The Spiritual Graces
Important as the physical graces are [discussed in Part II], the spiritual graces are of vastly greater importance. And I think we shall single out four of these. The first that I wish to stress is a love for people. You can do anything with people you love, or with people who love you. Without that love you cannot do much with them. And so just put that down. You have to learn to like all types of people. It isn't always easy to do. You are instinctively drawn to certain persons; then there are others before whom you want to put up your hands and hold them away from you. Think of the people who are always complaining about something, or the woman who always comes with the latest piece of gossip who considers it her duty to tell you something; or the indifferent people, who are often the hardest to love. All these the minister's wife must take to her heart and love. The Lord loves them, and so must she.
One day when I was quite young in the pastorate the telephone rang while the wife of our predecessor was calling. A woman on the phone was asking a question about some obscure passage of Scripture, maybe "seeing through a glass darkly," I can't remember now what it was. I did not have the slightest idea what she wanted. I was trying to be so tactful and say the right thing, but I didn't know what to say. Finally I had an inspiration and I said, "Let me ask my husband." That is always a safe refuge! You can ask your husband and he will know at least that you have not said anything he would not want you to say. And that gives you time to think up an answer. When I went back to the room where my caller was, she said, "I couldn't help overhearing your conversation. My husband always said, 'The Blanks belong to the Lord's feebleminded.' " Now, girls, just put that down in your notebooks, you who are young. "The Lord's feebleminded." They are His, and He loves them, and He wants you to love them. It isn't easy to do, but you will find them in every congregation. Not many of them, but every congregation has at least one. Love them, for love is the fulfilling of the law.
And then sympathy is another spiritual grace that is needed. The people who are broken hearted, who want to pour out their story to someone, will come to the minister's wife. A mother is concerned about a wayward son or daughter; or maybe the son or daughter feels the restraints of the parents at home they think Pa and Ma are old-fashioned and old- fogyish and don't understand what it is to be young and gay. You've all heard that. But you never give any specific advice, either to the mother or to the boy or girl, or to the woman whose husband is drinking or being unfaithful. You never give specific advice, but you can listen sympathetically, and you can always lead them into prayer. Very often in the moment of prayer the solution will come to the person who is in trouble. So take it to the Lord in prayer.
Another characteristic that we need as ministers' wives is common sense. You see many very fine women who can behave beautifully as long as everything goes all right, but when some crisis arises they go to pieces. A minister's wife isn't any good if she is going to become hysterical when she goes into a home of mourning where some member of the family has gone into hysteria. I think of one or two experiences in my own life. A mother had just died of cancer after agonizing weeks of suffering. The daughter had been trying to hold her job, nurse the mother, and care for the home, and of course she was worn out when the end came. She became hysterical. It was simply a case of physical exhaustion. The father was almost as hysterical as the daughter. So I had to deal with that.
In that particular case, suppose I had lost my head and become hysterical too and said, "Isn't this awful! What are we going to do?" That isn't the way you deal with it. You have to have just a little bit of what the farmers call "horse sense" to deal with a case of that kind. Again you may go into a home where the mother has just folded tiny hands in death, or in another where a boy, an only son in the family, has been electrocuted from a faulty wire, or where a little fellow seven years old has died from cancer. All of them are such heart-breaking things. Do they want a minister's wife who goes in and behaves unseemly? No, they want someone who will give them strength. And so in time you become the burden-bearer and the secret-sharer of the people of your church.
The Art of Courtesy
A last characteristic that I want to name is courtesy. Life in the parsonage, as well as out among the people, consists mainly of little things. In all of the books that you read about pastoral psychiatry and pastoral work and books along that line, they tell you about the great victories and the great triumphs and all that sort of thing, but they never tell about "the little foxes which spoil the vines," or those times when they did not succeed. And you know very well they have not succeeded one hundred per cent every time. There is going to be one book that tells where a woman sometimes fell flat on her face in defeat meaning me.
Discourtesy very often appears over the telephone. Why is it that we will say something over the telephone that we would not say to a person face to face? Just because there is that vast space between us. A meeting was being held in our church one afternoon at three o'clock. It was an innovation, I grant that, but it had been announced in the bulletin, and it had also been talked about enough, as we all knew. I had a small baby and no help. I was trying to get the baby settled for his nap, the dishes washed, and myself ready for church on time. You know a parson's wife must always be on time, or else! The telephone began to ring. Each time the question was, "Can you tell me what time the meeting is this afternoon?" Have you heard it, girls? Instead of calling one of the neighbors, they call the manse. Of course, that would be authoritative. Well, the kitchen was far in the back and the telephone was far in the front part of the house, one of the old southern colonial houses, a big long one. I had to go back down the hall, through the dining room, through the butler's pantry, into the kitchen and across the kitchen to the sink after each call. It was a Sabbath day's journey between kitchen and telephone. And each time I heard the same question.
The first ten or twelve times I answered courteously enough, "Yes, it's at three o'clock." I finally got to the place, though, when it was about the "umpteenth" time, that I was getting a little out of patience, so when I heard, "Can you tell me ..." I didn't let her finish her question; I said, "I certainly CAN. I've told about fifty people in the last half-hour. It's at three o'clock." Bang! went down my receiver. As I turned to go back to the kitchen, there stood my husband looking at me. He was shocked, to say the least. He said, "You cannot speak to the people of our congregation that way." "Well, I did," I retorted, and I began to cry as I fled into the kitchen.
After I had calmed down a little and brushed my hair and had got myself ready for church, I realized what an awful thing I had done. I would gladly have gone to the woman and apologized if I had known to whom to go. She had not given her name, and I certainly was in no mood to ask for it, and so that is a little piece of unfinished business left over for heaven. I am sure she still thinks of me as a very crude, rude Yankee as indeed I was. But there was nothing I could do about it. All that one can do under circumstances of that sort is to turn the blunder over into God's hands and ask Him for Jesus' sake to forgive and to overrule, and to keep you from ever committing such a sin again.
So if you have love and sympathy and common sense and courtesy, you will grow into a worthy woman. If you start out by developing these graces, the Lord will add still others as you need them. Your people will love you, not because you are perfect, but because they believe you are sincere. You will keep on growing into the likeness of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, and become by God's grace a worthy woman.
In closing I should like to read a prayer that was written by one of my friends in the South, "A Prayer for Ministers' Wives."
"Lord, incline now Thine ear to the supplication of Thine handmaiden. I am the helpmeet of Thy chosen servant and ambassador. Even as Thou hast called him to come apart and be separate, so hast Thou chosen me to serve with him. Look with com passion upon my human frailties and grant me a portion of Thy divine wisdom. Give me common wisdom to meet each day and situation in a manner best fitted to increase my usefulness to Thee.
"Deliver me from any sense o£ martyrdom, what ever the sacrifice. Bless me with a saving sense of humor. Deliver me from all appearances of indif ference, and save me from what may be an unbecom ing earnestness. Plant my feet firmly on this earth where Thou hast put me, but let me be so con scious of Thy presence that the trivial duties o£ the daily task may never blur the vision of Thy divine plan for my life and for the world. Direct me in all Thy ways. Help me to know when to speak and when to keep silent; when to sit still and when to act.
"May I be granted a reasonable portion of prac tical skill and a full share of discretion, courage, wholesomeness, and an all-encompassing love. Let my life be large in sympathy and understanding, and singularly free from pettiness. May my home, my children, my worldly interests, and every ex pression of my own personality be an asset and not a hindrance. As the world looks at me, even as at my husband, may it find a reflection of Thy Son, and may my conduct never mar His image, for it is in His precious name I have offered these prayers. Amen."
(To be continued)