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Clinging to Self
All the passages below are taken from Elisabeth Elliot’s book “A Path Through Suffering.” It was published in 1990.
The maturing dandelion has long ago surrendered its golden petals, and has reached its crowning stage of dying. It stands ready, holding up its little life, not knowing when or where or how the wind that bloweth where it listeth may waft it away. It holds itself no longer for its own keeping, only as something to be shared. The delicate seed-globe must break up now; it gives and gives until it has nothing left.
THINK OF THOSE WHOSE LIVES have had the most significant impact on yours. Are they not men and women who were continuously giving themselves, loving sacrificially, and thereby giving us life? The maturing process in the Christian, as in the dandelion, is for one purpose: the giving of life. It gives and gives until it has nothing left----for itself. But it has given life---to new dandelions. So we in whom Christ dwells are the bearers both of His death and of His life. We are transmitters of life to the world.
Jesus' purpose in coming to our world could not be accomplished without His laying down His own life. "I have come that men may have life, and may have it in all its fullness. I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep" (John 10:10-11 NEB).
Each time the mystery of suffering touches us personally and all the cosmic questions arise afresh in our minds we face the choice between faith (which accepts) and unbelief (which refuses to accept). There is only one faculty by which we may lay hold of this mystery. It is the faculty of faith, and "faith is the fulcrum of moral and spiritual balance."
I write as one who has desperately needed a refuge. The bottom has dropped out of my world, as it were, more than once. What, exactly, was going on? Where was I to turn? To God? Is He God or is He not? Does He love me or does He not? Am I adrift in chaos or is the word true that tells me I am an individual created, called, loved, and purposefully placed in a cosmos, an ordered universe, a universe designed, created, and completely under the control of a loving God and Father?
It helps me, at such a time of bewilderment and sorrow, to go to some of the simplest words, such as I am the good shepherd. My Lord chose that description of Himself, and He does not change. He was and is and always will be my shepherd. The word fits my need, for I am a sheep, helpless and bleating. He cannot forget one for whom He lays down His life. I bank everything on that.
"Shall there be a mutiny among the flocks and herds, because their lord or their shepherd chooses their pastures, and suffers them not to wander into deserts and unknown ways?" wrote Jeremy Taylor. I choose to believe, to surrender, to trust, and to accept. That much I can do. God then does what I can't do---'When the enemy shall come in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord shall lift up a standard against him" (Isaiah 59:19 NEB).
After the death of my husband Jim, I returned to my jungle station. My Quichua friends were sympathetic, for they had loved Jim, too. There was plenty of work to do, and I soon established new routines and was thankful for all the pressing duties that filled my days. Bags of mail began to come in bringing comfort and the assurance of prayers of hundreds of people, most of whom I did not know. I wrote to reassure my family and friends---I was all right, my baby Valerie was well, God was faithful---they need not be in anguish over the thought that I was "all by myself down there in the jungle." But my mother-in-law wrote of her fears that I was perhaps repressing my grief and might eventually crack. This upset me, of course, and I wondered if she was right. She was a chiropractor and a keen observer of human nature, a wise woman from whom I wanted to learn. But was there really no such thing as the peace that passeth understanding? Was I only imagining I had been given it? Could God fulfill His Word or couldn't He? The enemy came in like a flood and I had a whole new set of worries.
Another letter had "happened" to come in the same mail with Mom Elliot's, however, and I went back to that one often, for it contained a great antidote, another poem by Amy Carmichael:
When stormy winds against us break
Stablish and reinforce our will;
O hear us for Thine own Name's sake,
Hold us in strength, and hold us still.
Still as the faithful mountains stand,
Through the long, silent years of stress;
So would we wait at Thy right hand
In quietness and steadfastness.
So far the words sounded too brave and strong for me, but the last stanza set my feet on the Rock:
But not of us this strength, 0 Lord,
And not of us this constancy.
Our trust is Thine eternal Word,
Thy presence our security.
I was not strong. I was not constant or confident. But I had another much more dependable source of security, one guaranteed forever.
In the introduction to my biography of Amy Carmichael, A Chance to Die, I have tried to express the inexpressible debt of gratitude I owe to her. Her words are never empty to me. They are spirit and life. The ring of reality is there because she too knew what stormy winds could do to a soul, she knew long silent years of stress, she knew her own weakness. She learned to accept suffering, even to accept it with joy, and, dying to her own natural reticence, "held herself no longer for her own keeping, but only as something to be shared." Her "deaths," of so many kinds, have resulted in life, for me and for many thousands.
"Continually, while still alive, we are being surrendered into the hands of death, for Jesus' sake," wrote Paul, "so that the life of Jesus also may be revealed in this mortal body of ours. Thus death is at work in us, and life in you" (2 Corinthians 4:11-12 NEB).
Do the ways of God seem strange to some who are honestly seeking only to be good and faithful servants? There are stormy winds, long, silent years of stress, deaths to be died. The One we serve has not left us without inside information as to the why. All who would bring souls to God and multiply His kingdom must do so through surrender and sacrifice. This is what loving God means, a continual offering, a pure readiness to give oneself away, a happy obedience. There is no question of "But what about me?" for the motivation is love. All interests, all impulses, all energies are subjugated to that supreme passion.
Does it sound too high for us? But all of us know a little about it in so simple a thing as loving a child. Watch a grandfather in a restaurant with his small granddaughter. He has no thought whatever of himself. If she wants some of his French fries he would delight to give her all. He does not hold back, thinking, "But what about me?" He piles them onto her plate. What is the source of this delight and this self-obliteration? Very simple. The answer is love.
"To the soul that through `deaths oft' has been brought to this point, even acts that look as if they must involve an effort, become something very natural, spontaneous, full of 'heavenly involuntariness,' so simply are they the outcome of the indwelling love of Christ" (Trotter: Parables of the Cross).
There are so many subtle forms of self to cling to---an insistence on my own judgment; confident in my own resources; an unconscious taking of my own way without even considering others; reluctance to hear a viewpoint opposed to my own; attempts to bring conversation around to my interests. If we ask the Lord to show us our selfishness He will do it---gently, one thing at a time, with help to face and renounce it. But it must sometimes be hard. Our loving Savior understands that perfectly. It is against nature. The cross cuts deep.
Has our Lord, even in His sinlessness, known these, our subtlest temptations? He has known them all. But He triumphed. "I cannot act by myself," He said (and I think of Satan's attempt to get Him to perform miracles which He refused). "I judge as I am bidden, and my sentence is just, because my aim is not my own will, but the will of him who sent me (John 5:30 NEB). [97-102]
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