Elisabeth Elliot died this morning at the age of 88. For those of you who don’t know her, she was a writer, speaker, and missionary whose husband’s death was portrayed in movies like “At the End of the Spear.” She was an amazing woman and a hero to many in the Christian faith. But in 1996, when I was first introduced to her, she was a vessel–an instrument of God, beckoning me to a life of glorious surrender.
It is rare that an encounter with someone totally changes the trajectory of your life. I can think of two, in my case. One was in 1994, and I may write about that one someday. But the other was a warm October day in Texas, when I picked up a book in my friend Angie’s room and she said with a warning, “don’t read that book unless you know you are ready.” The book was Passion and Purity. And whatever else I might have been, I most certainly was not ready.
I had been nursing an aching soul for several months. That previous spring my heart had been utterly and completely broken and, although I had no desire to re-establish that relationship again, my heart felt lost. My future seemed uncertain. I had gone on countless dates and was not lacking in available suitors, but nothing felt “right.” I was beginning to feel that there was no one who would ever be able to put the pieces of my heart back together again. So a book about romance was the last thing I thought I needed. But Angie’s warning felt like a challenge. And I took the bait.
As I began to read the story of the relationship between Elisabeth and Jim Elliot and the role that Christ played in it, I began to realize that, for my ENTIRE life, I had been looking for love in all the wrong places. No guy on the face of the earth could love me the way I was longing to be loved. No one could heal the brokenness I had experienced over my twenty years. No one, that is, but Jesus Christ.
To this day, I’m not certain if I surrendered my life to Christ when I was a child, as I had thought, or if it truly happened as I went through those tear-stained pages that week in Texas. I just know that when she wrote, “if my life is broken when given to Jesus, it is because pieces will feed a multitude, while a loaf will satisfy only a little lad,” I felt, for the first time, that Christ wanted ALL of me–just as I was. Even, perhaps especially, the broken bits. For a girl who had grown up believing that I had to be perfect to please God, this true encounter with the Gospel was life-changing. I met Jesus himself in the pages of that book. And I immediately knew I had to trust Him with my whole heart–even my love life. I knew without question that He was calling me to surrender my fragile heart to Him and Him alone. As strange as it seems now, I knew when I closed that book that the decision whether or not to lay my heart, my plans, and my dreams of love at the foot of the cross would determine EVERYTHING for me. Although I couldnt explain the heaviness of it, I could feel it. I felt the truth of His promises at the core of my being. I clung to verses like Romans 8:32: “He who did not spare his own son, but gave him up for us all–how will he not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things?” I did not know if God would give me a husband, but I was beginning to understand that, whatever He gave me, it would be GOOD.
And so, with nothing to lose, I decided to lose it all. I laid it down–my heart, my dreams, my brokenness–and I clung to HIM. I knew if He gave me nothing else, I would forever have all that I ever needed.
But He wasn’t done. And what He had in store for me was beyond even my wildest dreams and imagination. How God brought me and Eric together was extraordinary, and I would never have believed it was possible if I had not read the amazing story of Elisabeth and Jim Elliot. And because Elisabeth Elliot bid me to trust Him, I did. And the impact of that decision could never be measured.
I don’t have words to express my gratitude to her–for her willingness to live a life of obedience and total surrender to Christ, and for her willingness to share her struggles and plead with others to lay it all down. I told her “thank you” when I met her later that year, but at that time God had still kept hidden His plans for me. Eric and I still smile when we recollect how he was with me at that missions conference when I spoke with her. We didn’t know what God had in store for us less than a year later. But at that time it didn’t matter. I belonged to Christ. I had His heart, and He had mine. And I was content with waiting on His best for me. And when He unfolded His plan for me and Eric over the course of the next year, I was able to echo the words of Elisabeth Elliot as she spoke of her marriage to Jim: “It was unspeakably worth the wait.”
Thank you, Elisabeth. Thank you.