, and the emotions Betty was feeling:
“Women’s life today is tending more and more toward the state William James described so well in the German work, “Zerrissenheit—torn-to-pieces-hood.” She cannot live perpetually in “Zerrissenheit.” She will be shattered into a thousand pieces. On the contrary, she must consciously encourage those pursuits which oppose the centrifugal forces of today. Quiet time alone, contemplation, prayer, music, a centering line of thought or reading, of study or work. It can be physical or intellectual or artistic, any creative life proceeding from oneself. It need not be an enormous project or a great work. But it should be something of one’s own. Arranging a bowl of flowers in the morning can give a sense of quiet in a crowded day—like writing a poem, or saying a prayer. What matters is that one be for a time inwardly attentive.”
Lindbergh’s words also inspired her and reminded her of her own need to turn inward, to spend time with herself:
“Moon shell, who named you? Some intuitive woman I like to think. I shall give you another name—Island shell. I cannot live forever on my island. But I can take you back to my desk in Connecticut. You will sit there and fasten your single eye upon me. You will make me think, with your smooth circles winding inward to the tiny core, of the island I lived on for a few weeks. You will say to me “solitude.” You will remind me that I must try to be alone for part of each year, even a week or a few days; and for part of each day, even for an hour or a few minutes in order to keep my core, my center, my island-quality. You will remind me that unless I keep the island-quality intact somewhere within me, I will have little to give my husband, my children, my friends or the world at large. You will remind me that woman must be still as the axis of a wheel in the midst of her activities; that she must be the pioneer in achieving this stillness, not only for her own salvation, but for the salvation of family life, of society, perhaps even of our civilization.”