I’m far away from home right now – in a place that is as beautiful as it gets – but my heart has carried around the grief of loss ever since my daughter called to tell me that Elisabeth Elliot passed away two days ago. As I watched a most spectacular sunset over the Pacific Ocean tonight I was enthralled by the colors and indescribable beauty that is almost commonplace here, but I kept thinking about how much more dazzling and exhilarating it will be to see the Glory of the Almighty Maker of the Universe. Splendor is a good word, and Elisabeth Elliot has just been ushered through the Gates of Splendor that she often talked about.
While I can celebrate her release from the pain and toil and struggles of this life, I do grieve the loss of her.
You see, she was my friend.
And while I always felt like I was her friend – she didn’t know me.
But she was my friend. I knew her. I knew her life because she openly talked about it in her books and on her radio show. I knew the parts of her heart that she was willing to share, so openly and plainly, through the same means. And I knew she was my friend because every time I heard her on the radio she told me so – she said, “You are loved with an everlasting love. That’s what the Bible says. And underneath are the everlasting arms. This is your friend, Elisabeth Elliot,” and I believed her.
As a young mother I read her book, Discipline, The Glad Surrender, and I was instantly sure that this woman could very well become my spiritual “mother.” I grew so much from the perspective she lovingly shared. I saw things in new ways. And I was helped in the practical, ordinary things – from ordering my day to include time to know God to getting the laundry done. I didn’t grow up in a Christian home, and no one showed me how to be a disciplined disciple, but my friend, Elisabeth helped. In fact, she helped decide the name of this blog, for it was through her counsel that I learned that there is great honor shown to God in doing the ordinary things in our lives well – as if we were doing them for him, for indeed we are. And God continues to surprise me with great depths of insight into his character and love through the very ordinary, common things in daily living.
Later, I learned what a Christian home might look like through the Shaping of a Christian Family. Desperately seeking an older, wiser woman who would be willing to mentor me through the intensely difficult terrain of disciple-ing our young brood into godly men and women, yet finding few who wanted or dared to take on the task, there was my friend, Elisabeth, always there with wisdom and practical tips alike. She taught me to be patient, but persistent with my darlings. She showed me that I wasn’t raising children, but men and women. She reminded me that the condition of their souls was infinitely more important than their behavior on any given day. And she taught me how to be an older woman to the younger women around me.
When I read Through Gates of Splendor, In The Shadow of the Almighty, and other books I learned of her losses – and how she saw God rooting out the sinfulness in her heart through them. “Who talks like this?” I remember thinking. My friend, Elisabeth, did, and I wanted to be that kind of woman.
I heard her speak once – I honestly don’t remember what the talk was about. But I do remember this one thing that she said. She was talking about growing older and the challenges that come with each stage in life. She said she’d overheard some younger women in the restroom talking about her saying what a “nice, godly old woman she was.” A little amused at their perspective of her, it gave us all a good chuckle. But then she went on to describe how these two women immediately started talking about one of their friends in a cutting and unkind way. Ever looking for a teachable moment, she said to all of us, “Ladies, if you want to be godly older women, you’d better start by becoming godly younger women right now.” I was thankful I hadn’t been one of the women in the restroom that day, but I knew it could have easily been me on any other day. The lesson hit home and I took her seriously.
Some of her most lasting lessons to me were things she quoted often (and I have followed suit):
“When you don’t know what to do, just look around and do the next thing.”
“Leave it all in the hands that were wounded for you.”
“If you believe in a God who controls the big things then you have to believe in one who controls the little things as well.”
“When asked how he got up every morning very early to pray my grandfather responded – ‘I get up!'”
(sorry all – I don’t have my books at hand to tell you where those quotes are from – and some of them may be paraphrased for I’ve used them over the years – but they are all from Elisabeth Elliot.)
I wrote to my friend Elisabeth, after reading The Shaping of a Christian Family for the third or fourth time, and told her how much it had helped me – us. I told her how much I appreciated that she had been willing to share not just the seeming successes in her life, but the reality of the struggles – and that that had helped me, too. I told her that in reading her books I knew that God was teaching me many of the same lessons, but because I had read about her struggles I was looking for his purposes in the pain and the struggles rather than railing against them.
She wrote me back a hand-written note to tell me that my note was encouraging to her. Imagine – I encouraged Elisabeth Elliot. But isn’t that how God works – one friend encourages another and together we build each other up?
I’ve read many more of Elisabeth Elliot’s books over the years. I’ve passed them on to others, given them as gifts, and encouraged others to read her simple, straightforward words.
I know she wasn’t perfect – no friend is except One. But I valued her a great deal. I am sad that she is no longer with us, but rejoice that she is in heaven with Jesus. I’m sure she is rejoicing with many saints who have stories to share with her similar to mine. What a lovely reward for a life lived in faithful service to her King.
I am indebted to this woman who God used in such a profound way in my life. I still hope to be like her – faithful to the end and used by God in the simple living out of an ordinary life. I know she will be sorely missed, as she was greatly loved.
Praying for her family and friends – all of us – who have lost someone dear.