Looking back at my teenage years is a bit of a blur, even though they were not all that long ago. I think it’s a blur because of all of the deep confusion I felt at times, and the dozens of enormous, seemingly insurmountable questions I was facing. I led a sheltered, happy life as a teen. I was involved in church, I had great friends, I was busy and happy for the most part, but that was no recipe for success. I still had to swim to the other side. I still had to decide what to believe, who to trust and what kind of adult I wanted to turn out to be.
Food fights were never my cup of tea. I wasn’t particularly interested in pranks or group games either. The youth group and I were in a tumultuous relationship. I loved my friends and I loved to learn, but by the time my senior year peeked over the horizon, I had had quite enough of church events seemingly aimed at folks with no attention span.
It was around this time I picked up my first book by Elisabeth Elliot. I am thankful my older sister lent me her copy of Passion and Purity when she did. It was an introduction to a beautiful soul and an excellent writer, but more than that, it gave me a raft to rest on in the middle of that sea of confusion.
Long before we coined (and butchered) the word “fundamentalism,” we used to speak of “fundamental values.” Don’t lie, cheat or steal. Be true to your girl (or guy). Show respect to your elders.
Elliot never avoided the harsh word or sugarcoated the truth. She took the Bible and laid it out the way she saw it and, as you waited for an apology, she gave you a blessing. Her books were so different than the patronizing church curriculum I had been exposed to. It was convicting, but it made so much sense to me, and that was worth the pain of conviction. Sense in a senseless world, wisdom for fools, truth in a time of false teachers: I discovered these things in her writing and uncovered them as one would gold nuggets from a rain gutter.
“I realized that the deepest spiritual lessons are not learned by His letting us have our way in the end, but by His making us wait, bearing with us in love and patience until we are able to honestly to pray what He taught His disciples to pray: Thy will be done.” (Elisabeth Elliot in Passion and Purity)
In Passion and Purity, I learned that celibacy is entirely possible, marriage is worth waiting for, loss and delay only draw us nearer to a God who binds our wounds, and that there’s a big difference between lust and love. I still regularly go back to that book in my mind and I don’t even know how many friends I’ve recommended it and lent it to. Passion and Purity is really two great books in one. First, there is Elliot’s sound advice on avoiding sin, choosing a mate, getting married, and being a marvelous spouse, but there’s also the Elliots’ incredible love story shared throughout. Resilient, devout, patient, and passionate, this couple is one to inspire you to hold out for something amazing!
“If we hold tightly to anything given to us unwilling to allow it to be used as the Giver means it to be used we stunt the growth of the soul. What God gives us is not necessarily “ours” but only ours to offer back to him, ours to relinquish, ours to lose, ours to let go of, if we want to be our true selves. Many deaths must go into reaching our maturity in Christ, many letting goes.” (Elisabeth Elliot in Passion and Purity)
“Maturity starts with the willingness to give oneself.” (Elisabeth Elliot in Let Me Be a Woman)
I took Let Me Be a Woman on my beach vacation and read it in just a few days. I know Elisabeth and I would’ve disagreed on a few things. I lean more toward being a Jesus Feminist than she probably would’ve approved of, but when it boils down to the important things, we are on the same page. And her copy of the page is so beautifully written! Her words in Let Me Be a Woman helped me work out what I believed about femininity and feminism. I learned not to ever be ashamed of my deep, innate desire to be womanly, to be a wife and a mother and keeper of a home. Written originally as her advice to her engaged daughter, this gem is insightful and plain smart.
“The life of faith is lived one day at a time, and it has to be lived – not always looked forward to as though the “real” living were around the next corner. It is today for which we are responsible. God still owns tomorrow.” (Elisabeth Elliot in Let Me Be a Woman)
“Christianity teaches righteousness, not rights. It emphasizes honor, not equality. A Christian’s concern is what is owed to another, not to himself.” (Elisabeth Elliot in Discipline: The Glad Surrender)
Apparently ready to have my world rocked yet again, I launched into a book study with my sister who originally introduced me to E. E., and our dear friend Elisabeth, who was named for her! We sat in coffee shops, week after week, and shared our ferociously underlined paragraphs from Discipline: The Glad Surrender. This book opened my eyes to the purpose and power of discipline in a believer’s life. It sounds dull, but it is one of the only books I can say I have read many times. About twice a year, I go back to that little volume and am reminded how and why to take my time, thoughts, work, feelings, possessions, and relationships before the Lord for guidance and order. It has been six years since I opened it for the first time, and I am continually encouraged by it. (I wrote a full review of Discipline here.)
“There will be time, depend upon it, for everything God wants us to do.” (Elisabeth Elliot in Discipline: The Glad Surrender)
“The secret is Christ in me, not me in a different set of circumstances.” (Elisabeth Elliot in “Keep a Quiet Heart”Keep a Quiet Heart)
That sweet season was followed by a dark time in my life. I was struggling emotionally and I felt lost and lonely. Jesus–and Elisabeth Elliot–could relate. I plucked her devotional, Keep a Quiet Heart, off my mom’s shelf. Every day’s reading was about something different, but her clear thoughts helped still my heart and focus my mind. It was another sea and another raft to rest on. I survived that dark season and came out stronger and more sure of my beliefs.
“Today is mine. Tomorrow is none of my business. If I peer anxiously into the fog of the future, I will strain my spiritual eyes so that I will not see clearly what is required of me now.” (Elisabeth Elliot in Keep a Quiet Heart)
“You can never lose what you have offered to Christ.” (Elisabeth Elliot in Keep a Quiet Heart)
With my newfound strength and ambition, I set out to declutter my life from distraction and chaos. I wrote a list of decisions I needed to make, relating to everything from relationships, career and summer plans, and checked them off one-by-one. (I wrote about that process here!) There was a time when these decisions could have, and certainly had, paralyzed me. I bought Just Do Something by Kevin DeYoung and God’s Guidance by (you guessed it) Elisabeth Elliot and made those decisions like a boss. Check, check, check–I got my life back in order. It was better to make a decision (any decision) than to flounder endlessly. Made up of only five chapters, all of which explore a different portion of The Lord’s Prayer, God’s Guidance was different than any other Elliot book I had read. My copy is marked up with pink highlighter and I owe it a lot.
“Leave it all in the Hands that were wounded for you.” (Elisabeth Elliot in Keep a Quiet Heart)
“Does it make sense to pray for guidance about the future if we are not obeying in the thing that lies before us today? How many momentous events in Scripture depended on one person’s seemingly small act of obedience! Rest assured: Do what God tells you to do now, and, depend upon it, you will be shown what to do next.” (Elisabeth Elliot in Quest for Love)
Perhaps it was by the skin of my teeth that I survived the youth group, the foggy teenage years, the dark and lonely months, and the looming list of tough decisions, but by God’s grace I turned twenty-four and was a happy, healthy adult. It was just this year that I pulled Quest for Love off my shelf for the first time. Praying for a husband is something Elisabeth would applaud me for, and though I may not go about everything exactly as she prescribed, I think she’d be pleased to know my heart is still very much for purity, matrimony, and the home. I am glad I read Quest for Love when I did and no sooner. Made up of other folks’ diverse stories of finding love with Elliot’s commentary dispersed throughout, Quest for Love was encouraging and gave me hope. It also reminded me that I can disagree with someone and still respect and enjoy their point of view. Elliot’s books, along with the others I dogeared during those formative years, had taught me to never throw the baby out with the bathwater and that finding the truth is infinitely more important than becoming associated with a movement or culture. Some of her advice in Quest for Love made me chuckle. It seems she is old fashioned, I am modern, and that’s the end of it. But other paragraphs cut me to the core. She’s old-fashioned and, in a certain light, I am just as antiquated.
“Often a Christian man or woman falls prey to that cruel and vexatious spirit, wondering how to find marriage, who, when, where? It is on God that we should wait, as a waiter waits–not for but on the customer–alert, watchful, attentive, with no agenda of his own, ready to do whatever is wanted.” (Elisabeth Elliot in Quest for Love)
Elisabeth once said to read, “…not just good books. Great ones.” She quoted Kafka when she said a great book is, “an axe to the frozen sea within us.” Oh, Elisabeth…that is what your books have been and continue to be for me. Thank you for everything.
Photography: JenniMarie Photography