Jarred Awake: On Elisabeth Elliot, Our House, and This Small Matter of Obedience

The whole house is quiet. The room where I sit is darkening, and out of the bay window that I face, I can see gray storm clouds through the aspen trees. On these trees the leaves flutter between their dark green tops and silver undersides, like a million tiny bells ringing silently, and the portions of the sky behind them flash with patches of white lightning.

I haven’t felt this quiet in a long time.

Yesterday one of the women whose faith shaped mine died. Elisabeth Elliot wasn’t “tragically young,” and knowing what she endured during the last years of her life, there are many reasons to be glad she is whole and full of life in the presence of Christ now… but the world also feels a little emptier for me. If you’ve read The Lord of the Rings, then this is how I imagine the hobbits felt coming away from the Grey Havens: so glad to have seen their friends go to rest, and yet feeling bereft of their presence… and perhaps even a little wistful from watching the ship depart without them.

I’ve had to close the blinds to the night now and turn on a light. The rain is pelting the windows.

I read so many of her books when I was younger, especially during the time when I had questions about womanhood and femininity, courtship and family. She addressed issues I hadn’t even thought to broach. And I now find that what I gained from her words doesn’t fit under a “family values” or “how-to” label; she was always about following Christ and trusting Him, and putting one foot in front of the other to do so, no matter what.

So it shouldn’t have been surprising when I came across this article she wrote, a year after her husband and four other missionaries died, and read this:

On a beautiful Sunday afternoon a year ago, five young women were asking God for two things regarding their husbands: that they might be permitted to contact the Auca Indians again, and that they might be protected. . . . The asked-for contact had been given. But what about the protection? . . . . [I]n making them obedient men, God had answered the prayer of his Son, the prayer of the men themselves and the prayer of their wives. The adversary did not succeed in turning them aside from Gods highest purpose. They were protected from that most fearful of all dangers, disobedience. 

I shouldn’t have been surprised — but I was jarred. Disobedience? Of all the dangers that face my family today, disobedience to God and His commands is not the first that springs to mind. From everything I know of the Word of God, I know what she wrote is true, but somewhere in the rhythm of halving grapes and tightening five-point car seat harnesses and setting rules for stair jumping, I’ve become a little hard of hearing in that direction.

“Obedience” is not a popular word these days, but it brings life. Life for the small child who needs guidance from sunrise to sunset, life for the child of God who needs guidance from “life’s first cry to final breath.”*

A strange thing has happened since we’ve moved into this new house. It feels too nice. I walked on the new carpet a day after it was installed and caught my breath at how soft it was and felt overwhelmed at how this comfort was for the four of us — just four. Somewhere, someone else with the same “rights” as I feels just the same way at having a tin roof to keep her family of twelve or twenty out of the rain and the mud of a slum. So we have been thinking of ways to share the much that has been given to us** recently, of how to use this roof and many-more-than-four walls to “obey” — though I would not have used that word until today — Christ’s commands about feeding and clothing and loving others. Here, fueled by beauty at nearly every turn (you can see something green out of nearly every window) and perhaps also by feeling so blessedly comfortable to the point of being uncomfortable, I’ve sought obedience.

But in the wake of Elliot’s homecoming, in part because I want to run my race that well, “obedience” is suddenly a weightier word. It’s not simply about being a place of refuge for friends or providing rest for weary travelers or preparing meals for homeless people. Obedience to the Word of God means paying attention to the things He cares about that I would much rather sweep under the rug: to serve without complaining, to give cheerfully, to do good whenever it is in my power to do it.

Even this sounds palatable until I break it down. Obedience means working with my husband without grumbling, stepping up with humble love when we’re playing the “Who’s More Exhausted?” game, loving and providing for and even disciplining my little ones without a sharp tone or even an exasperated sigh, and praying as faithfully as my glib mouth says I will. And a Sabbath rest? What’s that?

Call all of that obedience, and now I feel overwhelmed. I feel like a woman with a wee toothbrush standing before a house that has not been cleaned in a decade.

Overwhelming — but not impossible. For once I am glad to see the junk that lies in my heart and in my mouth and at my fingertips; far better that I see it, and my God sees it, than that I should go skating by thinking I’m doing all right. Obedience, even in the most uncomfortable places, is what He requires — and it is this obedience that will lead to everlasting life, and evince a true love of Jesus, and carry out that great commission of the King (John 8:51, John 14:23-24, Matt. 28:20).

This post isn’t the most elegant I’ve ever written. But this blog is a collection of field reports from a work in progress, and if the best thing that I have learned from saints before me is how to get out of the way and let God in His mercy and redemptive glory be visible, then I can’t think of a better hallmark.

Thanks for reading, friends. It’s an honor to “host” you here.

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*”In Christ Alone,” Stuart Townend and Keith Getty
**”Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required…” (Luke 12:48)

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