Just finished reading a book by Elisabeth Elliot called Passion and Purity. It’s about her journey with God and with her eventual husband, Jim Elliot. They were in and out of contact, sure of their love for one another for around 5 years before marrying. The closest they came to “dating” was the letters they began writing to each other after he confessed his love for her and his assurance that God had, at least for a time, called him to remain single.
I’d venture to say that everyone who reads this book knows that it was written by an older woman, steeped in traditions that are not common traditions of today. Indeed, Elisabeth and Jim were married in 1953, which means he confessed his love for her in 1948. Yes, she is an older woman. Yes she is steeped in traditions that are no longer common. Many would write off this book–I am tempted to do so, myself–as antiquated and…well…antiquated. Elisabeth–“Bett,” to her beloved Jim–knew this would be the thought, even as she wrote the book. She constantly assured me, as I turned page after page, that this life she led/leads is doable for all who wish to answer the call.
Talk about stopping you in your tracks. In this book, their diligence to the letter of God’s calling, and her frank attitude about it all, is quite unlike anything I’ve encountered before. How can they so both so matter-of-fact-ly accept that–though they have an undeniable, deep, and abiding love for one another–they may never marry each other or anyone else? How? The world, and everyone else, always talks about how man and woman are made for each other. This is true, we were made to be compatible, to fit.
But that is not the design that Elisabeth and Jim focus on. Instead, they choose to answer the call put out in the New Testament: -Mathew 19:12: “For while some are incapable of marriage because they were born so, or were made so by me, there are others who have themselves renounced marriage for the sake of the kingdom of Heaven. Let those accept it who can.” -1 Corinthians 7:34-35: “The unmarried or celibate woman cares for the Lord’s business; her aim is to be dedicated to him in body as in spirit; but the married woman cares for worldly things; her aim is to please her husband. In saying this I have no wish to keep you on a tight reign. I am thinking simply of your own good, of what is seemly, and of your freedom to wait upon the Lord without distraction.”
Would I be willing to make that call, if it were placed on my heart? It hasn’t, as of yet, but if it does…what then? Do I accept my fate quietly, like the turning of a page? I know the correct answer: “Yes.” I know my heart’s answer: “It would be nigh impossible.” I know better than to worry about that now: “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble on its own.” (Mathew 6:34).
Returning to the unanswered question (which is also tied to the single-life question): Is Elisabeth and Jim Elliot’s path of yesteryear achievable in the here and now? If we are to listen to Elisabeth, the answer is a resounding “YES.” If we are to listen to any other source, the answer could be “maybe,” or “no,” or “who cares?” I think what it comes down to is a couple of things: 1) Do you care enough to try? and 2) Wherein does your hope lie? If the answer to #1 is “no,” I will still tell you to hear me out ’till the end. If your answer to #1 is “yes,” proceed to question #2. If you do not know the answer to #2, spend some time with yourself, honestly considering the potential answers.
I think the place, person, or idea in which you place your hope is key in determining whether or not this kind of life you can achieve. For Elisabeth, her hope was in God, her Creator. She knew, by faith, that her Creator knew better than she, knew that He had grander plans than she could imagine, knew that He was the only one who saw the entire picture, while she (and the rest of us) are like near-sighted horses with blinders on. Because of all of that, she could be at peace, knowing that if she was denied this great pleasure, He would still be her God, and she would be His beloved daughter, heir to the kingdom.
Elisabeth even wrote a “leaflet” to this effect, which I will copy here:
Be still and know that He is God. When you are lonely, too much stillness is exactly the thing that seems to be laying waste your soul. Use that stillness to quiet your heart before God. Get to know Him. If He is God, He is still in charge.
Remember that you are not alone. “The Lord, He it is that doth go with thee. He will not fail thee neither forsake thee. Be strong and of good courage (Deut. 31:8). Jesus promised His disciples, “Lo, I am with you always” (Matt. 28:20). Never mind if you cannot feel His presence. He is there, never for one moment forgetting you.
Give thanks. In times of my greatest loneliness I have been lifted up by the promise of 2 Corinthians 4:17-18, “For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, because we look not o the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen.” This is something to thank God for. This loneliness itself, which seems a weight, will be far outweighed by glory.
Refuse self-pity. Refuse it absolutely. It is a deadly thing with power to destroy you. Turn your thoughts to Christ who has already carried your griefs and sorrows.
Accept your loneliness. It is one stage, and only one stage, on a journey that brings you to God. It will not always last.
Offer up your loneliness to God, as the little boy offered to Jesus his five loaves and two fishes. God can transform it for the good of others,
Do something for somebody else. No matter who or where you are, there is something you can do, somebody who needs you. Pray that you may be an instrument of God’s peace, that where there is loneliness you may bring joy.
Yes, the loneliness she speaks of is a life without marriage, but it is also applicable to the loneliness in living a life of purity…because, let’s face it, in today’s world, it’s a fairly lonely life. But, if Elisabeth is to be believed, and I think she is, then it’s a full life: full of hope, of love (deeper, even, than love between a married couple), of strength, and of eternality.
Here’s to striving for a full life, one that’s worth the wait and the heartache.