It is also one of the plainest requisitions of Christianity, that we devote some of our time and efforts to the comfort and improvement of others. There is no duty so constantly enforced, both in the Old and New Testament, as that of charity, in dispensing to those who are destitute of the blessings we enjoy. In selecting objects of charity, the same rule applies to others as to ourselves; their moral and religious interests are of the highest moment, and for them, as well as for ourselves, we are to "seek first the kingdom of God."
Another general principle is, that our intellectual and social interests are to be preferred to the mere gratification of taste or appetite. A portion of time, therefore, must be devoted to the cultivation of the intellect and the social affections.
Another is, that the mere gratification of appetite is to be placed last in our estimate; so that when a question arises as to which shall be sacrificed, some intellectual, moral, or social advantage, or some gratification of sense, we should invariably sacrifice the last.
As health is indispensable to the discharge of every duty, nothing which sacrifices that blessing is to be allowed in order to gain any other advantage or enjoyment. There are emergencies when it is right to risk health and life to save ourselves and others from greater evils; but these are exceptions, which do not militate against the general rule. Many persons imagine that if they violate the laws of health in order to attend to religious or domestic duties, they are guiltless before God. But such greatly mistake. We directly violate the law, "Thou shalt not kill," when we do what tends to risk or shorten our own life. The life and happiness of all his creatures are dear to our Creator; and he is as much displeased when we injure our own interests as when we injure those of others. The idea, therefore, that we are excusable if we harm no one but ourselves, is false and pernicious. These, then, are some general principles to guide a woman in systematizing her duties,and pursuits.
The Creator of all things is a Being of perfect system and order; and, to aid us in our duty in this respect, he has divided our time by a regularly returning day of rest from worldly business. In following this example, the intervening six days may be subdivided to secure similar benefits. In doing this, a certain portion of time must be given to procure the means of livelihood, and for preparing food, raiment, and dwellings. To these objects some must devote more, and others less, attention. The remainder of time not necessarily thus employed might be divided somewhat in this manner: The leisure of two afternoons and evenings could be devoted to religious and benevolent objects, such as religious meetings, charitable associations, school visiting, and attention to the sick and poor. The leisure of two other days might be devoted to intellectual improvement and the pursuits of taste. The leisure of another day might be devoted to social enjoyments, in making or receiving visits; and that of another, to miscellaneous domestic pursuits, not included in the other particulars.
It is probable that few persons could carry out such an arrangement very strictly; but every one can make a systematic apportionment of time, and at least aim at accomplishing it; and they can also compare with such a general outline the time which they actually devote to these different objects, for the purpose of modifying any mistaken proportions.
Without attempting any such systematic employment of time, and carrying it out, so far as they can control circumstances, most women are rather driven along by the daily occurrences of life; so that, instead of being the intelligent regulators of their own time, they are the mere sport of circumstances. There is nothing which so distinctly marks the difference between weak and strong minds as the question whether they control circumstances or circumstances control them.
It is very much to be feared that the apportionment of time actually made by most women exactly inverts the order required by reason and Christianity. Thus the furnishing a needless variety of food, the conveniences of dwellings, and the adornments of dress, often take a larger portion of time than is given to any other object. Next after this comes intellectual improvement; and last of all, benevolence and religion.
It may be urged that it is indispensable for most persons to give more time to earn a livelihood, and to prepare food, raiment, and dwellings, than to any other object. But it may be asked, how much of the time devoted to these objects is employed in preparing varieties of food not necessary, but rather injurious, and how much is spent for those parts of dress and furniture not indispensable, and merely ornamental? Let a woman subtract from her domestic employments all the time given to pursuits which are of no use, except as they gratify a taste for ornament, or minister increased varieties to tempt the appetite, and she will find that much which she calls "domestic duty," and which prevents her attention to intellectual, benevolent, and religious objects, should be called by a very different name.
No woman has a right to give up attention to the higher interests of herself and others for the ornaments of person or the gratification of the palate. To a certain extent, these lower objects are lawful and desirable; but when they intrude on nobler interests, they become selfish and degrading. Every woman, then, when employing her hands in ornamenting her person, her children, or her house, ought to calculate whether she has devoted as much time to the really more important wants of herself and others. If she has not, she may know that she is doing wrong, and that her system or apportioning her time and pursuits should be altered.
Some persons endeavor to systematize their pursuits by apportioning them to particular hours of each day. For example, a certain period before breakfast is given to devotional duties; after breakfast, certain hours are devoted to exercise and domestic employments; other hours, to sewing, or reading, or visiting; and others, to benevolent duties. But in most cases it is more difficult to systematize the hours of each day than it is to secure some regular division of the week.