1778) “Somebody Has to Do the Work”

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Pearl Buck (1892-1973) at home in Zhenxiang, China as a child (on left)


From The Exile, by Pearl S. Buck, 1936; as quoted in Stories of Faith, by Ruith Tucker, 1989.

     Spending time in prayer each day is a discipline that is often difficult to maintain, and missionaries sometimes struggle more with time pressures than do Christians who are not involved in full-time ministry.  Carrie Sydenstricker found this to be true during her years in China.  She was a busy mother who prayed swiftly, and could have identified with the prayer of the psalmist, “When I call, answer me quickly.”

     Carrie would have been lost in obscurity as so many other missionary women have been had it not been for her biographer—her illustrious daughter, the Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winning novelist Pearl S. Buck.   From the beginning, Carrie had mixed emotions about spending her life and raising her children in China.  She had lost three little ones and feared for her other children.

     Although she faithfully ministered among the Chinese women, Carrie struggled in her own spiritual life.  “Deep down under all the fullness of her life, Carrie still felt at times the inadequacy of her relation to God.  She planned sometimes for a period when she would withdraw and really seek to find what she needed.  She planned to read her Bible more and pray more and try to be ‘good.’”

     Her prayer life is graphically contrasted to her husband’s in a story from Pearl Buck’s own experience.  She asked her mother one morning after breakfast, “What makes the red marks on Father’s forehead?”

     “They are marks from his fingers where he leans his head on his hand to pray,” Carrie answered soberly.  “Your father prays for a whole hour every morning when he gets up.”  Such holiness was awe-inspiring.  The children looked for similar marks on their mother’s forehead, and one asked, ‘Why don’t you pray, too, Mother?’

     “Carrie answered—was it with a trifle of sharpness?—’If I did, who would dress you all and get breakfast and clean house and teach you your lessons?  Some have to work, I suppose, while some pray.’

     “Andrew came out of his habitual abstraction long enough to overhear this, and to remark gently, ‘If you took a little more time for prayer, Carrie, perhaps the work would go better.’

     “To which Carrie replied with considerable obstinacy, ‘There isn’t but so much time, and the Lord will just have to understand that a mother with little children has to condense her prayers.’

     “The truth of it was that Carrie was not very good at long prayers.  She prayed hard and swiftly at times, but she prayed as she worked.”


Luke 10:40  —  Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made.  She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself?  Tell her to help me!”

Psalm 102:1-2  —  Hear my prayer, Lordlet my cry for help come to you.  Do not hide your face from me when I am in distress.  Turn your ear to me; when I call, answer me quickly.

Philippians 4:6  —  Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.



Lord, I shall be very busy this day.  I may forget thee but do not thou forget me.
—Sir Jacob Astley (1579-1652)

The things, good Lord, that we pray for,
Give us the grace to labor for.
—Thomas More (1478-1535)

God give me work 
Till my life shall end 
And life 
Till my work is done. 
–An old prayer

Seen on an old gravestone in Germany:  When Thou callest me, Lord Christ, I will arise.  But first let me rest a little, for I am very weary.