Ellen G. White: The Lonely Years: 1876-1891 (vol. 3)


Chapter 13—(1881) Wrestling With the Problems of Retirement

Although James White was theoretically in agreement with the idea that he should step aside and let others carry the burden of leadership in the church, it was not easy for him to stand back and have no say in what should be done and how. He was distressed when he saw moves made in administrative lines that he felt could result in failure or would injure the cause. 3BIO 154.1

He buried himself in writing and in doing chores on the little farm and about the new home. He still held the position of editor in chief of the Review and Herald, and this kept the way open for him to speak to the church each week in reports and editorials. But why, he pondered and fretted, didn't the members of the General Conference Committee consult with him, and why didn't Willie, in Oakland? On the day he bought the new home, and less than a month since the changing of the guard at the General Conference session, Ellen White urged Willie: 3BIO 154.2

Please write to Father. Write freely. Show that you have some confidence in him. He is doing well. Is cheerful and kind. He feels that everything is kept from him by you and Haskell. He has some strong battles with himself.—Letter 45b, 1880. 3BIO 154.3

Two weeks later (November 17), in writing of her husband's experience to Haskell, perhaps the most influential of the three-member General Conference Committee, she said: 3BIO 154.4

I see that his mind on Bible subjects is clear and powerful. His foresight and discrimination on the truth was never better. His health is good. He could never serve the cause better than now if he viewed all things clearly.... He feels that you keep all your matters shut up to yourself, and your propositions and plans are to be published without due consideration and consultation. If you could be together to decide your plans, it would be better. If you would show confidence in my husband, it would help him.—Letter 3, 1880. 3BIO 154.5

Moving more in a pastoral role, James White frequently spoke in the Tabernacle. He occasionally baptized new converts and performed marriages. Among these was the marriage of the man to become widely known for his cornflakes, W. K. Kellogg, marrying Ella Davis. She was a sister to Marian, who assisted Ellen White in her literary work. 3BIO 155.1

Ellen's insight penetrated her husband's situation; in writing a message of caution on November 8, 1880, to Haskell, she declared: 3BIO 155.2

The only reason that my husband's influence today is not what God designed it should be is because he was not patient, kind, and was overbearing. Severity and too much dictation became interwoven with his character. You have seen and felt it. Others have felt it. 3BIO 155.3

Then in warning and explanation she continued: 3BIO 155.4

You, my brother, are in danger of failing just where he has failed.... The position of my husband, his age, his affliction, the great work he has done in the cause and work of God, have so fastened him in the affections of his brethren that many things he might say that savor of sharpness would be overlooked in him, that would not be regarded in the same light if spoken by younger ministers.—Letter 2, 1880.

Correspondence reveals that the early months of 1881 continued to be difficult. On April 22 she wrote freely of what she and James were considering: they would drop everything in Battle Creek and go to Colorado, where they could live and work without discouragements. If they were to continue in Michigan and James was to “labor ever so faithfully,” she saw as the results: 3BIO 155.5

All he would do would be criticized, and suspicions that had no foundation would be created if he did his best. And I should be held in the very same light by those who are on the doubting side of the Testimonies. I think that the future year's labor would be lost.... 3BIO 156.1

Now we shall leave for Colorado in a few weeks. I feel powerless to try to help anywhere. My husband's course, you well know, I have had no sympathy with. But at the same time if I speak the very things shown, it might appear that I was favoring his ideas. I feel sad, hedged in completely, and I will go away.... He has injured his influence, and if he goes now, others will take some responsibilities in regard to Battle Creek to set things in order.... 3BIO 156.2

As things now stand we can do nothing. We will take our things away. If James remains here he will take more or less responsibilities and he will become entangled in matters and things that he cannot help.—Letter 1, 1881. 3BIO 156.3

But the proposed trip did not materialize. For Ellen it continued to be an almost prostrating situation. On April 19 she wrote to the children in the West: 3BIO 156.4

I cannot see any way to help matters here at Battle Creek. I will not afflict my soul so much that I cannot do anything. I just wait and pray, doing my work in humbleness of mind and in quietness of spirit and say little about things. I have increased courage as I do this.... 3BIO 156.5

I dare not give counsel, even to my brethren. It is a perilous time. There was never such a state of things as now in Battle Creek. But we may be brought still lower before God will reach down His arm to lift us up. We need to feel and sense our weakness and feel our great need of help from God before help will come. 3BIO 156.6

When one poor mortal will try to stand under heavy burdens as though he must carry them or everything perish, he will be crushed under them and find, after all, God did not want him to make himself the burden-bearer. But when we lay these burdens upon Jesus and then do what little we can in His strength and not feel that everything depends on us, we can keep serenity of mind, calmness of spirit, and shall be in a condition to do much more effective service.—Letter 3b, 1881. 3BIO 156.7

James found satisfaction in visiting and mingling with the members. These loved and respected him, and were less concerned than the leaders in Battle Creek with his sometimes erratic movements. With the aid of Addie and May Walling, Ellen kept house in the big brick home and did a little writing. On a few occasions, as her ankle recovered from the accident, she accompanied her husband on his visits to nearby churches and to one or two weekend tent meetings he arranged for (The Review and Herald, June 7, 1881). 3BIO 157.1