A few years ago I read a book titled In Trouble and In Joy: Four Women Who Lived For God by Sharon James. She wrote fairly short biographies of four women and then included several samples of their own writing: Margaret Baxter, wife of Puritan preacher Richard Baxter; Sarah Edwards, wife of Jonathan Edwards; Anne Steele and Frances Ridley Havergal, both single hymn writers. You might know some of Frances’s hymns: “Take My Life and Let It Be,” “Like a River Glorious,” “I Could Not Do Without Thee,” “Who Is on the Lord’s Side?” She wrote a sweet poem about fellow hymn writer Fanny Crosby, shown here. She only lived 42 years. One of the excerpts from Frances Ridley Havergal included this letter from a collection that was published under the title Swiss Letters (available online at Google Books). It was convicting to me because I’m sure I would have reacted much less graciously than she did.
For the first and only time in Switzerland, I found a strange contrast to the usual civility and even kindness of the people…A tall, bold, rough girl, of twenty-five or so, let me in. ” Yes, you can have a room when it’s ready; not before. Here, in here !” And she ushered me into a dark dirty room with tables and benches, marched off, and shut the door. I did not like my quarters at all, but there was no help for it…. But of course I had been asking all along to be guided, so I was not uneasy, but expected I had been guided there for some good reason, perhaps some wandering sheep to be found. It got quite dark, and then five or six men came in, and she brought a candle, and they sat down at one of the tables and smoked. I hardly think they saw me. I asked if my room was ready. ” No, you must wait! ” and out she darted, slamming the door. So I waited, sitting on my bench in my dark corner for nearly an hour, she coming roughly in and out, talking noisily and bringing wine for the men. At last— ” You can come upstairs now! ” So I went, glad enough.
It was not quite so dirty as downstairs, but not brilliant. A jug and basin on the table was all the apparatus ; the bed was barley straw, no pillow, but a pink cotton bolster. “Are you going to bed now ?” she asked. I told her yes, very soon. About eight o’clock, just as I really was going to bed, came a sharp angry rap at my door. I was glad it was locked, for before I could answer the handle was rattled violently.
“What is it?”
“Are you going to burn the candle all night ? How soon are you going to put it out, I should like to know! burning it all away ‘ comme cela!'” I considered it advisable to answer very meekly, so I merely said it should be put out in a few minutes, whereupon she banged downstairs. It seemed to me that this was an ” opportunity,” so I asked God that when morning came He would shut her mouth and open mine.
[The next morning at breakfast] I asked her to get me some coffee. ” Can’t have coffee till it’s made !” said she savagely. So I went and sat outside the door and waited patiently. In about half an hour she poked her head out. ” Do you want anything besides coffee ?” still in a tone as if I were a mortal enemy ! I suggested bread and butter. ” Butter!” (as if I had asked for turtle soup!) ” there is none, but you can have a piece of bread if you like.”
Then it was my turn! I went close to her, looked up into her wicked-looking eyes, and put my hand on her arm and said (as gently as possible): ” You are not happy ; I know you are not.” She darted the oddest look at me ; a sort of startled, half frightened look, as if she thought I was a witch! I saw I had touched the right string and followed it up, telling her how I saw last night she was unhappy, even when she was laughing and joking, and how I had prayed for her; and then, finding she was completely tamed, spoke to her quite plainly and solemnly, and then about Jesus and what He could do for her. She made a desperate effort not to cry. She listened in a way that I am sure nothing but God’s hand upon her could have made her listen, and took ” A Saviour for You” (in French), promising to read it, and thanking me over and over again. The remaining few minutes I was in the house she was as respectful and quiet as one could wish. I also got a talk with her old mother. So if God grants this to be the checking of this poor girl in what I should imagine to be a very downward path, was it not well worth getting out of the groove of one’s usual comforts and civilities?