If there were a perfect formula for getting married, Elisabeth Elliot would have found it.
Elisabeth educated millions of readers on relationships and love through her talks, articles, and her book “Passion and Purity.” While some of her advice seems straightforward and perhaps a bit simplistic, her own courtship with Jim Elliot was — by her own account — anything but.
Last week as I read “Becoming Elisabeth Elliot” by Ellen Vaughn, I was struck by Jim’s and Elisabeth’s respective paths after she graduated from Wheaton College. Jim stayed at Wheaton for his senior year while Elisabeth relocated about 1,500 miles away to a Bible college in a small Canadian town.
I wonder what Elisabeth thought each day while she lived on the Canadian prairie. Did she question the circumstances that separated her from the man she would eventually marry? Did she doubt God’s good plan?
Elisabeth made famous a poem written by Betty Scott Stam, a missionary to China who was martyred with her husband.
“Lord, I give up my own plans and purposes, all my own desires, hopes and ambitions, and I accept Thy will for my life. I give up myself, my life, my all, utterly to Thee, to be Thine forever. I hand over to Thy keeping all of my friendships; all the people whom I love are to take second place in my heart. Fill me now and seal me with Thy Spirit. Work out Thy whole will in my life at any cost, for to me to live is Christ. Amen.”
Surrendering one’s life and future to Christ is hard. It’s also vague and unwieldy — you can’t surrender an entire life all at once. Each of us must decide every day to surrender this one day (or even this hour) as we did yesterday and the day before. Trusting God calls for that same step-by-step rededication. I can say I trust God with my future, but do I trust Him with my circumstances today?
Sometimes I wonder how my life might be different if I had gone to a different college or taken a different job. Would I be living in another state? Would I be married? Would I be traveling more, meeting more people?
Without question, the decisions we make are important and often affect the rest of our lives. But as I read about Jim and Elisabeth’s separation, I marveled at how God continued to work in the details of their lives. The distance between a semi-rural Canadian Bible school and a Chicago college did not prevent God from bringing them together — even in a day of no internet and expensive (and therefore in this case, practically nonexistent) long-distance phone calls.
God continued to work. During each day of separation, of unknowns, maybe of restlessness or disappointment, God prepared Jim and Elisabeth for their next steps. Elisabeth moved from Canada to a dirty apartment in New York City where she learned Spanish and met a widow who would prepare her for another part of her story. Jim talked with a missionary who steered him toward missions in South America. All those steps were necessary, even if some must have felt like detours.
Asking “What If?”
I wonder if Elisabeth Elliot ever second-guessed her decisions or some of the smaller details of God’s leading in her life. Before she and Jim married, did she wonder if moving out of the country or any number of other choices would push the two of them apart?
In “Passion and Purity,” Elliot quotes Samuel Rutherford:
“It is impossible to be submissive and religiously patient if ye stay your thoughts down among the confused rollings and wheels of second causes, as O the place! O the time! O if this had been, this had not followed! O the linking of this accident with this time and place!”
What about my choice of how to spend my Friday night? What about the church I still attend when I had originally planned on finding a different one? What about where I choose to live?
What if I had attended college out of state? What if I had found an internship in my degree field right out of college? What if I had given online dating a try?
God is sovereign over every detail of our lives — including decisions, whether made by ourselves or by others. Nothing in my life takes God by surprise. Nothing derails His plan for me. None of my circumstances take place outside of God’s sovereignty.
“We are never wholly at the mercy of other people – they are only ‘second causes,’” Elisabeth wrote. “No matter how many second or third or fiftieth causes seem to be in control of what happens to us, it is God who is in charge, He who holds the keys, He who casts the lot finally into the lap.”
Little choices made today
God calls us to entrust our lives and futures to Him. If we say we trust Him with the big things, shouldn’t we trust Him with the small ones? And if we don’t trust Him with the little stuff, do we really trust Him?
In the Bible study I attend at church, one question we often consider is: “What does this text teach me about the future, and how can I live my life differently in the present?” In other words, what difference does it make for my day today when I know that God is guiding even the mundane details in my life?
Peace. Rest. Joy. Knowing God is guiding even my little circumstances enables me to move forward confidently and trust that He will direct my steps. He will also direct the steps of those around me. “Trusting Him, then, requires that I leave some things to be decided by others,” Elisabeth said. “I must learn to relinquish the control I might wield over somebody else if the decision properly belongs to him.”
Summing it up, she wrote: “The truth is that none of us knows the will of God for his life. He gives us enough light for today.”
Copyright 2023 Lauren Dunn. All rights reserved.