Elisabeth Elliot: December 21, 1926 - June 15, 2015.
I've been reading tributes to Elisabeth Elliot all day. Every one that pops up in my newsfeed I click on, and it seems as if they all do something similar. They acknowledge the impact her ministry has had, they address the frankness with which she spoke, and they celebrate the fact that she and the author agree on various things. Many are grateful for the way she unwaveringly promoted the gospel of Jesus Christ and are quick to note how prominent of a role she had in evangelical circles, especially concerning missions.
They are very nice articles, and I do not want to detract from the admiration of her colleauges. It is well deserved.
But I want to add something slightly different to the conversation. I want to tell you how I was directly affected by the ministry of Elisabeth Elliot. I want to share the ways she confronted, challenged, and convicted me as a young woman.
I want to praise one of my most beloved mentors.
Elisabeth Elliot did not just have an impact on generations of women, in general. Elisabeth Elliot had a phenomenal impact on me ... my life, my friendships, my calling, and most importantly my relationship with God.
How can I even begin to say thank you?
My first run-in with the writings of Elisabeth Elliot was quite comical actually. I'm not sure where I heard mention of the book, Passion and Purity, but somehow, I caught wind of the title and was told it might be something I would want to check out. So, I did what anyone would have done in the old days when we wanted a book. I drove to the nearest Barnes and Noble to peruse the volume.
Well, the subject seemed far too intense for little old me, too confrontational perhaps, too close to home I'm sure, and so I bought something else. Some other who-knows-what Christian living book came home with me and began to collect dust on my shelf. A few more not-worth-reading-but-distraction-from-Passion-and-Purity books made it onto that shelf in subsequent trips until finally I decided to suck it up and buy the dang thing. I am not lying when I say I hid the book near my thigh as I walked to the check-out counter, beelined it to my college bedroom with the book still in the bag when I returned home, and quickly secured the lock behind me. Only then, in the complete solitude of my room did I dare take the offensive material out and begin reading.
I read the entire book in one night.
And thus began my journey into the world of Elisabeth Elliot.
A world in which God is so mighty and powerful and fearful that one can only submit and follow his word. A world in which God is so good and holy and just that one can only trust in the perfect provision of his will and plan. A world in which God is so loving and caring that one cannot help oneself from praying for every and all things, because why would we not ask of our Father who has loved us for all eternity?
A world in which life without Jesus made no sense, offered no hope, provided no comfort, gave no peace, and a world in which life with Jesus was life abundant and full.
I want to be clear here. I did not love Elisabeth Elliot, because I easily agreed with her writings, as if my head was nodding up and down affirming everything she wrote as I read. Oh no!
Rather, I loved Elisabeth Elliot, because when I first encountered her, I was living a largely "I'm saved, no need for obedience" kind of Christian life, and she challenged this. Her writings forced me to stop and consider and pray.
It was hard for me to read Elisabeth Elliot, painful.
She uncovered selfishness, pride, disobedience, willfulness, impatience. She forced me to face the idea of Biblical holiness. She forced me the look into the face of the living God and to experience not only easy salvation, but fear and awe and power and grace and forgiveness and beauty.
It was huge.
This view of God, this understanding of the purpose of life, changed everything.
I devoured whatever I could get my hands on by her, and as a result began devouring my Bible. If Elisabeth Elliot did one thing in her life, she sent people to the source. She was the ultimate deflector, only and always pointing people back to Christ!
As I've come out of the Elisabeth Elliot haze of my early 20's, I've heard critiques on her work, saying that her extreme call for obedience left people always feeling ashamed, guilty, broken. And perhaps that might have been the case for those who pursued this thing called holiness on their own, but here's the deal. I didn't have a legalistic bone in my body. I was fully prepared to allow God to love me in spite of, in spite of, in spite of my sins. I loved grace! I'll take your grace all day long!
But I had no intention of changing my lifestyle in a response of gratitude. I hung out for a long time in the land of gray. Maybe this is ok, maybe not. Probably isn't, but what do I need to worry about. I have grace!
Elisabeth Elliot came in and said, NO! There is no gray area! There is only holiness, and what you are thinking, saying, doing is not holy!
And it was exactly what I needed to hear.
I needed someone like Elisabeth Elliot to boldly enter the picture and with great loving wisdom, say NO. Stop sinning. It is not good for you. It hurts you. It hurts your witness. It hurts others. It does not please God. For goodness sakes, stop.
And the pursuit of holiness is just the first of many lessons Elisabeth Elliot taught me.
She also taught me to wait. For painstakingly long periods of time. Wait.
She taught me that suffering is a gift from God to be borne under. Suffer well.
She taught me to be a woman. A God-fearing, praying, Bible loving woman. A woman who loves her Lord and her husband and her children. A woman who loves the church and her neighbors and her friends.
In this same vein, she taught me the urgency of spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Throughout my 20's as decisions were made concerning missions in Ireland, applications to seminary and marriage with Mark, Elisabeth Elliot's wisdom was always in my mind, pointing me back to the Bible and to the Lord. As I suffered with illness during my first pregnancy and as I struggled through the first years of motherhood and ministry, I heeded her admonishment to accept what the Lord has given as necessary for my good and his glory.
You see why I count this woman as a spiritual mentor, and why I am eternally grateful for her life and witness?
And I know I am not alone. Elisabeth Elliot's legacy does not start and end with me, but rather includes hundreds and hundreds of other women just like me, who needed a strong, loving voice to come into their lives, exclaim NO to sin, and point them to truth and life in the person of Jesus.
After years of struggling with dementia, Elisabeth Elliot went to be with the Lord a few days ago. And I must say, I'm relieved for her. She who taught me to wait has waited so long for this day, for this time, when she can see her Lord and Maker in all his glory and power and majesty.
Praise God for this faithful servant! Praise God for calling her to his family, for saving her! Praise God for carrying her through a life of heartache and pain, of love and joy! Praise God for the work he allowed her to accomplish, for the lives he allowed her to influence! Praise God for preserving her for himself! Praise God that she is worshipping him today in his presence with all the other saints who have gone before, that she is no longer suffering or in pain, but that she is whole and full and perfect!
Praise the Lord for this life well lived!
I am grateful.
Lesson Learned: Elisabeth Elliot loved hymns before it was cool to love hymns, including this one.
"O Love that will not let me go, I rest my weary soul in Thee; I give Thee back the life I owe, That in thine ocean depths its flow, may richer, fuller be."