Passion and Purity

I mentioned this oldie-but-goodie previously. My fall break was spent Iowa being Auntie and having lots of playtime with preschoolers. We didn’t exactly master the maze, but they let me take a picture anyway:

I had no idea that a quick glance through my sister’s bookshelf would lead me to the words I desperately needed to hear at this point in my life.

If you’re Protestant, you have probably heard of Elisabeth Elliot; if you’re not familiar with her or her story, look here. Her first husband, Jim Elliot, was one of five American missionaries killed by the Auca Indians of Ecuador in 1956; the account was later told through the movie The End of the Spear in 2006. Among other books in theology and the stories of her mission work after her husband’s death, she published Passion and Purity in the early 80s, which became the gold standard of relationship advice by the time I was a teenager in the 1990s.

I skipped out on reading P&P, for reasons unknown, but read other books on courtship and what to do while waiting for marriage. I only became frustrated with each book I read and never liked the answers each author proposed.

With the niecephews asleep and little conversations among the adults, I skimmed the bookshelves and pulled out P&P. I rarely read introductions to books but this time I did. What first captivated me was the brief outline of her friendship, courtship, and marriage to Jim. 5 years – FIVE!!! YEARS! – between the time that Jim first announced his love for Elisabeth and when they married. He wasn’t even certain whether or not he was called to marriage when he confessed his feelings! The second aspect of her writing that made me realize I needed the wisdom of her journey was her honesty: the loneliness, impatience, the questions, the thoughts, the struggle, the silence.

It shocked and relieved me how verbally open both of them were with their mutual attraction. Yet, it made sense. If neither of them had to skirt around the “Does he/she like me?”, they could get on with the real questions of “What are my gifts and how am I to use them? Is marriage in God’s plan for me? Will our paths coincide for ministry?”

Where I was emotionally and spiritually in my teens and early 20s, I don’t think Passion and Purity would have been a good book for me to read. Had I read it then, I envision my thought pattern being something like the following:

Well, Elisabeth Elliot devoted herself to Christ and got what she wanted: marriage. Sure, it ended sadly with Jim’s martyrdom, but she at least got married and had a kid. Now she’s famous. So really, I just need to pressure and guilt myself into having a great relationship with Christ so life can go my way. Eventually, a nice guy will see what an awesome Christian I am and will prove himself worthy of my attention.

Yes, I like to think that I’m constantly on a pedestal.

Thankfully, I read P&P now after a few bad relationships and multiple confusing situations. Here are the better thoughts:

It was a hard 5 years. But her first commitment was to Christ, yet even in the face of all that happened, she didn’t manipulate circumstances to be near Jim, distract him, nor deny her own calling for ministry to “make things happen”. She was honest with her circumstances and sinfulness. She had to give everything to Christ, sometimes minute by minute.

I agreed with most everything that Elisabeth and Jim shared (she printed several of his letters), except for one view of marriage. Their reticence towards marriage was expressed through a “if you’re married, you can’t be as committed to Christ.” Granted, Orthodoxy acknowledges that marriage can divide one’s attention, yet marriage is part of salvation rather than distracting from it.

Without divulging too many details for my complicated life and why I needed Mrs. Elliot’s words of wisdom, here’s the short story:

This past summer, an acquaintance and I crossed paths during his cross-country travels. It became apparent during this visit that the chemistry both of us felt during our previous meetings needed to be addressed. Being able to hear his opinions and say what I felt was a relief for me – to finally have things out in the open where they could be discussed without the other going “Huh?” Yet, the timing couldn’t have been worse: we live half a continent apart and both of us have 2 years of schooling left.

The words, “I don’t do long-distance” at first were a let-down. A week later, they felt like a ton of bricks. It’s a tough place to be and one that will drive me to further prayer and conversations, though honestly, it’s driven me more to some tears and cries of, “Seriously, God!!! Ugh!” I am not approaching this as having a “back-up” in place if no one else comes along, nor is that how I’m encouraging him to feel. Honestly, who wants to be told, “Well, nothing else is working, so you’ll do.” I still struggle with how to handle any subsequent visits we’ve had –having a clear calling does not make me immune to hormones or free from distractions.

And while my situation has distinct differences from the Elliot’s, I needed to hear of her experience. I don’t have a man who has expressed his love and affection for me solely. But I have an opportunity to pray, to follow my calling through nursing school, to not manipulate circumstances, and to make certain my commitment is to Christ. I am guaranteed nothing with this or any other relationship opportunity. And unless my life and faith is based on Christ and practiced in the Church, I can not face the trials to come, single or married.

The above picture is titled: It’s MY Blog, it’s my picture, I can insert it randomly in posts if I want!!!



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