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Passion and PurityLearning to Bring Your Love Life Under Christ's Control
Chapter OneMe, Lord? Single?
There was not much of a view from the window. The central feature was the garbage cans behind the dining hall. The closed windows shut out neither the tremendous crash and clatter of early morning collections nor the noisome effluvium of the day's cooking. Nevertheless I was tickled pink to have that little room. It was a single one, what I had been wanting and finally got when I was a senior in college. It had a bed, a bureau, a bookcase, and in the corner by the window, a desk with a straight chair and a lamp. A place for solitude and silence, a "closet" of the sort Jesus said we should go into to pray.
I did my studying and some of my praying at the desk. There were maple trees and an old elm behind the garbage cans, and I was often distracted by the crowd (the flock? the skitter?) of squirrels that lived there. I watched them getting ready for winter, tearing up and down, frantically transporting provisions, scolding, chattering, flicking their tails. I watched the maple leaves change color and fall, watched the rain paste them to the black driveway. I watched snow fall on those trees and cans.
It isn't hard at all to put myself back in the chair at that desk. When I sit at a different desk now and read letters from puzzled young people, I become that girl again who gazed out at the snow. What I wore was not very different from what they wear now-styles easily come full circle in thirty-five years. I had two skirts, three sweaters, and a few blouses, which I did my best to mix and match so that it looked as though I was wearing different outfits. Wednesdays were easy. Everybody in the senior class wore the same blue wool blazer with a college emblem sewn over the breast pocket.
My hair gave me an awful time. It was blond, hadn't a hint of a bend in it, and grew about an inch a month. How easy it would have been to wear it hanging long and straight, but that was unthinkable then. My curls were all a "put-up job." I could afford only one permanent a year. In between times I relied on the old pin-curl system, twirling strands of hair around my finger every night before I went to bed, securing them with a bobby pin.
If I couldn't do much with my hair, I could do less with my face. Like most girls, I wished I were pretty, but it seemed futile to tamper much with what I had been given, beyond using a cautious touch of pale lipstick (something called Tangee, which cost ten cents) and a pat of powder on my nose.
I needed that tiny, cozy room that year, perhaps more than ever before. Some issues that would set the sail of my life were to be dealt with. During the preceding summer I had finished praying about whether or not I was to be a missionary. I was. After what my Plymouth Brethren friends would call an exercise and what people now would call a struggle, it was clear at last. The struggle was not over any unwillingness to cross an ocean or live under a thatched roof, but over whether this was my idea or God's and whether I was meant to be a surgeon (I loved dissecting things) or a linguist. I came to the conclusion it was God who called and the call was to linguistics. I asked for assurance from the Lord and got it, so that was that.
But there was another matter of business not by any means finished. That was the one for which God knew I would need a "closet." It was about being alone-for the rest of my life. I was saying "Me, Lord? Single?" It seemed to come up between me and my Greek textbooks when I sat at the desk, between me and my Bible when I tried to hear God speaking. It was an obstruction to my prayers and the subject of recurrent dreams.
I talked often about this to God. I don't remember mentioning it to anybody else for many months. The two who shared the suite of which my room was one-third were not the wildly popular sort of whom I would have been envious. They were quiet, sensible girls a few years older than I-one a music major who spent most of her time practicing the organ in the conservatory, the other a former WAVE (the women's branch of the Navy) who was an expert at knitting argyle socks. Both of them, in fact, turned out countless pairs of socks and mittens and sent them off somewhere by parcel post. "When you get a needle in your hand," Jean said to me one day, "you are just lost, aren't you?" Compared to those two, I was.
After college Jean married. Barbara is still single. I have no memory of any discussions with them on love and marriage (though we must have had some), but I am perfectly sure that for all three of us singleness meant one thing: virginity. If you were single, you had not been in bed with any man. If you were to be permanently single, you were never going to be in bed with any man.
That was a hundred years ago, of course. But even a hundred years ago anybody who quite seriously believed that and acted on it would be seen as an oddity by many people. Perhaps we were in the minority. I can't be sure about that. Certainly the majority professed to believe that sexual activity was best limited to husbands and wives, whether or not their private lives demonstrated this conviction. Now, however, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, times have changed, they tell us. For thousands of years society depended on some semblance of order in the matter of sex. A man took a wife (or wives) in some regularly prescribed manner and lived with her (or them) according to recognized rules. He "messed around" with other men's wives only to his peril. A woman knew that she possessed a priceless treasure, her virginity. She guarded it jealously for the man who would pay a price for it-commitment to marriage with her and with her alone. Even in societies where polygamy was allowed, rules governed responsibilities to spouses, rules on which the whole stability of the society depended.
Somehow we've gotten the idea that we can forget all the regulations and get away with it. Times have changed, we say. We're "liberated" at last from our inhibitions. We have Sex and the Single Girl now. We have freedom. We can, in fact, "have it all and not get hooked." Women can be predators if they want to, as well as men. Men aren't men unless they've proved it by seducing as many women as possible-or as many men, for we may now choose according to "sexual preference." We can go to bed with those of the opposite sex or those of our own. It doesn't matter. A mere question of taste, and we all have a "right" to our tastes. Everybody's equal. Everybody's free. Nobody is hung up anymore or needs to deny himself anything. In fact, nobody ought to deny himself anything he wants badly-it's dangerous. It's unhealthy. It's sick. If it feels good and you don't do it, you're paranoid. If it doesn't feel good and you do do it, you're a masochist.
The reason my roommates and I believed that singleness was synonymous with virginity was not that we were college students a hundred years ago when everybody believed that. It was not that we didn't know any better. It was not that we were too naive to have heard that people have been committing adultery and fornication for millennia. It was not that we were not yet liberated or even that we were just plain stupid. The reason is that we were Christians. We prized the sanctity of sex.
I sat at that desk by the window and thought long and hard about marriage. I knew the kind of man I wanted. He would have to be a man who prized virginity-his own as well as mine-as much as I did.
What do women want today? What do men want? I mean, deep down. What do they really want? If "times" have changed, have human longings changed, too? How about principles? Have Christian principles changed?
I say no to the last three questions, an emphatic no. I am convinced that the human heart hungers for constancy. In forfeiting the sanctity of sex by casual, nondiscriminatory "making out" and "sleeping around," we forfeit something we cannot well do without. There is dullness, monotony, sheer boredom in all of life when virginity and purity are no longer protected and prized. By trying to grab fulfillment everywhere, we find it nowhere.
Chapter TwoThe Life I Owe
A young British preacher named Stephen Olford spoke in our college chapel for a week. Two things he said stayed with me: He quoted from the Song of Solomon, "I charge you, O daughters of Jerusalem, that ye stir not up, nor awake love until it please." He interpreted this to mean that no one, man or woman, should be agitated about the choice of a mate, but should be "asleep" as it were, in the will of God, until it should please Him to "awake" him. The other thing he urged was that we should keep a spiritual journal. I determined to follow his advice on both counts.
I bought a small, brown looseleaf notebook, almost exactly the size of my small, brown leather-bound Bible, given to me by my parents for Christmas in 1940. These I kept together at all times. I wrote on the flyleaf of the notebook the Greek words meaning "For to me to live is Christ ..." On the first page I copied out one stanza of Annie R. Cousin's hymn, taken from the words of Samuel Rutherford:
O Christ, He is the fountain, The deep, sweet well of love! The streams on earth I've tasted More deep I'll drink above: There to an ocean fulness His mercy doth expand, And glory, glory dwelleth In Immanuel's land.
I called the notebook the "Omer of Manna," taking the idea from Exodus 16:32, "And Moses said, This is the thing which the Lord commandeth, Fill an omer of it to be kept for your generations; that they may see the bread wherewith I have fed you in the wilderness, when I brought you forth from the land of Egypt."
"Lord, what is love?"
... God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God.... 1 John 4:16
This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you. John 15:12
"Father, how is this possible?"
... The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us. Romans 5: 5
O Love, that wilt not let me go, I rest my weary soul in Thee; I give Thee back the life I owe, That in Thine ocean depths its flow May richer, fuller be. George Matheson
"I give Thee back the life I owe"-owe? Why owe? It's my life, isn't it?
"Have you forgotten that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and is God's gift to you, and that you are not the owner of your own body? You have been bought, and at a price!"
The sense of destiny: Someone has paid for me with blood. How the knowledge lifts my sights beyond the moment's hot desire!
But now this is the word of the Lord, the word of your creator, O Jacob, of him who fashioned you, Israel: Have no fear: for I have paid your ransom; I have called you by name and you are my own.
There my destiny is defined: to be created, fashioned, ransomed, called by name. What was true of Israel is true of the Christian who is a "child of Abraham" by faith.
When you pass through deep waters, I am with you, when you pass through rivers, they will not sweep you away; walk through fire and you will not be scorched, through flames and they will not burn you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your deliverer....
A young woman came to me several years ago to ask, "Is it okay to tell God I'll be a missionary if He'll give me a husband?"
I said no. She had not yet understood His claims. Are we in a bargaining position with our Creator, Redeemer, the Holy One? "... It was no perishable stuff, like gold or silver, that bought your freedom from the empty folly of your traditional ways. The price was paid in precious blood ... the blood of Christ."
March 1, 1948-"So will not we go back from thee: quicken us, and we will call upon thy name. Turn us again, 0 Lord God of hosts, cause thy face to shine; and we shall be saved." Psalm 80:18, 19
On Thy brow we see a thorn-crown, Blood-drops in Thy track. O forbid that we should ever Turn us back. Amy Carmichael "India"
Lord, I have said the eternal Yes. Let me never, having put my hand to the plough, look back. Make straight the way of the Cross before me. Give me love, that there may be no room for a wayward thought or step.
Chapter ThreePassion Is a Battleground
The confusion that followed my earnest prayers is not surprising to me now. If there is an Enemy of Souls (and I have not the slightest doubt that there is), one thing he cannot abide is the desire for purity. Hence a man or woman's passions become his battleground. The Lover of Souls does not prevent this. I was perplexed because it seemed to me He should prevent it, but He doesn't. He wants us to learn to use our weapons.
A few samples from my diary of the preceding year illustrate the confusion I was in and provide, I'm afraid, a more accurate sketch of what I was then than memory would lead me to draw.
February 2, 1947-Longing for someone to love, but perhaps the Lord wants me only for Himself. February 3-Sara Teasdale: "Why am I crying after love?" February 16-Hal dates my roommate, then waits for me later in the evening. February 17-Hal walks me home. Don't really want to go out with him. February 18-Phil asked me out. Refused. February 21-Hal had five dates with my roommate last week. I haven't had that many with him all told. February 22-Hal drove me home from the post office. I wrote a poem inspired by the fickleness of couples around me. Should I officially break off with Hal, call for a showdown, just let him work it out? March 8-Accepted date with Hal for a concert. March 9-Broke date, told Hal we must stop dating. He said there would never be anyone else. March 10-Was I hasty? March 11-Shall I apologize? March 12-Wished I hadn't broken date. March 14-Tried to see him. March 17-Talked, returned presents, thanked him for all he'd done. Miss him. March 23-Met Jim Elliot. Good talk. Wonderful guy. July 1-Once in a while I think about singleness ... God can surely give me abundant life. May I never turn aside. October 26-Read about Henry Martyn of India, who had to choose between the woman he loved and the mission field.
Excerpted from Passion and Purity by Elisabeth Elliot Copyright © 1984 by Elisabeth Elliot.
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