[Or Harper Lee. But she's a hermit. Or C.S. Lewis. But he's dead.]
So Elisabeth Elliot.
Thought I did have a wonderful home growing up, I enjoyed the insights this book offered, and I can see how this book could be a wonderful tool for someone who did not have a Christian upbringing, but desires that for the family they are currently raising.
I won't lie, when I first started reading this book I was slightly disappointed. The first 10 chapters are dedicated to Elliot's mother's story. Her mom wrote about her childhood and early marriage, and left these journals for her children. Although it was interesting to read about, I didn't feel like this was the practical advice and teaching I was looking for [and received in the rest of the book]. So if you don't have a lot of time, read the preface, then begin in chapter 11. :)
I wrote about two "take aways" from this book while I was reading: learning to say yes, and again when I spoke of the importance of order in the home. But there was so much more to it. I really like how Elliot described her parents in their every day lives ["My father's life as we witnessed it was more eloquent than anything he ever said."], and it made me think about what I want my girls to think of Brent and me, and what we are doing now to ensure that. I also appreciated her reminder that "no one can make a child love anything, from spinach to sparrows to Scripture, but the parents' love for things exerts a powerful thrust in that direction."
I think one section that convicted me the most was when Elliot described the importance of being a good steward of time, and how being efficient with and on time was valued in her family. Her father believed that being late was stealing: "You are robbing others of their most irreplaceable commodity, time. A man's time can be given voluntarily, it can be bought, and it can be taken away from him against his will." Ouch. You can ask my husband, but being on time is something I need to get better about. Her father wrote in an editorial once:
Every Christian worker can discipline himself to be habitually on time, by careful management and foresight. It relieves other people of much anxiety, helps them not to waste time, and thus makes life easier for them. It is a matter of common honesty and Christian courtesy, and is in line with the injunction to 'let all things be done decently and in order' (1 Corinthians 14:40).I don't know about you, but that is convicting for me. Careful management and foresight. I think all parents of young children can agree that the foresight is the most important if you are going to be on time: what do I need in the bag? what can I pack the night before? I am learning I should probably plan on leaving 15 minutes at least before I need to if I want to be on time, because inevitably there will be a meltdown or a lost shoe or bathroom break or or or, and it is my responsibility to plan for those [and allow time to not be upset with my children when they occur].
I also really appreciated the simplicity with which life was lived by her family. She urges readers to be content with less money and "fewer activities which eat into the budget and take the family away from home", and less stuff. "The willingness to be and to have just what God wants us to be and to have, nothing more, nothing less, and nothing else, would set our hearts at rest, and we would discover that the simpler the life the greater the peace."
There is also a chapter on love, and it included a great reminder that "Nothing trains and teaches so powerfully as love. Love attracts, it does not coerce." Yes, love punishes, but love also embraces. And how we become a refuge of love for our children will lead in their understanding of a God of love and refuge.
I don't know about you other parents out there, but sometimes this discipline thing is hard. It can often break my spirit to guide Blythe's will. But Elliot offers encouragement in saying, "[The child] does not know what will destroy him. His parents do. Their refusal is his redemption." When I have to discipline Blythe, it is for a purpose: I am teaching her the "liberty of obedience."
If nothing else, in her parents' examples, I saw the importance of seeking out the Father who is parenting me, for we are "trustees, not owners, of the children God has given." Elliot shared many times that her mother was "not only there for us. She was regularly there, keeping her appointment with God-- for us. Like her Lord Jesus, for our sakes she sanctified herself." I think the thing I am learning about every day is that this job that I am doing, this parenting gig, will be over in such a short period of time-- and then I will let my children go. I will release them to do my job. And I pray I will have taught them to do it well. Often I feel like I need to be doing grand gestures to teach them, to grow them, but I was reminded in these pages that "'quality time' can never substitute for ordinary days spent doing ordinary things together."
And in those ordinary days I must allow my children the space to do their own seeking and finding. Elliot quotes George MacDonald, "The fault of the fathers often is that they expect their finding to stand in place of their children's seeking… their testimony is not ground for their children's belief, only for their children's search. The search is faith in bud." I do not live by my parents' faith, I live by my faith in Christ, just as my daughters will not be able to live in my faith. I can share my experiences with them, I can pray for them, I can wish upon a star they won't make poor choices, but they must find their faith on their own. We were discussing this with my Storyline group the other evening, and talking about how scary it is that we may have to watch our children make the same mistakes we made. We want to protect them from that, but it is their search that will save them, not hearing about ours.
Elliot shared that her mother viewed her role as that of a "quiet servant of necessity." We don't need to let everyone know when we just did 8 loads of pukey laundry in one day, or keep a running list of things we've accomplished that our husband better commend us for, rather we must love, give grace, supply discipline, point to Jesus. She shared the following story that hit me particularly close to home:
A talented woman was asked by a friend, "Why have you never written a book?"In the afterword she posed these questions to anyone who may be "dismayed" by it all [dismayed may be a bit strong, but overwhelmed for sure]: "It is always possible to do the will of God. Begin to be ready to do. What do you want your home to be? What does God want it to be? Waste no time wondering if you can do it. The question is simply Will you?"
"I am writing two" was the quiet reply. "I have been engaged on one for ten years, the other five."
"You surprise me!" the friend said. "What profound works they must be!"
"It doth not yet appear what they shall be," said the woman, "But when He makes up His jewels, my great ambition is to find them there."
"Yes, my two children. They are my life's work."
Trust Him when dark doubts assail thee,
Trust Him when they faith is small,
Trust Him when to simply trust Him
Seems the hardest thing of all.