Every summer for the past four years, I have reread Elisabeth Elliot’s Passion and Purity. An annotator by nature, I love to read through comments made as far back as my sophomore year of high school and add an additional “love this” or “to consider” here and there.
When I reread an annotated book, I see how the book has changed me. At a base level, I’ve changed my pen preference from lime gel to black fountain (a life-altering decision, friends). Moving past the print, I see the ways in which my perspective has shifted through my diction, my mindset and my age. I’m no longer the shy girl worried about SAT scores. I’m an undergraduate who has way too much caffeine and way too little sleep but just enough Jesus and foreign policy reviews to keep her going strong.
My theology is deepening and certainly has probed great depths since my first read-through of Elliot’s book. Each year, I’ve been given fresh eyes to consider her words, overflowing with wisdom and truth.
This summer, I was late in my rereading and put it off…until this weekend. A little over ten days until I move back to my Upland home and a lot less than ten days until my friends from my Indy home begin to return to their different universities. Needless to say, I’ve been on a gloriously messy emotional roller coaster. What I can say with certainty is that I am now ready to return to Upland. (Look, Mom; I’m mostly packed!) I also can say that God is good and His timing, perfect.
Elliott begins her book by placing herself back as a senior undergraduate student at Wheaton College. The story progresses to tell of her time post graduation in Bible college, language school and various other ministry programs as she followed her Christ-instilled calling to linguistics. The story also tells of how God wove a friend, Jim Elliot, into His narrative for Elisabeth. The two went on to full-time ministry work in Ecuador where Jim was martyred by tribesmen. Elisabeth’s response: forgiveness. That’s a whole other book and a God-drenched narrative.
This year, a college student like Elisabeth, I read with a fresh perspective and a context that “makes sense” during this still new season of life. Elliot describes her clear calling to ministry and the loneliness that tended to accompany it. Yet in the midst of loneliness, Elisabeth valued her faith above all. The choices she made were made in light of Scripture and in fervent prayer. When she faced internal conflict as to what choice was best, her response was to ask Christ, not to trust herself. This pattern, beginning in college, carried throughout Elisabeth’s life. Her narrative is one of steady courage, humble grace and a deep conviction to do that which God would have her do.
I read all this and thought, “That’s not me.” Sure, I want that to be me. I’d love to say, “I immediately place my hope in Christ and His plans for my life.” However, that is often the last response before the “breakdown and turn back” phase. I like to plan and I like to dream. When the planner and the dreamer in my head conspire they often deem faith unnecessary until something unforeseen occurs. Then, yikes - faith is needed after all.
This summer, especially these past few weeks, God has shown me countless times that the only thing, the only person I can place my full hope in is Christ Himself. I’m not saying that hope cannot be found elsewhere. What I am saying is that fully placing one’s hope in anything beside Christ - His person, His purposes and His power, is futile. It’ll fall through, and I do it time and time again.
As I pulled out of campus after my last exam and headed home at the beginning of summer, I was already placing hope in various plans that I thought would and should come to fruition. Logically, many of them made sense. They were long evaluated until deemed realistic. Thus, I charted the course of my summer without trusting Christ for the unforeseen. Excitement over summer plans wasn’t the problem. False hope in my sense of control was a huge problem.
The summer progressed and was wonderful, full of growth and learning at my internship and at home. However, last weekend when I considered everything and my attitude toward it I realized, I still held a vice grip on my false hope and was refusing to accept that God’s plan might not match my own, but difficult or not, His ways are the best ones, every time. I went into this past week frustrated with myself but grateful to God for grace and for plans that despite our actions, are His plans and will come to fruition when He wills them to.
Elliot understood this. She placed her hope in Christ and He provided direction for her life. When she was unsure whether to pursue medicine or linguistics, the Lord led her into linguistics. When she was unsure where her relationship with Jim Elliot would head, the Lord developed patience in her heart and years later, they married. The Elliot's entered ministry in Ecuador where a few years into their marriage, Jim and several other missionaries were martyred. Elisabeth’s response? Forgiveness.
Certainly forgiveness was a process and grief was imminent, but nevertheless she forgave and returned. Her second husband died of cancer and her third husband survived her. If Elliot had placed her full hope in her marriage, in her ministry, or in her future, she would have been shattered by disappointment. However, Elisabeth placed her hope in Christ. When the hard times came (and they did come), she stood with courage, filled with the hope of a risen Savior who overcame brokenness, overcame hardship and overcame the grave.
I’m not there, at least not yet. But this hope I’m discovering is an ongoing process. As I prepare to pack up and head up to my Upland home, I can see that hope, true hope in Christ will be a huge learning process throughout this academic year and most likely, the coming years. I’m equally excited and stubborn which God is breaking and bending and making beautiful in His time. Hope in Christ is bliss, but the other things I’ve placed false hope in must shift placement - sometimes, that stings.
I’m grateful for those who see those glimpses of hope in my messiness. Thank you dear family, dear friends, dears colleagues, professors, mentors, pastors and others who have encouraged me in the little things and given me underserved grace to grow. You richly bless me.
I’ll end with these words (not mine):