As a teenager, I eagerly picked up The Story of the Trapp Family Singers and just as eagerly tossed it aside. With no curtain-clad children frolicking through the mountains, no young lovers dancing in mist-shrouded gazebos, and no car-vandalizing nuns what was the point? But recently a friend told me how much she enjoyed it, and besides, I really needed to “Finish a Book You Started but Never Finished” for the Literary Life 19 Books in 2021 Challenge. (You see how much I’ve already strayed from my original plan!
From my eminently more mature, seasoned, even matronly perspective, I figured I could endure the shock of the book’s divergence from the beloved movie. I couldn’t have been more than two chapters in when I marveled, “This is so much better, deeper, richer than the movie!” Duh, a book that’s better than the movie? How could I be so surprised? It’s just that I’ve loved the movie for so long I’m going to have to think of it as an entirely separate entity from this book which has come to mean so much to me.
I knew I had a treasure on my hands when my Charlotte Mason antennae started going up. After Maria and Georg’s (remarkably unromantic) courtship, they spent long winter evenings with the children gathered around the fire, the girls knitting and the boys whittling (handicrafts, anyone?), while Maria read for hours “fairy tales and legends, historical novels and biographies, and the works of the great masters of prose and poetry” (how’s that for a CM curriculum?). They sang “genuine music” together – folk songs, the great music of the church, the music of the masters (sorry, Rogers and Hammerstein!). And they certainly exceeded CM’s recommended six hours of daily outdoor time, especially in the summers when they camped for months on a remote island and biked all over Austria. My joy knew no bounds when Maria finally decided that children can be adequately schooled at home.
But even more than the Charlotte Mason connections, I found myself utterly shaken by Maria’s assertion that “the only important thing on earth for us is to find out what is the Will of God and to do it.” The only important thing? Not getting uninterrupted sleep at night? Or quiet time to myself during the day? Not orchestrating the most effective curriculum so my girls can go on to be Oxford scholars after kindergarten? I’ve always considered myself a pretty earnest seeker of God’s will, but I’ve never sought it so wholeheartedly, so cheerfully, as did Maria von Trapp.
When Maria and Georg lost their fortune, when they escaped Austria (in a remarkably prosaic fashion), when they lived each day not knowing where they would find food and shelter, can you imagine what Maria said time and time again? “Aren’t we lucky!” Have I ever said that when the milk spills yet again, when my young scholar writhes on the floor over long vowel sounds, when we’re facing an interminable rainy day stuck indoors? The thing is, Maria really meant it. She genuinely saw the blessing in her family’s deprivation: “But really – weren’t we lucky? Never before had we been so close to each other in the family as now.”
I don’t want to hold Maria up before us as one of those unattainable Proverbs 31 women who haunt us on our darkest nights. In the midst of such saintly trust, she was a very real person, full of hilarious blunders and soul-searing perplexities. (And don’t feel bad – even Georg grew a little annoyed at her perpetual cheer!). But I saw a pattern as the book unfolded that I believe reveals the very simple secret to her resiliency. Maria found that when they lost their fortune, they “reaped the first harvest of that blessed custom we had started long ago of reading the Gospel together with the children. At every crossroad, in every tribulation one word or the other would pop up, which seemed made for the occasion.”
Okay, okay, I read the Bible with my kids, too. True, but Maria acted as if she really believed it! The von Trapp’s story is a crystal-clear object lesson of what it means to apply Scripture to your daily life. Of being pregnant whilst trying to escape Austria, Maria concluded that “‘My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor your ways My ways’” and handled the inconvenience with equanimity.
Once in America, never knowing where their next concert, and therefore their next meal (for ten children, mind you!) would come from, they decided that God was setting apart this time for them to learn an important lesson so that they would never forget it: “Seek first the Kingdom of God and all these things shall be added unto you.”
And sometimes “all these things” is just the one thing that we absolutely need to sustain us and keep us looking to him for the very next moment. Like all of us, Maria would have preferred to know God’s plans upfront, but she concluded, “It would have been easy for God to show us the plan for this period, as He had it all fixed up…But then we again would not have learned that most valuable lesson, so He left us in the dark, and gave us only one thing at a time.”
Today God’s will for me appears to be glamorous tasks like washing dishes, teaching subtraction, and probably more than anything, spending undistracted time with my girls. I’m determined at some point today, whether in the midst of laundry or settling sibling squabbles, to just giggle to myself for a moment, “Aren’t I lucky?” and see how it changes my day. What’s God’s will for you today? As Maria would say, “Now then, go and do it, and wholeheartedly, too.”