Today, I am fulfilling my New Year’s resolution. I had resolved to write Christian author and speaker Elisabeth Elliot a thank-you letter this year. However, last week, she passed from this life and into the next one. Her writings have influenced me in immeasurable ways, so maybe her legacy is better served in an open letter to you, my friends.
At seventeen, I placed my faith in Jesus, but as a young woman, I stumbled around in my new faith. Dina, the woman who led my college bible study, introduced me to Elisabeth Elliot’s Passion and Purity: Learning to Bring Your Love Life Under Christ’s Control. In the book, Elisabeth tells the story of her relationship with Jim Elliot, missionary to the Auca Indians of Ecuador and martyr. She wrote:
“As I grew into womanhood and began to learn what was in my heart I saw very clearly that, of all things difficult to rule, none were more so than my will and affections. They were unruly in the extreme…”
Her honesty about physical attraction was refreshing. “Paul was a very earthy man. he did not deceive himself about the power of women over men or vice versa. he knew the drives, was acquainted with pitfalls, and very sensibly told the Christians of Corinth ‘…it is good for a man not to touch a woman.’ ‘…It is a good thing for a man to have nothing to do with women; but because there is so much immorality, let each man have his own wife and each woman her own husband.’ In other words, when you get to the point where you can’t keep your hands off each other, it’s time to get married. The current ‘touchy-poo’ brand of Christianity had no place in Paul’s thinking. He never said, ‘Let each man have his own relationship.'”
A year later, I knew that I wanted a life of missionary or ministry work. My friend Lynn recommended that I read Elliot’s A Chance to Die: The Life and Legacy of Amy Carmichael. Amy Carmichael’s life embodied the simplicity of trust and obedience, spending most of her life in India, rescuing children from sexual slavery in the Hindu temples. Amy famously said, “All missionary work is a chance to die.”
As a young wife and mother, I read Through Gates of Splendor by Elliot. The book chronicles her life with Jim Elliot in Ecuador until he was killed along with four other young men by Auca tribesmen in 1956. Her unyielding faith in God’s plan has remained with me. After the bodies of the men had been discovered in the remote jungle location and the news had been delivered to their young widows at the missionary station, Elisabeth writes of the moment: “Their news had been met with serenity. No tears could rise from the depth of trust which supported the wives.”
In the last two years of my life, facing a change of life’s seasons, I read Be Still My Soul published by Elliot in 2003. One underlined sentence reads, “Sometimes the deepest level of trust has the appearance of doing nothing.” Another reads, “The deepest spiritual lessons come through suffering. It takes the deep water and the hot fire and the dark valley to teach us the walk of faith.”
Thank you, Elisabeth, for modeling the walk of faith.