As I’ve talked to and prayed with several women in recent weeks about painful situations in their lives, I have found myself thinking about a truth that was shared with my mother many years ago by a great lady named Elisabeth Elliot. I embraced this truth about suffering and want to pass it on to you.
“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.”
Quotes by Elisabeth Elliot
This great woman of faith passed away last month. She is known as a brave missionary, a thought-provoking writer, and a sought-after speaker who earned the right to speak into the arena of suffering. She modeled and wrote about what she believed to be the biblical way to deal with pain and suffering. I’ll tell you a little bit about Elisabeth and then share a poignant story about my mother meeting and talking with her in the early 1990’s.
For younger people today, Elisabeth Elliot’s name might be familiar because of the movie, End of the Spear. The movie is a retelling of her young adult life in Ecuador as a missionary in 1956 where her first husband, Jim, was killed trying to make initial contact with the Auca tribal people. After he was killed, Elisabeth stayed in Ecuador with her toddler daughter, reaching out and even living among the very people who had killed her husband. She demonstrated the love and forgiveness of God.
“Of one thing I am perfectly sure: God’s story never ends with ashes.”
My parents attended Wheaton College in the late fifties, a few years after Elisabeth and Jim Elliot. The Elliots were highly regarded on campus and were known to have had a huge effect on the number of people who went into missions after they were there. The whole campus grieved when Jim and four other partnering missionaries were killed. Elisabeth Elliot tells the story in her first best-selling book, Through Gates of Splendor.
Elisabeth remarried only to watch her husband suffer and die of cancer after a few years of marriage. She married a third time, and this marriage lasted 40 years.
My heart was saying, “Lord, take away this longing, or give me that for which I long.” The Lord was answering, “I must teach you to long for something better.”
My mother read many of Elisabeth’s books and was moved by her depth of understanding and perseverance in the face of great tragedies and trials.
“To be a follower of the Crucified means, sooner or later, a personal encounter with the cross.”
After compounded losses in her own life, my mother went to hear Elisabeth speak. My mother’s mother and two remaining siblings passed away within a nine-month period. There were difficult issues with extended family members. She and my dad also experienced a couple difficult ministry crises. To say my mother was struggling and depleted was an understatement.
In Elisabeth’s book, A Path Through Suffering: Discovering the Relationship Between God’s Mercy and Our Pain, her insights are on point. “Who of us has not known the confusion, the ambivalence, the restlessness of pain? The soul is a kingdom divided against itself.”
At this point, my mom was confused, restless, and in pain. She drove several hours to a conference in the hopes of meeting with Elisabeth.
After the conference, my mother stood in a long line to speak to Elisabeth. When it was her turn, Elisabeth was generous with her time as they first talked briefly about Wheaton and common acquaintances. My mom explained what had been going on in her life over the last few years.
Elisabeth listened patiently as my mom shared her personal pain. After a few minutes, Elisabeth gently took my mother’s hands, looked her straight in the eye and said. “If anyone tells you that the answer is anything other than surrender, they are wrong.”
“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 pray, what He taught His disciples to pray: Thy will be done.”
The essence of “Thy will be done” requires surrendering to His plan and His way. Jesus modeled this for us in the Garden of Gethsemane. He prayed all night and asked the Father if there was any other way to avoid the intense suffering He knew was coming. In the end, He surrendered. He knew God had a bigger plan, a better plan, a plan to provide for our salvation through His sacrifice on the cross.
For those who don’t have a loving perception of our Abba Father in heaven, this could sound distorted. Elisabeth is not suggesting that we simply surrender to abusive relationships or not try to improve a terrible situation. What she means is, on a heart level, living with peace requires a surrender of my ideas about how my life should go, what people owe me, and more importantly what God allows me to endure or go through.
You can never lose what you have offered to Christ.
If we offer everything in our lives to the Lord, trust in His love for us, and ask Him to fill the empty places that loss and pain create, He promises to be our comforter… Himself!
“I, yes I, am the one who comforts you” (Isaiah 51:12a, NLT).
My mom was greatly comforted by Elisabeth’s truthful words that day, and I have been comforted by these truths at some of the lowest points in my life also. There have been many times of struggle in my own life where I voiced my anger and disappointment to God about the way He was orchestrating the things in my life, but in the end I have had to surrender to His plan and not mine.
“We want to avoid suffering, death, sin, ashes. But we live in a world crushed and broken and torn, a world God Himself visited to redeem. We receive his poured-out life, and being allowed the high privilege of suffering with Him, may then pour ourselves out for others.”
Receiving more of Jesus and surrendering to what God allowed in my life has been the only path forward to bringing me peace in the end. Offering every part of my life to God allows me to rest in His presence, knowing even if I don’t understand, He does.