This is part of an ongoing series on Kingdom Women—women God has used and is using in His great Kingdom endeavor. We will meet these women in God’s Word, in the early church, in the dark ages, in the past great missionary efforts and among today’s true followers of Jesus. Madam Guyon, a spiritual leader in the church and among the elite, paid a hard price for her faith.
Madame Jeanne Bouvier de la Mothe Guyon: An Uncommon Voice
It was an unusually warm spring day in Oregon, when I first met Madame Guyon. I remember it as clearly as any other milestone day in my life. I was on my deck, reading an assignment from a rather dense text book on the lives of ancient, obscure church personalities.
I had been going through a difficult personal struggle at the time. You know the type. I was wrestling with the Lord, feeling sorry for myself, trying to get past hurt, yearning for some kind of justice. I had spent several months with wrinkled brow, tense shoulders and smoldering anger.
As I read along, barely paying attention, this popped out to me like a ray of sun around a threatening grey cloud:
“What is abandonment? It is forgetting your past; it is leaving the future in His hands; it is devoting the present fully and completely to your Lord. Abandonment is being satisfied with the present moment, no matter what that moment contains. You are satisfied because you know that whatever that moment has, it contains, in that instant, God’s eternal plan for you. You will always know, that moment is the absolute and total declaration of His will for your life.…”
It was as if a soft gentle voice spoke to me right out of the pain and confusion I was feeling. Not with “snap out of it” advice or ‘you made your bed…’ logic, but gentle truth of who God is and how he wanted to minister to me.
I read that paragraph over and over and became intrigued with the woman who wrote it more than 300 years ago.
She was born Jeanne de La Mothe in 1648 to wealthy land owners in Montargis, France It was the era of Louis XIV, an era of turmoil, war, spiritual depravity, frivolity and church politics. Jeanne was sent to live in a convent at the age of 3 where she was reared by nuns and servants. She grew up with a deep sense of devotion to God, an uncommon familiarity with the Scriptures and a mind bright and curious.
At age 15, Jeanne, against her will, married Jacques Guyon, a wealthy 32-year-old bachelor. Along with the marriage came the groom’s overpowering mother.
Although wealthy and living in the society of Paris, Jeanne struggled in her new life. Her emotionally detached husband saw her as an asset at his arm. Her critical, domineering mother-in-law saw her as a means to attaining an heir. Jeanne knew herself to be spiritually starving and in great need to know God.
It was Jeanne’s dying father who directed her to a priest to ask for help. She complained to the priest about her hard work of going to mass, lighting candles and going to confession without experiencing God or peace in any of it.
“Madame,” he said simply, “your efforts have been unsuccessful because you seek without what you can only find within. Accustom yourself to seek God in your heart and you will not fail to find him.”
This simple reality sent Jeanne on a new and revitalized walk with God. She never spoke against the church, but her life became driven by a deep desire to walk with God and to help others to experience God in relationship, not depending on outward actions and traditions to find help and peace.
After 12 years of a difficult marriage and five children, Jeanne’s husband died. At age 27 she became relatively free to pursue her long held desire to serve God. For five years, she traveled the region of Savoy, around Lake Geneva, bringing medical help and spiritual encouragement. Always working within the confines of the church, she managed to stir up ire among the spiritual elite. The fact she was a woman, certainly didn’t help matters.
It was during this time that she began to write. One of her first books, A Simple and Easy Method of Prayer, was published by a friend and distributed around the region causing the church to take notice.
“As you pick up this book, you may feel that you simply are not one of those people capable of a deep experience with Jesus Christ..but we have all been called to the depths of Christ, just as surely as we have been called to salvation. When I speak of this ‘deep, inward relationship to Jesus Christ,’ what do I mean? Actually, it is very simple. It is the expression of love within your heart for Him”
Back in Paris, Jeanne began to have influence with the many members of King Louis’s court, including his wife. It was during this time, she became acquainted with Bishop Francois Fenelon. Her spirituality and theology inspired his own and the two experienced opposition from the King that resulted in the notorious ‘Quietist Affair’, a theologic battle of the minds among the leading church hierarchy of France as well as Pope Innocent XII.
Jeanne was imprisoned several times without trial, ending in four desperate years in The Bastille, known as The Abode of the Broken Hearts.
She was released from the Bastille in 1702 at the age of 54, spending the next 17 years of her life in exile not far from Paris. With Fenelon exiled to Cambrai, the two began to write, give spiritual direction and lead an underground, so to speak, movement of devotion to Christ.
The woman the King meant to silence became a beacon of grace and hope for people all over the world in the subsequent 300 years. The imprisonment and exile, intended to silence, actually gave her and Fenelon the opportunity to write and influence French politics and culture, not to mentions European spirituality and American thinking.
Jeanne died on June 7, 1717 at the age 72 of natural causes at her home in Blois, France. Her heroic and tender voice could not be silenced by the likes of King Louis XIV. As a daughter, wife, mother, writer, nurse, teacher, philanthropist and spiritual director, she lived her life with passion for only one thing, her faith in God. Her work continues to be translated and published today and is available to those who also long to walk intimately with Him.
What about you? How has God led you deeper with Him?
A staff member with Cru, Margaret Brown lives with husband Marty, and visiting
children and grand children, in Portland, Oregon. Margaret holds a Masters Degree
in Spiritual Formation from George Fox Evangelical Seminary. A ten year
fascination with Madame Guyon has inspired a recently completed historical novel,
The Quietist Affair.
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