Suffering Love of a Grandmother by Elisabeth Elliot
All the passages below are taken from Elisabeth Elliot’s book “A Path Through Suffering.” It was published in 1990.
The great North African aloe plant is like our annuals on a larger scale, for it flowers and seeds but once in its career, though that numbers more years than these can count weeks. Up till then its thick hard leaves look as if nothing could exhaust their vigor. The flower stalk pushes up from a fresh sheaf of them—up and up twelve or fourteen feet—and expands into a candelabra of golden blossom, and not a droop comes in the plant below.
But as the seed forms, we see that death is forming apace, slowly but surely. The swords lose their stiffness and color … they have become but limp, grayish-brown streamers.
ONE WHO IS ABOUT TO BECOME A GRANDMOTHER wrote to me of her love-longing for the unborn child, but the love is pierced with pain, for the mother-to-be, her daughter-in-law, refuses to have anything to do with her. She is “about to die” over this. Will she not be allowed to see the child, to rejoice with her son and daughter-in-law? Will she be denied the bliss of holding the baby?
I know a grandmother who endured precisely that kind of pain for a long time, so I asked her if she would answer the letter. What she wrote applies so exactly to so many different kinds of suffering that I asked her permission to use the letter:
I will distill some of the principles that kept me from “going under.” In no way think any of these were done easily or that I am taking a simplistic route. The road you are on is excruciatingly painful and in many ways will be a means of identifying with Christ in His sufferings of rejection. Colossians 1:24 (“It is now my happiness to suffer for you. This is my way of helping to complete, in my poor human flesh, the full tale of Christ’s afflictions still to be endured, for the sake of his body which is the church.”) is one of the most powerful statements on suffering in this regard, I think.
God is intensely interested in forming Christ in our character and we can assume that He is going to do this in you and your dear daughter-in-law. So:
1. THANK Him over and over and over again for what He is doing through this experience.
2. SING about His mercies and greatness. The enemy would like to destroy your family and your joy—all you have invested and all your hopes for the future. Second Chronicles 20:1-30 tells a wonderful story. Their families were about to be destroyed. Read it carefully and you will see how:
a. They were afraid (v. 3)
b. They sought the Lord (v. 3)
c. They did not need to fight. God said He would do it for them (v. 17)
d. They were not to fear or be dismayed (a choice, a decision) (v. 17)
e. Singers were appointed to go ahead of the warriors in the most vulnerable position (v. 21)
f. They were to sing of the mercies of God. Why mercies? Because they weren’t any better than the enemy and they were saying, “We don’t deserve to live but we are children of the most High God. We are totally dependent on His mercies and love.” (v. 21)
g. When they sang the Lord sent ambushments. Victory came (v. 22). Sing when you are vacuuming, cooking, walking, driving, trying to go to sleep, showering—decide to sing. Declare to those in the heavenlies that your God is able to deliver. Satan will fear. His minions will fear.
3. CONCENTRATE on your reactions to her and not on what she is doing. At the present you are in bondage to her. You can get free of this bondage. Perhaps you’ll need to get free before she can get free herself. So, when she does something against you, or you feel her intense dislike, immediately your natural response is fear, hurt, dismay, sadness, anger, or wishing she were dead. Now then:
4. TAKE THAT RESPONSE and go to our Father and say,
a. Father, I confess my resentment (or whatever the response is regarding this situation) as sin (don’t leave that out or substitute the word “tendency,” or be tempted to call it anything other than sin. We do have an antidote for sin.)
b. I repent of my sin.
c. Please forgive me.
d. Please forgive her.
e. I receive your forgiveness based on Your Word. [If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9)].
The first two are so terribly important. Say this out loud if possible, and say it as the memory of some incident comes to your mind. Then:
5. ACCEPT His forgiveness.
6. MAKE A LIST of the grievances and go through this simple prayer over each incident. Then:
7. TEAR up the grievances.
God Himself will begin to act on your behalf and hers. She needs you and you need her. Blessings on you, dear one, and Bon Courage!
I love the emphasis on thanksgiving and singing right at the start, not easy things to do when, in the midst of pain, we are trying to grasp spiritual truth. But here is the lesson of the aloe—simple, visible, graspable. There will be no life-giving seed unless all is given over first to death. Before Jesus suffered death on the cross He suffered the death of being despised and rejected. Sooner or later human love has to suffer, and when there is rejection, even in less serious forms than those the grandmother described, we are initiated into the fellowship of suffering love. All must give way to that indwelling life, all the corruptible must be let go, as the aloe’s swords are drained of vitality. The plant does not concentrate on the death process. It’s far better to concentrate on our own reactions to the offender than on the list of offenses, and then to take those reactions to the Father. In this way we may be rid of the “carnal,” letting it go to death, in order that, as we are growing in conformity to Christ’s death, we are growing also in conformity to His life. He is increasing, and I am decreasing.
The tearing up of the list of grievances is a clear and deliberate renunciation, symbolizing our wholehearted severance from the wrong, and our determination to live for Him who died for us.
If my friend had not found in her quota of suffering God’s liberating answer, and been obedient to it, she would not have been qualified to help the other grandmother. She was able to help complete, in her poor human flesh, Christ’s sufferings, for the sake of His body, of which my correspondent is also a member. Life received is life that can be passed on. I don’t suppose she was thinking of how she might later help others. She was probably very much occupied with the pain of rejection and the sorrow of not being able to get her hands on the precious child. But we are seldom shown in advance God’s intention in a particular trial, nor the long-term effect our obedience may have on others.
The hard shell of our self-protection must give way. The thick, hard leaves of the aloe must become limp and helpless. Thus only is their life given to the formation of the seed. Thus our hearts must at times be wrung till we feel helpless, but God is not finished with us. (145-149)