God Gives us a Hard Lesson to Give us Himself by Elisabeth Elliot
All the passages below are taken from Elisabeth Elliot’s book “A Path Through Suffering.” It was published in 1990.
The one vital thing is to keep obedient in spirit, then you will be ready to let the flowertime pass if He bids you, when the sun of His love has worked some more ripening. You will feel by then that to try to keep the withering blossoms would be to cramp and cripple your soul. It is loss to keep when God says, “Give.”
ONE OF THE GREAT BLESSINGS of my life is the privilege of meeting and corresponding with a variety of holy people. (With this privilege goes a greater responsibility—much given, therefore much required.) In an exchange of letters with a Carmelite nun I raised the question of self-image, confessing that I could not help feeling at times a bit envious of her and her sisters because of their complete freedom from having to give any thought at all to hairdos, makeup, or what to wear when. What a huge chunk of time those things take.
“I’m afraid concerns with self-image can still all too easily take other forms,” she wrote. “Especially where we live so close to one another, we can make ourselves very dependent on the frowns or smiles or raised eyebrows of those we live with. I don’t think the temptation is to try to impress so much as it might be to act with an eye to image in the sense of `Lest they think ..’ Isn’t it true that the chains that bind us are often those we forge for ourselves?
“It is precisely because we have received the Spirit that we can experience our bondage as bondage as we groan for the full freedom of the sons of God. Surely that is reason enough for joy. And such hope, just knowing the Spirit Himself is pleading for us!”
Our Lord Jesus was a man wholly free from thoughts of Himself and His own reputation. The Pharisees recognized that clearly. “Master,” they said, “you are an honest man, we know; you teach in all honesty the way of life that God requires, truckling to no man, whoever he may be” (Mt 22:16). His purpose was pure because His love was pure. We whose purpose is a mixture and whose love is far from pure, cannot bear criticism, disagreement, or anything that might sully the reputation we hope we have built up. This is bondage—of our own making. It cramps and cripples our souls. Why not open our hands and give it all over?
The gateway that leads out into life is small. We can’t get through it with the baggage of pride. Only the humble enter. They do so by the willingness to stoop, to accept weaknesses and sorrows and deaths. The gateway opens to new powers, new joys, new Life, where they find a “grand new independence of any earthly thing to satisfy, the liberty of those who have nothing to lose because they have nothing to keep” (Trotter Parables of the Cross).
When close friends misunderstood a decision a woman had made and judged her to be making use of money not rightly hers, she spent some sleepless hours at night and was much distracted in her prayers over this matter, keenly desiring to vindicate herself. Then she saw the cross as her “safe and happy shelter,” and laid at its foot
– her care for her reputation,
– the impression she had made,
– her desire to be vindicated,
– her longing for justice,
– her disquiet at the dilemma in which others had been put,
– her hurt and theirs,
– her impatience—wanting a solution NOW.
This renunciation freed her. She had nothing to lose because she had nothing to keep.
Another woman wrote of how God had taught her to let go. She and her husband agreed that she should give up her job in order to mother the children.
“When I quit work our income was cut practically in half. We felt then that it was a good possibility that we would have to give up our home. Well, we’re at that point now. We sure haven’t gotten any encouragement or positive reinforcement from most of our friends and relatives. Some of them think we have lost our minds. But we have decided that it’s more important for me to be at home with my son who is five now, and the one due in a month, than to stay and strain just to keep a ‘nice’ house. I would have to continue my job and always worry about where the money for the mortgage was coming from. It’s just not worth that. I’m ready to be a wife and a mother full-time, not part-time.
“But we’re going through such ‘withdrawal’ ourselves because of leaving this house! It’s harder than I thought it would be. It’s hard to let go of these worldly things, no matter how ‘spiritual’ we think we are. I’m just so aware of how God is stripping away things that I thought were so important. I gave up my name (seven years after I was married!), I gave up my career, now my home. But I’m beginning to see God’s sufficiency. It’s easy to say sometimes, but when He really pulls the rug out from under you, what do you have left to stand on? … God is taking me through this intense breaking process. Just when I think I can’t handle any more, He adds more. A friend said God must think I am strong to handle all this, or He wouldn’t be doing it. I guess He always knows better than we do….”
The writer of this letter had talked with one of her friends about the situation, and the friend had asked her if she knew the Lord any better now.
“How true! That’s what we’re supposed to be doing while were here, isn’t it?” she wrote to me.
That’s it exactly. Because hers is an obedient spirit she is learning to know Him in the fellowship of His suffering, and she is experiencing in the process something of the power of His resurrection—‘Tm beginning to see His sufficiency.”
Without these hard realities could she have begun? God gave the hard realities that He might give the hard lesson. In her struggles Christ Himself suffers, for we are His body. It is in this dimension that we suffer with Him and He with us-that we compose His body.
“God has combined the various parts of the body … so that there might be no sense of division in the body, but that all its organs might feel the same concern for one another. If one organ suffers, they all suffer together. … Now you are Christ’s body, and each of you a limb or organ of it” (1 Cor 12:24-27).
Each time God gives us a hard lesson He desires also to give us Himself. If we open our hands to receive the lesson we open our hearts to receive Him, and with Himself His vision to see the glory in the surrender, whether of small things like self-esteem and reputation, or bigger things like a career and a home. He has been over the trail first, for He surrendered His glory, His equality with the Father, His omnipotence, His omnipresence, His all, when He came into our world. He stands ready today to supply us with His wisdom to understand what He wants to teach, and His strength to carry through, for He never allows us to undergo anything for which He has not promised the strength to endure. His commands are always accompanied by power to obey. The Everlasting Arms are always underneath us, the everlasting love always surrounds us.
A naval officer once wrote to his wife, “If you should hear that our cruiser was sunk and none were saved, then do not weep. The sea in which my body sinks is nothing but the hollow of my Savior’s hand, and nothing can snatch me from it.” [83-87]