Self-Discipline and Order by Elisabeth Elliot
All the passages below are taken from Elisabeth Elliot’s book “Let me be a Woman,” published in 1976.
THERE is a hymn by John Greenleaf Whittier which says:
Drop Thy still dews of quietness
Till all our strivings cease.
Take from our souls the strain and stress,
And let our ordered lives confess
The beauty of Thy peace.
We are the creatures of a great master Designer, and His ordering of our lives is sure and certain, yet many people live without any visible order or peace or serenity. The way we live ought to manifest the truth of what we believe. A messy life speaks of a messy—an incoherent—faith.
It is something we have worked on for a long time, haven’t we, Val, this matter of order? It means self-discipline. “If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” Freedom begins way back. It begins not with doing what you want but with doing what you ought that is, with discipline. With “continuing in the word.” To be a disciple means to be disciplined. And we have worked at that, haven’t we? From the day you were born, almost, I tried to teach you that the word I spoke was the word I meant. It was to he taken seriously, to be lived by, in your child life. How shall we learn to believe and obey God if we have not been taught from earliest childhood to believe and obey the ones He puts over us? A child has to know first of all and beyond any shadow of doubt that the word spoken will be the word carried out. Threats (“If you don’t do this, you’ll be spanked”) or promises (“If, you pick up all your toys you’ll get a Popsicle”) if not carried through are ruinous to a child’s morality. Failure to fulfill threats and promises trains a child to discount what is said. It trains him to lie. The parents are not to be trusted, therefore they need not be obeyed, therefore no authority is trustworthy or need be obeyed. Obedience is optional, depending on convenience or inclination or obvious reward.
God has not so taught us. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” “He that heareth my Word and doeth it, he it is that loveth me.” “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” And “His commandments are not grievous.”
When you were small there were always Indians around us, and I had many things on my mind in the running of a jungle mission station. I was sometimes tempted to pay little attention to your small needs. You knew it at once. You knew whether it was an opportune time to get away with something. You would try it, and my preoccupied, “Val, leave that alone,” you would ignore. You knew you could safely ignore it because my attention had already turned back to the thing at hand. I learned very soon that I had to give my full attention to you when I spoke. I do not mean that I gave you my full attention twenty-four hours of the day. I see mothers who very nearly accomplish this and they do it to the destruction of their poor, smothered, harried children. I mean that when a matter needs the mother’s attention, it must get her full attention for that moment. I had to turn from my work and turn to you.
Your eyes would open wide when I stopped what I was doing and looked at you. Slowly, slowly, your hand would drop when I said your name. In the moment of pause and silence you assessed my seriousness. Either I meant it or I did not, and there was no dissimulating with you. You knew which it was and acted accordingly.
My job is over now. You are a woman, God’s woman, autonomous before Him. But His disciplining of you is far from finished. If you love Him, you’ll do what He says. And there can be no question as to whether He means it if only you will look at His face, be silent long enough to hear what He says. “He calls his own sheep by name.” It was when Mary heard her name that she knew her Master in the Garden after His resurrection. “Master!” she cried, in recognition of His lordship over her.
The way you keep your house, the way you organize your time, the care you take in your personal appearance, the things you spend your money on all speak loudly about what you believe. “The beauty of Thy peace” shines forth in an ordered life. A disordered life speaks loudly of disorder in the soul. [34-37]