Elisabeth Elliot has catapulted her way this year into the pantheon of my favorite authors. She's definitely in the top ten for me, and has to be listed as one of the most influential writers who have shaped my thinking. Doesn't it seem we often find the right book just at the right time?
Here's a passage I read tonight in one of her books, with an admittedly lachrymose title: The Path of Loneliness.
Acceptance of discipleship is the utter abandonment of the disciple, the surrender of all rights, to the Master. This abandonment, in all cases, will mean pain. Christ listed some of the troubles His followers could expect, so that they would not be taken by surprise and thus discard their faith in Him. He didn't offer immunity. He asked for trust.
As we have noted, Jesus published no false advertising. He was offering the kingdom of heaven--bliss, eternal life, fullness of joy. But He spoke of the small gate and the narrow road. He promised suffering, not escape from suffering. You cannot take up a cross and at the same time not take up a cross, or learn how to die and how not to die.
And another passage:
There are many things that God does not fix precisely because He loves us. (Emphasis is Elliot). Instead of extracting us from the problem, He calls us. In our sorrow or loneliness or pain He calls us---"This is a necessary part of the journey. Even if it is the roughest part, it is only a part, and it will not last the whole long way. Remember where I am leading you. Remember what you will find at the end---a home and a haven and a heaven."
As Lewis said, "we're like blocks of stone, out of which the sculptor carves the forms of men. The blows of His chisel, which hurt us so much, are what make us perfect. The suffering of this world is not the failure of God's love for us; it is that love in action."
Elliot says later that, "It is possible both to accept and to endure loneliness without bitterness when there is a vision of glory beyond."
I feel that this misses the mark in some ways, despite how valuable I think her writing is. For me, the most compelling reason that makes suffering endurable is not the "glory" that might or might not come, but the fundamental belief that suffering is an invitation to love. Any later glory is ultimately irrelevant to a flesh and blood man whose only basis for belief in our coming glory is rooted in faith. My neighbor is someone I don't need faith to believe in--I can shake his hand and help dig his car out of the snow. A faith that believes that our suffering, whether it be loneliness or something else, is something that can be used to gain salvation for those we love, as Peter Kreeft says, is the strongest reason, and also I believe the most beautiful reason, for accepting, enduring and embracing suffering.
This is a necessary part of the journey.