Becoming Elisabeth Elliot
When I began reading Elisabeth Elliot’s books, I kept a dictionary nearby — her vocabulary far surpassed mine. During the mid-90’s while I was raising babies, toddlers, and preschoolers, Elisabeth had a daily radio program, so I arranged my mornings around Gateway to Joy. On the one occasion that I attended an event where she was the speaker, I was, frankly, too intimidated to go to the book table and talk to her. By that time, she was in her early seventies and had acquired the bearing and the force of character that one would associate with Huldah, the Old Testament prophetess in King Josiah’s day.
Known for being blunt and emphatic, Elisabeth Elliot brooked no excuses and suffered no whiners. In the 70’s, when everyone else was talking about feminism, she was talking about femininity. Her life was a spectacular balance of assertiveness and submission, and the fleet of present-day complementarian bloggers are among her spiritual grandchildren.
What I came to understand about Elisabeth Elliot is that she spoke with the certainty of one who had stepped into obedience enough times to have learned the secret that the resulting joy and the deepening intimacy with God are priceless.Tweet
In Becoming Elisabeth Elliot, Ellen Vaughn wades into the complicated backstory of a woman described by Joni Erickson Tada as “a captain–not a private–in the army of God.” (73) Newcomers to Elliot’s life will receive a crash course in the content from her first five or six books. Those already familiar with the stories about an agonizing and prolonged courtship, fiery young visionaries contacting a dangerous and unreached tribe, five missionaries speared to death, and a widow with a toddler learning the language of her husband’s killers will have the delightful experience of hearing those stories in a different voice.
It’s clear from the outset that Elisabeth Howard Elliot was born into a family designed to prepare her for a rigorous obedience to God. Trained in discipleship and clear thinking, “the Howard family didn’t talk about emotions; they exhorted one another for the glory of God.” (720) However, Vaughn’s access to Elisabeth’s journals and correspondence offer readers the gift of insight into some of Elisabeth’s wrestling, the continual recalibration of her will to God’s will. In order to say with integrity, “Suffering is never for nothing,” to write books describing discipline as a “glad surrender” and God’s guidance as “a slow and certain light,” one has to subscribe to the path of daily self-death.
A Commitment to Daily Faithfulness
In a life marked by huge upheavals and opportunities for both glory and sorrow, it was evident that Elisabeth Elliot became her awe-inspiring self, not in the dramatic chapters of her life documented by Life Magazine, but rather in her commitment to daily faithfulness in the unseen places. A faith both brutally practical and unmistakably mystical carried her into a life of bold truth-telling, forged in a crucible of loneliness and puzzlement over the ways of God. Leaning hard into her questions, she found God to be faithful and embraced him as “both journey and destination.” (3946)
In her thoroughly researched and compelling presentation of Elisabeth Elliot’s life, author Ellen Vaughn concluded that Elisabeth’s story served to strengthen her own story, and that has been my own experience as well. The truth that sustained Elisabeth through the roaring storms and the dismal silences is the same truth that will sustain me. The bracing lessons that emerged from her missionary career resonate today for all of us who embrace a faithful following: “God will not fail to do His part, which is ultimately the only part that matters.”
Living this reality, Elisabeth Elliot gained what she could not lose.
Many thanks to NetGalley and to B&H Publishing for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with honesty.
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Image Credit: Christine Morin, my talented daughter-in-love, who finds time in busy autumn to raise a fleet of monarch butterflies, while pouring herself into her two amazing children.