Tuesday, June 23, 2015

My Changing Relationship Over the Years with Elisabeth Elliot

Most of my readers are probably aware that Elisabeth Elliot passed away last week. She was such an inspiration to me on my spiritual journey, and this was rather bittersweet news. Sweet, because she is with her Lord and Savior that she served so well. Sweet, because of relief from the dementia she suffered for the past several years. Bitter, because our world has lost such a godly woman and example.

I enjoyed reading various eulogies and articles that were posted last week. I can't remember the exact post, but one of my favorites was an interview between Elisabeth Elliot and two Harolds in the 1970s. It was very interesting to read her views on the current events of that time period.

But, then, on Saturday night, another article came up in my FB newsfeed. It was was titled something like A Complicated Eulogy for Elisabeth Elliot.

It was rather fascinating to read. Like myself, the author had been greatly influenced by the writings of Elisabeth Elliot in her teens. But, somewhere along the author's journey, she has reached a point where she no longer agrees with most of what Elisabeth Elliot wrote on relationships, purity and gender roles. She likes her gap-toothed smile, but...

Thus, it's complicated.

Which I can understand, though I have not reached the same conclusions as that author. I still agree with Elisabeth Elliot's views on relationships, purity and gender roles. But, I've had my own journey with Elisabeth Elliot.

I have never heard Elisabeth Elliot speak, not even her radio broadcast. I've never met her. I've only read a few of her books. But, they impacted my life.

I remember being loaned a copy of Passion and Purity when I was 19. I read it, and then I read it again. I took notes the second time. It wasn't my book, so I couldn't highlight and underline. But, I still wanted to remember the wisdom of the book.

I bought my own copy soon afterwards.

I've talked about being challenged by her example of reading through the Bible each year from high school on. I figured if she could do it, so could I. And I have.

But, more to the subject of the book...what I read was a love story. A love story between two flesh and blood people. Who had a happy ending-at least until death do us part. IMHO, one of the most memorable lines (and often quoted) from the book is actually towards the end. "Four bare legs in a bed." (actually a C.S. Lewis quote) So scandalous for a Christian book! When Elisabeth was writing about passion, she was writing about Song of Solomon passion.

I read about waiting for the right man, but not listlessly waiting. I read about waiting, seeking and serving God. Growing as a Christian, building life skills, taking each next step as it presented itself. Waiting in purity of body, soul and spirit.

I didn't read that a woman is only completed with a man. I didn't read that women aren't spiritual beings. I didn't read that women can't serve in church. I read quite the opposite.

My copy of the book is rather dog-eared. I lived and breathed those words. It was rather puppy dog-like. Elisabeth and Jim Elliot really could not do much wrong. I bordered on hagiography. She was my hero. My idol. Shiny, perfect.

I also remember the first time I read Olive Fleming's biography of Pete Fleming, one of the other 5 martyrs. I thought, "you poor, bitter woman. You just don't even understand the greatness you rubbed shoulders with." Yeah. Snort...

I should have been kicked in my 15 year old bootie.

Last summer I brushed up on some of my 5 Martyr stories to share at our VBS.

Let me tell you, the stories read a whole lot differently from the perspective of a 35 year old, than from a dewy-eyed 19 year old!

I still admire each and every one of those men. I'm challenged by their lives.

But, this is what stuck out to me...

They were normal guys. They weren't "super" spiritual fanatics. They were guys-like most any 20-30 something guys you'd run into. They liked to laugh and have fun. They played football and basketball and wrestled. They had kids. They were having a typical "guys" time on that beach where they died, albeit, with a bit higher purpose.

They faced the same struggles we do. They didn't have an edge on Christian life victory that we know nothing about or can't possibly experience. They had fears, and challenges, physical issues, relationships, personalities, passions, faults and failures. They were human. They were sinners. They were not perfect.

They had faults. They were broken. They were tarnished. They made mistakes.

(that would include Pete Fleming's mistakes in regards to his relationship with Olive. I groaned when I read that story again. How could he be such a dork???)

They were obedient. They were faithful. They were vessels used by God.

And, this is where I have a choice. Is my view of these believers going to be all or nothing?

Practically perfect in every way!

A hypocrite! A deceiver! A despicable sinner!

Or a sinner saved by grace?

Elijah was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain...

They need grace and forgiveness in their day to day life, just like me.

Like passions...And...

The passions lived alongside the and.

What did they do with the passions? What did they do despite them? Their legacy is not that they were perfect. Their legacy is in their choices.

Their legacy is in the ands. The buts. The yets.

I have the choice to respect these people as human beings loving and serving their Master or to write them off completely.

I have the choice to acknowledge that the honeymoon is over, but that there are still really amazing qualities about the person.

I have the choice to be disenchanted with the whole or to learn from their wisdom and examples.

I have the choice to sift.

God doesn't remember people the way we do. God created Abraham, Lot, David. All were men who sinned greatly. It's all recorded in the Old Testament.

But, in the setting of the New Testament, through the lens of Jesus Christ's blood, Abraham is called the friend of God. David is a man after God's own heart. Lot is a just man.

There is a lesson to be learned in that. We can learn from people's faults. Learn to not make the same mistakes. It's not our place to hold someone's failings against them. God doesn't. He sees them through the blood.

We can learn from their strengths.

More than that, we can follow their God. We can seek Him through studying the Bible and prayer, like they did. We can follow their examples of godly living and principles, without following each step on their path.

What choice are you making when it comes to Christians in your life? All? Nothing? Sifting?