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Why Elisabeth Elliot Matters

Screenshot taken from YouTube

Two years ago today, Elisabeth Elliot went home to the Lord at the age of 88.

A prolific speaker and writer, Elisabeth was one of the most influential Christian women of our time, best known for her writings about missions, gender roles, romance, and living right with God.

During my formative years, I was dealing with the usual questions of identity and purpose: Who am I? Why am I here? Stumbling on her books was a happy accident that helped me understand God’s principles and stay grounded in them.

As we commemorate her two year death-anniversary, these are three lessons I’ve gleaned from her life:

 

1) To have the courage to obey

American pastor John Piper recalled how Elisabeth had once told him (while they were on a panel together on world missions), “I don’t think you should say, ‘Pursue joy with all your might.’ I think you should say, ‘Pursue obedience with all your might.’”

Obedience defined Elisabeth’s life. She waited years for God’s timing to start her relationship with her first husband, the evangelical missionary Jim Elliot. Together, they obeyed God’s call to go to Ecuador as missionaries. After Jim’s martyrdom, Elisabeth bravely continued her mission work with a 10-month-old daughter in tow—in spite of her fears and grief. She also obeyed God in returning to the States a few years later. This pursuit of obedience didn’t come naturally, but she allowed herself to be disciplined, purified, and moulded into a vessel fitting for God’s use.

Elisabeth’s example influenced me in my own relationships. Granted, my first relationship was a precious lesson in disobedience. And when I finally obeyed God and ended it, it was not without scars. After that, I learned from Elisabeth to trust God in His timing. Whether it was ending a relationship or refraining from one, I had to learn to obey. It was tough because I was afraid that I’d “miss my chance”.

Today, I’m happily married to the man of my dreams. It wasn’t the easiest path getting here, but it was the right one, and this life wouldn’t have happened if I had not had the courage to obey.

 

2) To be a woman of principle

When people were crying out for the redefinition of gender roles, Elisabeth defended biblical womanhood. She was criticized, of course. Some said she lived in the past. Others accused her life and message of being contradictory.

But Elisabeth was no supporter of inequality, discrimination, or stereotypes. She once said, “I am not here to defend stereotypes of femininity, but to try to focus on the Original Pattern.” Elsewhere, she explained, “To me, a lady is not frilly, flouncy, flippant, frivolous, and fluff-brained, but she is gentle, she is gracious, she is godly and she is giving.”

Whether you agree with her views on femininity, it’s hard to deny that Elisabeth was a woman of principle. Interestingly, because of her steadfastness and in spite of differing opinions, supporters and dissenters alike respected her greatly.

To me, being a person of principle in today’s world means standing firm in the Word even when others challenge its infallibility. It means saying no to bribery or cheating, or saving sex for marriage, when everyone else is doing otherwise. It’s not about being legalistic. It’s about being true to what you stand for, and this affects even the smallest of decisions.

Once, I had ordered a 12-inch Subway sandwich and was charged for a 6-inch. I was tempted to walk away with the extra cash. But I had to ask myself: Do I want to be an honest person, or a person who takes advantage of the mistakes of another?

 

3) To live life to the hilt

Elisabeth was honest with her strengths, weaknesses, fears, and doubts. She loved and lost twice, and was stricken with dementia in her final years. She had good days and bad, and laughed as much as she mourned. Whether she was wife, mother, missionary, author, or speaker, Elisabeth never wavered and lived fully in her circumstances.

I’m learning a lot in this aspect. I’m currently a stay-at-home mom, and often feel like I’m not doing enough. I should be writing more, crafting more, connecting more. But there’s also that new cafe to visit, and that Wonder Woman movie to catch.

In the age of FOMO (Fear of missing out), it’s easy to become discontented and obsess about the next big thing. Yet all we need do is focus on the things that matter and give them our best. It was Jim who said these famous words, “Wherever you are, be all there! Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be the will of God.”

 

Because God is sovereign

Elisabeth could live out these three lessons because of her faith. It was her confidence in God, in knowing her Father in Heaven is good, that gave her daily courage to obey, to remain steadfast, and to live without anxiety. She knew that she was “loved with an everlasting love and underneath are the everlasting arms,” as she would say at the end of her radio shows.

No human being is perfect, but Elisabeth is as good a role model as we can get for this generation. Her values may appear archaic, but I believe they are vital to navigating today’s world. While she adjusted to her times and situations, she remained true to God. Likewise, we too can be relevant in this postmodern world yet remain steadfast in God’s principles. We too can be committed to upholding God’s standards as lights that shine in the darkness.

May we, like Elisabeth, have the courage to obey, the will to stay true, and the strength to live life to the hilt.

Battling Futility in Motherhood

My baby cries. I look at the clock and sigh. Quickly, I finish drying the plate and get him from his cot. Here we go again.

There are some women who have a strong innate calling to motherhood. I was one such woman. I was eager for children and did not make the decision with my husband flippantly.

But when I did become a mother to a little bundle of joy last December, my happy expectations slowly withered away. I learned just how many things will not go my way—especially when sleep is involved.

My baby is a light sleeper who overtires easily, so my goal is to make sure he catches enough sleep. It is an ongoing cycle that never seems to end. But on occasions, when it seems as though I’ve finally cracked the magic code, something new—such as a developmental milestone or a change of surroundings—throws a spanner in the works. All my effort goes down the drain, and the struggle to get my baby to sleep becomes mentally defeating and tinged with tears.

I know that caring for a baby is tough, comprising days of unfinished plans and nights of interrupted sleep. I was ready for that. But I wasn’t ready for the sense of futility that came with it. Overcome by exhaustion and frustration, I lost sight of the call of motherhood that had shone so brightly months earlier. I found myself asking, “What is the point when I fail every day?”

The thing is, I know the general purpose of parenting. I know that we are to “start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it” (Prov. 22:6). A good book on parenting I read said that parents are to demonstrate the gospel to little ones. But at this stage of babyhood, I need a purpose more specific than that to anchor me down. How am I supposed to share the gospel to a baby who’s only just started babbling?

I prayed for a light bulb moment. Instead God answered me in a whisper of a thought from 1 John 3:16, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.” God revealed that my purpose this season is to demonstrate—and to grow in—selfless love.

I understand now that through parenting, I am to learn what it means to love unconditionally. There is nothing my son can do for me in return for all my efforts. Sometimes it even feels as though he’s making it harder.

But that’s not all. Now that I have a child, I am responsible for this person for the rest of my life—or at least until he becomes an adult. That means no giving up. No surrendering. It teaches me how to live out the second commandment to love others as myself. I had thought that marriage teaches that, but parenthood brings it up a notch. It’s really learning to give of myself, my time, nourishment, and words—to give my best essentially—because this little human deserves nothing less.

It’s amazing how one’s attitude can change the minute one has a clear purpose. I still face the daily challenge of making sure my son sleeps enough. Yes, I’m still tired and still fail. My son is still a light sleeper. But I don’t feel bitter about it anymore. Purpose has helped me find peace, nurture patience, and practice grace through the little acts of feeding, playing with and comforting my child.

There are various dimensions to the role and purpose of motherhood. But to me, the one that sums it up the best is this: To love selflessly in its fullest. And that is how I can demonstrate the gospel to my baby.

I’m No Superwoman and It’s Perfectly Okay

In English novelist Jane Austen’s classic, Pride and Prejudice, there is a particular discussion on the attributes of an “accomplished woman”. These are “a thorough knowledge of music, singing, drawing, dancing and the modern languages”, as well as polished manners and an appetite for reading. Elizabeth Bennet, the protagonist, dismisses the entire notion as impossible to achieve.

Even back then, Austen knew that the idea of an ideal woman was unrealistic. You would think that such an idea would have disappeared with the times. However, though the idea has evolved, it still exists today. Today, women are pressured to be, among other things:

  • A successful career woman
  • A loving wife and patient mother
  • A great cook and homemaker with an eye for design
  • A fitness and health enthusiast
  • A passionate advocate for social causes
  • A committed church member serving in at least one ministry
  • A trendy Instagram-worthy fashionista

Deep down, we know that this idea of a “superwoman” is unrealistic, yet we are still taken up with it. At least I am. Thinking that I can do it all, I have often found myself overcommitted with projects, from event planning to serving in church to exercise to studies. I would stretch myself thin, only to collapse in despair and exhaustion, brought down by either my failure or the sense that there’s always more to be done.

This struggle to be a quintessential multitasker was evident recently, when I had to care for my four-year-old brother. I honestly enjoyed the good sibling time we had together, but I felt listless at the end of the day. While my peers were out sealing deals, submitting press releases and finalizing consultancy reports, I had spent the day playing with my brother and making sure he finished his meals. I felt unaccomplished.

I often feel this way—as if I have not yet done enough. But along the way I’ve learned a few lessons on how I can choose to respond to that perception.

1) Choose humility

I have to acknowledge that I’m no superhero. There are only 24 hours in a day, and I can’t be a cook and a seamstress and an administrator all at once. I’ve often had to swallow my pride and admit my limits. I have to admit that I’m just not God.

2) Choose grace

There was one time when I was in tears because I was behind on household chores, and my husband had to gently reassure me that his love for me was not determined by how brightly the floor gleamed. In that moment, I saw a little bit more of how God loves us too. We are not defined by our accomplishments, nor is our worth measured by our strengths and weaknesses. Rather, everything we have is by grace, and all we are able to do is because God enables us (2 Corinthians 12:9).

3) Choose faithfulness

The chief lesson I’ve learned is that our lives are defined not by one big moment, but rather by the sum of many small ones. Hence, what is actually required of us is faithfulness―faithfulness to God and faithfulness in loving others. And this faithfulness is played out in our day-by-day lives.

Proverbs 31 describes a noble woman who seems to be the superwoman. I used to be both awed and terrified by her. But in reading the chapter again, I noticed that the verses actually talk about everyday, mundane tasks―cooking, farming, crafting. The Proverbs 31 woman did not claim superwoman-hood. All she did was to be faithful with whatever was given to her daily. That commitment was what her husband and children praised her for—”Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all” (Proverbs 31:29).

It’s not just about nailing that important presentation. It’s also about whether I treat my fellow teammates with respect and care while we work together. It’s not just about having a grand wedding. It’s also about whether I continue to love and serve my husband every day after. Do I choose God every morning, and not only on Sundays?

Understanding faithfulness has given me new insight into what it means to be an accomplished woman in God’s eyes. And it is much more achievable than the demands we impose on ourselves. I do still aspire to be a good wife, daughter, homemaker, volunteer, and worker. But now I choose to admit my limitations, humbly receive the grace of the Lord, and commit to be faithful with whatever I have and can give in the 24 hours given―even if it means that the only thing I accomplish today is to care for my brother.

Is it Possible to Forgive Our Enemies?

One evening in 2015, an unassuming young man walked into a church. The regular attendees of the church’s weekly Bible study warmly welcomed him and proceeded with the meeting for an hour. Suddenly, that young man stood up, took out a gun, and shot everyone in the room. He shot each person multiple times, uttered racist remarks, and walked out. Nine people died that night, including the senior pastor.

This was not the dramatic opening scene to an action-thriller movie. This was real life. The church was the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, USA. The nine murdered were regular church members—and African Americans. The young man was 21-year-old Dylann Roof, a white man who later admitted that he had committed the heinous acts in an attempt to ignite a race war.

What words can describe the horrors of such an atrocity? Who can comprehend the anguish and outrage the victims’ families and friends felt? Surely they must have desired justice, or even vengeance.

But instead, the families of the victims responded in an extraordinary way. Though they were in tears and struggled for words, they chose to extend grace. In their formal statements to Roof at a court proceeding, the grieving relatives stood up one by one, declaring that they forgave Roof and that they were praying for his soul.

Wow.

Imagine that. Imagine someone hostile or just not particularly fond of you, destroying people who are dear to you. How would you react? Would you, like the Charleston believers, choose not to retaliate but offer your enemy forgiveness instead?

By our own strength, most probably not. But what the Charleston believers had, and so do all of us, was faith; faith in a God who not only died for His enemies but forgave them as well. As Christians, we know the command Jesus gave in Matthew 5:44 well enough: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” It sounds so simple and straightforward, yet it’s almost impossible to obey in reality.

Reading about the Charleston news caused me to reflect on my own experience. Five years ago, a friend of mine was stabbed to death by her perpetrator after an attempted sexual assault. Although we were not related by blood, she was like a sister to me. Losing her was like losing an important piece of my world. I felt a gut-wrenching loss.

Her killer was caught in the act and charged with 26 years in prison. When I received news of the sentence, I didn’t respond as the Charleston believers did. “It’s not enough,” a mutual friend expressed, echoing my own thoughts. We were still so angry. I struggled to forgive.

It took me months to hear and understand God’s call to forgive. Through the biblical account of King David, God softened my heart.

Here’s a quick recap. Before he was king, David spent some eight years running from Saul, Israel’s first king, who was hell-bent on destroying him. It was a time of constant unrest, fear, and suffering. Yet, even when David had the opportunity to kill Saul, he did not. He knew that Saul was still God’s anointed. And when Saul finally died, he even mourned for his enemy (See 2 Samuel 1:11-12).

Ultimately, it was out of obedience to God that David chose not to exact revenge on Saul. And I believe that like David, the relatives of the Charleston victims did the same, because they recognized that God had authority over Roof, as much as He did over them. Roof’s life was in God’s hands, not theirs. Because of that, they were able to surrender in obedience to God and forgive their enemy.

In the same way, I had to acknowledge that my friend’s killer was in God’s hands, not mine. I had to acknowledge God’s authority over him. So, as absurd as it felt to me then, I verbally forgave and prayed for my friend’s killer. It didn’t take away the grief, but the act of forgiveness released me from whatever illusion of rights I had over him—rights I believed I deserved because he caused me pain, because he was an enemy in my eyes.

Forgiveness, I believe, is the first step we need to take to love our enemies.

It is a step of trust in the almighty God who is sovereign. And whether we like it or not, we were once God’s enemies. But God chose to provide a way of forgiveness for us, so that “while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son . . .” (Romans 5:10). Having received God’s forgiveness, let’s extend that forgiveness to others—even our enemies.

Is there someone you need to forgive today?