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Make Me A Cake
All the passages below are taken from Elisabeth Elliot’s book “The Path of Loneliness,” first published in 1988 and reprinted in 2001.
When Maria von Trapp was a young woman she loved the mountains of her native Austria. She thrilled to think that God had given her those mountains as a gift to enjoy.
"If God has given me all of this," she said, "what can I give Him?"
Thinking over what she had to give she saw how paltry it all was. She knew that she must give everything, which to her meant giving her life in a most literal way---going into a convent, becoming a nun, and never coming out. As many disciples discover, the will of God turns out to be quite different from their expectations. Maria went into the convent, but was soon sent out again to become governess to a widower's children. Thence began the story of The Sound of Music, familiar to thousands.
To give God everything must mean that I give Him not only my body as a living sacrifice but everything else as well: all that I am, all that I have, all that I do, and all that I suffer. That covers a lot of territory, but the particular ground we are discussing is one form of suffering: loneliness. I have said that it can be seen as a gift---something received and accepted. A gift may also be something offered.
Maria von Trapp began by offering to God the gift of herself. We must begin there too. We do not thereby "enrich" the Lord for, as the old prayer says, "All things come of Thee, 0 Lord, and of Thine own have we given Thee." We have nothing but what was His in the first place.
"With eyes wide open to the mercies of God, I beg you ... as an act of intelligent worship, to give him your bodies, as a living sacrifice, consecrated to him and acceptable by him" (Rom.
Here is the place to start. In His wisdom and lovingkindness He gave each of us a particular body, of His design and construction, prepared for us, bearing His image, yet distinct from all others. We cannot offer it unless we first "receive," that is, accept it---with its beauties, its imperfections, its limitations, its potentialities. This body and nobody else's is my offering. It is not, however, mere blood, bone, and tissue. It is the dwelling of the "self"---spirit, mind, heart, will, emotions, temperament. It must be offered wholeheartedly, in simplicity, with no quibbles about its fitness. It is holy as the vessels of the tabernacle (pots, shovels, firepans, snuffers, and all the rest, commonplace as they might be) were holy---because they were offered (consecrated and set apart) for that service.
All offerings made to God matter to Him because of the single, unique offering of Christ for us. We unite ourselves with
Him in this---we are actually "crucified with" Christ. Then this body, which is the dwelling of myself, becomes the dwelling of God Himself---a temple of the Holy Spirit. It is not my own. It is acceptable to God because I am one with Christ and my offering is taken up into His offering.
The love of God in accepting such an offering is like the love of a father whose little child gives him a present bought with money the father gave him. It is a very tender, sympathetic love. It recognizes that the child's loving gift comes out of his utter poverty. The father, who has already given everything ("My dear son, you have been with me all the time and everything I have is yours" [Luke 15:3 1, PHILLIPS], gives something more in order that his child may have something to give.
Having presented our bodies, is there anything else we may give? The answer is yes, there is everything else---everything God has given us. When the people of God present their gifts to Him in church---music, prayers, money, bread, and wine---they present only what has been given by His gracious bounty. And again they present themselves under these tokens, for only the gift made by self-giving love can be offered. Here we enter into the great mystery of the Bread and Wine. Christ has gone before us, giving Himself. This is My body; this is My blood. We love because He first loved us. We offer ourselves because He first offered Himself, each saying to the other, My life for yours. The great mystery of the Bread and Wine is Christ offering Himself in love to us and for us---"My life for yours."
It is important to understand very clearly that we have nothing at all to add to the complete sacrifice of Christ which is our very salvation. His offering was perfect. It lacked nothing. Nor is there any need for the old order of sacrifices (the blood of lambs and bulls and all the rest), for Christ establishes "a new order of obedience to the will of God, and in that will we have been made holy by the single unique offering of the body of Jesus Christ.... By virtue of that one offering he has perfected for all time every one whom he makes holy" (Heb. 10:9-10, 14-15, PHILLIPS).
And so He allows us to come. And so He receives our offerings, given by virtue of something He gave us when He made us: freedom of choice, that we might freely choose to love Him and to give ourselves to Him.
No wonder Paul said, "What do you possess that was not given you?" (1 Cor. 4:7, NEB).
Having given my all, I may specifically offer my time, my work, my prayers, my possessions,1 my praise, and---yes---my sufferings. It is in this mysterious sense that I see loneliness as a gift: It is not only something to be accepted, but something to be offered, as Matheson gave not only the life he owed, but the unsatisfied desire of his heart.
Is it not legitimate, then, to think of loneliness as material for sacrifice? What I lay on the altar of consecration is nothing more and nothing less than what I have at this moment, whatever I find in my life now of work and prayer, joys and sufferings.
Some people see singleness as a liability, a handicap, a deprivation, even a curse. Others see it as a huge asset, a license to be a "swinger," an opportunity to do what feels good. I see it as a gift. To make that gift an offering may be the most costly thing one can do, for it means the laying down of a cherished dream of what one wanted to be, and the acceptance of what one did not want to be. How changed are my ambitions! the apostle Paul may have thought, for he wrote, "Now I long to know Christ" (Phil. 3:10, PHILLIPS).
During the months of my second husband's terminal illness I sometimes felt I could not bear one more day of seeing him suffer, or one more visit to the doctor who would tell us terrible things that must be done next---things like removing the lower jaw because of the lip cancer, or castration because of the prostate cancer. Everything in me said NO NO NO NO. Add's suffering became mine. The wee hours were filled with nightmarish images of things far worse than death, and I was afraid. What to do?
The answer came to me.
"Offer it up."
My eyes had been opened to this possibility through the reading of Evelyn Underhill's classic, The Mystery of Sacrifice. I had never before been taught the deep truth of making all of life an oblation, but this little book had come into my hands just three months before we discovered my husband's illness. I do not know what I would have done without it.
Offer up what? I felt like the destitute widow of Zarephath, about to use the last of the flour and oil which stood between her son's and her own starvation, when along came Elijah and told her to bake him a cake first. Because it was the word of the Lord, she obeyed. The effects of that obedience went far beyond her imagination. "There was food for him and for her and her family for a long time. The jar of flour did not give out nor did the flask of oil fail, as the word of the Lord foretold through Elijah" (1 Kings 17:15-16, NEB).
It was only a vaguely remembered fragment of a poem by Amy Carmichael that brought to mind the analogy between suffering and the poverty of the widow of Zarephath. I give it here in full:
Nothing in the House
Thy servant, Lord, hath nothing in the house,
Not even one small pot of common oil;
For he who never cometh but to spoil
Hath raided my poor house again, again,
That ruthless strong man armed, whom men call Pain.
I thought that I had courage in the house,
And patience to be quiet and endure,
And sometimes happy songs; now I am sure
Thy servant truly hath not anything,
And see, my song-bird hath a broken wing.
. . . .
My servant, I have come into the house---
I who know Pain's extremity so well
That there can never be the need to tell
His power to make the flesh and spirit quail:
Have I not felt the scourge, the thorn, the nail?
And I, his Conqueror, am in the house,
Let not your heart be troubled: do not fear:
Why shouldst thou, child of Mine, if I am here?
My touch will heal thy song-bird's broken wing,
And he shall have a braver song to sing.2
I had nothing in the house. Nothing except this pain. Pain---an offering? What could the Lord possibly make of that?
"Make me a cake." In other words, Elijah said: There is one thing you can do. Even from your poverty, you can give me something. It may not seem like much, but it is the very thing I need. If you will give it to me I can do something I could not do without it.
"The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, 0 God, thou wilt not despise" (Ps. 51:17, KJV).
So, as best I could, I offered it up.
That was fifteen years ago. It has taken me a long time to assimilate this great lesson. I have not yet mastered it. But my understanding of sacrifice has been transformed. It has also transformed my life. The emphasis now is not on loss, privation, or a price to be paid. I see it as an act of intelligent worship, and as a gift God has given me to give back to Him in order that He may make something of it.
When Add died in September of 1973 the Lord in His mercy helped me to see a little more clearly in my second widowhood what I had only dimly descried in the first: a gift, a call, and a vocation, not merely a condition to be endured. Paul's words came alive: "Each one must order his life according to the gift the Lord has granted him" (1 Cor. 7:17, NEB).
So it was the Lord who had put into my hands this gift of widowhood. Is this the little "cake" You need from me, Lord? Then I'll bake it for You, Lord. Please have it.
And what next? "I will offer ... the sacrifice of thanksgiving" (Ps. 116:17, NKJV). It is wonderfully comforting to be absolutely sure that we do the will of God. Here is one matter about which there can be no doubt: "Be thankful, whatever the circumstances may be. For this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus" (1 Thess. 5:18, PHILLIPS). [113-120]
1. For a fuller treatment of these offerings, see Elisabeth Elliot, Discipline: The Glad Surrender (Old Tappan, N.J.: Revell, 1985).
2. Amy Carmichael, "Nothing in the House," in Toward Jerusalem (Copyright 1936, Dohnavur Fellowship). Published by Christian Literature Crusade, Inc., Ft. Washington, Pennsylvania, 44.
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