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Part 2 – The Courage to Be a Woman – A Conversation with Elisabeth Elliot – Nancy Leigh DeMoss

Leslie Basham: Elisabeth Elliot says, “If a woman gets married she is going to marry . . .

Elisabeth Elliot: . . . sinful person. There isn’t anything else to marry. I say that to women all the time. You’ve got to remember, whomever you marry, he’s a sinner. There isn’t anything else to marry.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Thursday, September 1.

Are women really any different from men? You’re about to hear an answer from someone who has courageously lived as a true woman of God for decades. When Elisabeth Elliot talks about embracing God’s calling on her life, you can know that she has lived it out in some tough circumstances.

The conversation you are about to hear originally aired 10 years ago on Elisabeth’s radio program, Gateway to Joy. Elisabeth Elliot was passing a baton to Nancy Leigh DeMoss. Along with Elisabeth and Nancy we’ll also hear from the announcer on Gateway to Joy, Lisa Barry. Also, Bob Lepine from FamilyLife Today was helping with this transition. We’ll begin with a question he posed to Elisabeth.

Bob Lepine: Your granddaughter is your name sake, right?


 Your granddaughter Elisabeth is about to become a young wife. When your daughter Valerie was about to become a young wife, you sat down and . . . Did you start writing a letter and it just turned into a book, or did you plan it would be a book all along?

Elisabeth: Well, I’m sure I wrote her a number of letters, but I felt very strongly that I needed to write a book because I had been reading so much junk that I thought was really useless stuff. Maybe as Valerie’s mother I needed to write a book for her specifically. That was my wedding present to my daughter, and my publisher was kind enough to make a leather bound copy of that for my wedding present for her.

It was really just putting down on paper what undoubtedly I had learned mostly from my own mother. My mother had come from a very wealthy family, actually. They had two maids and a butler, so she never had to do any housework until she married my father who was relatively poor by comparison and they became missionaries in Belgium.

They lived in a fifth floor walk-up, and my father had to lug all the water up the stairs and all the water back down the stairs after it had been used. Things were very, very tight when they were missionaries, and that is where I was born. So it was always in my mind that we didn’t have anything, and I very much remember the Depression. All of you people here in the studio are way too young to know about that, but I am very aware of how tight things were.

There was never a word of complaint from my mother, even though she’d had to step way down from where she had been and my father absolutely adored her. So I am blessed beyond anything anyone could be blessed.

Bob: Her example was the model for you not only in being a wife and a mom but also then in what you passed on to Valerie. Would you change anything today in what you would say to Elisabeth as she heads toward the altar, or would you just hand her another leather bound copy of Let Me Be a Woman and say, “Here, I still believe all of this and more.”

Elisabeth: Yes, Bob. I think that is exactly what I would be inclined to do. To say, “I think I’ve told you everything that I would want to say if you and I could sit down as grandmother and granddaughter. You will find it in my book Let Me Be a Womanbecause I tried to put down all that I had learned from my mother and all that I wanted to pass on to your mother, Elisabeth.” I would hope that she would read it eagerly; I think she will.

Bob: Nancy, you speak to women all across the country. It doesn’t take many women long after they’ve gotten married before they are dissatisfied with what they thought was going to bring them great hope, great joy. Now all of a sudden, it is a source of pain for them. What happens, and what can women do to be back where they want to be in a marriage relationship.

Nancy: I think, Bob, the fact is that whether we’re married or single, with children or childless, at every season of life if we are trying to find fulfillment and contentment and joy through anything or anyone other than Christ Himself, we’re setting ourselves up for disappointment. So many women today are trying to find joy through their circumstances, but as Elisabeth has taught so many of us as women, joy is a choice, contentment is a choice, and it comes as a result of obedience. It comes through abandon to Christ and surrender to Him.

Our natural flesh tells us if you let go, if you abandon yourself to the will of God you are going to be destined to this life that is too rigorous, too hard, and unbearable. But the truth is, when we hold onto our lives, when we try to pursue our own happiness as our ultimate objective, we’re going to have a truly hard life.

Jesus said, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light. Come to me, take My yoke upon you. Learn from Me. I am meek and humble in spirit” (Matt. 11:29 paraphrased). That is how you find rest for your soul.

Bob: Do you think young women expect too much from marriage today?

 I don’t think it is just young women; I think it is all women and maybe men too. I can’t speak for them, but the fact is that we expect too much from life. We expect it to make me happy. We expect it to satisfy me. The fact is, as believers, it is not about us. It is not about my happiness, my joy, my wellbeing. It is about the glory of God and the kingdom of Christ. The only means to real joy and contentment is to make His glory the supreme objective in my life.

Bob: Elisabeth, I’ve heard you say that it didn’t take long after you were first married to Jim Elliot before you realized that it wasn’t going to be the perfect experience that maybe you had thought it was going to be for the 5 ½ years you corresponded with him and courted with him. What was the wake-up call in the first 24 hours for you?

Elisabeth: Well, I don’t know about the 24 hours. We went to a very fancy hotel in Panama, and we had a wonderful seven days there. I think, then, we went to visit my brother who was living in Costa Rica at that time. I do remember our first home was a tent. A leaky, 16’ x 16’ tent that some well meaning person back in Oregon had given to Jim to take to the wild yonder in South America.

It rained and rained and rained. I will never forget one night when we had tried to patch all the places that needed to be patched. It was pitch dark, and the rain was pouring down, and Jim had gotten so ill with malaria almost as soon as we got there, that he had not even had time to dig the trench around the tent so the water was coming in onto the floor. The bed was sinking down into the mud, and I dropped my pillow into the mud. Jim had used up his battery in his flashlight, and we were trying to find the holes in the roof that were dripping. Well, you can’t use a flashlight in a pitch dark tent to find the holes. This is just not possible; we thought it would be, but it wasn’t.

After he had used up his batteries in his flashlight, he grabbed mine. At that point I just . . . everything fell apart. I screamed at him. I said, “Would you give me back my flashlight!” And he said, “Would you shut your mouth!” And we both burst out laughing, and we just laughed and laughed and laughed. Of course, the bed was sinking down further and further into the mud, and the pillows were falling off. It was a very miserable night I can assure you, and it went on for a long time after that because he continued to have malaria forI’ve forgotten how long.

I am sure I am not talking to very many people today who have had that exact situation, but maybe you’ve had something much worse. All your childhood and girlhood dreams have burst their bubbles, and it just isn’t anything like what you’ve expected it to be.

I’ve had a lot of letters from young women like that who thought they had learned everything, and they find out they are stuck with a plain, old human being, a sinful person. There isn’t anything else to marry, and I say that to women all the time. You’ve got to remember, whomever you marry, he’s a sinner. There isn’t anything else to marry.

Bob: I’ve also heard you say . . . I think you’ve used the picture of a white shirt with a spot on it. We focus in on the spot when it stands out on the white shirt rather than focusing on the white part. A lot of women need to get their eyes off the spot and onto the white part of their husband, don’t they?

Elisabeth: Yes, and as my second husband had said, maybe 80% is a good number to thank the Lord for. You can spend the rest of your life picking away at the other 20%, and you’re not going to reduce it by very much.

Bob: I find these wonderful quotes from your book, The Music of His Promises, just a real simple statement. You say, “We need to look up and look away from ourselves.” And Nancy, that is part of what women, and men for that matter, need to be called to and need to be reminded of. If our focus is on us it will lead us to misery, won’t it?

Nancy: That is right, Bob. And Elisabeth has so reminded us of the importance of examining what is my goal in life. I love that quote I’ve heard you use a number of times about the wine drunk versus the wine poured out, and we need to examine and see what is it that we are really living for and what matters most to us. Is it for my own personal pleasure and wellbeing or is it to be poured out, to be spent for the sake of the glory of God and the sake of others.

That is the pathway of love. It is a pathway of the cross, the pathway of sacrifice, but it is the pathway to ultimate joy as you have reminded us so many times.

Bob: Can you help us understand what it means to be a woman and how that makes us different from men or should make us different?

Elisabeth: It says in Titus 2, “Teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good” (2:3). Paul goes on to say the older women can train the “younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure” (vv. 4-5). If you’ve been hurt or feel as if your husband has been ignoring you or something like that, where do you take it? Directly to your husband and tear into him? Or do you just take it to the cross and lift it up to the Lord and say, “Lord, You understand this. Help me to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home”? That is where women belong.

My heart goes out to the women who can’t be home. The single women who, of course, have to make their own living, and the women whose husbands require they get a job. I think it is very sad. Why are the husbands not willing to scale way down, get a smaller house, fewer cars, whatever, in order to enable their wives to stay home and take care of their children?

So Paul is talking about being busy at home, to be kind and to be subject to their husbands so that no one will malign the Word of God.

Nancy: As you’re reading that passage from Titus 2, Elisabeth, I am thinking about a very different passage in the Old Testament, Proverbs 7, which describes much more, I think, the contemporary woman. It is talking in that context about an immoral, adulterous woman, but it is interesting how many of the characteristics in Proverbs 7 are much more typical of women today.

I think of that one verse in Proverbs 7 that says “she is loud and boisterous and her feet never stay at home,” (v. 7) which really is the contrast to the kind of role that Paul is giving to us in Titus 2. In a parallel passage in 1 Timothy 5 . . . You remember that passage where Paul is describing what will qualify a widow to be cared for by the church? It gives a number of things that must be true of her life, which seems to me to be the things that we as women ought to be aspiring to in our younger life.

It says, “She has been faithful to her husband. She is well known for her good deeds such as bringing up children, showing hospitality, washing the feet of the saints, helping those in trouble and devoting herself to all kinds of good deeds” (vv. 9-10 paraphrased).

Let me back up by saying something else about Proverbs 7. I just quoted one verse out of that passage, but there are many that describe more typical women today. There is a picture in that passage of this woman being the aggressor, the initiator in the relationship with this foolish, simple young man.

There are so many different ways we have this foolish woman described in Proverbs 7. So much not only in our streets today but in our churches even. You ask why it is, and I guess I have two thoughts in relation to that.

First of all, I do believe there is nothing new since the Garden of Eden. That is where we have our first classic role reversal with Eve, with the devil singling out the woman and ignoring her husband who is there with her. But the woman letting this happen and being the one to lead her husband and to feed her husband the forbidden fruit when it was God’s design that the man should be the one doing the leading and the feeding. So in that sense, nothing is new.

In another sense, we have grown up in our generation, at least the women of your age and mine, who have not known anything else other than an environment that has been shaped and determined by feminist thinking. Even those of us in the church today who would not consider ourselves feminist, it is in the air we breathe. The feminist really, when I was being born about that time in the 50s, set out with an agenda with the intent to eradicate the distinctions between men and women.

The shame of it is that we have let them. In the process I believe we’ve had something very precious and beautiful and a gift from God stolen from us. One of my real burdens for my lifetime is that God would allow me to be a part of a counter-Revolution that would take back that which has been taken from us.

Now this isn’t a revolution that means we go and march in the streets or we write letters to Congress. This is a kind of revolution that is going to take place, I believe, by women saying, “I’m willing to be different. I don’t have to fit into the culture. I don’t have to look like all the other women around me. I am willing to let God give to me that quiet and gentle and subordinate spirit.” For us to say, “I am willing to be a different kind of woman,” and in that sense to glorify God.

The passage Elisabeth read in Titus 2 tells us if we don’t, then the Word of God will be blasphemed. People will not know the heart and the character and the ways of God if we don’t take back that true biblical womanhood.

Lisa Barry: Elisabeth, when two people get married, at first they are blind to each other’s flaws. But not long after those flaws are exposed and unfortunately even magnified. Should a wife try to change her husband?

: Well, I just happen to have here a wonderful letter from a woman who tried for a long time without much success. She said,

The Lord is penetrating my marriage specifically through my heart attitude towards my husband. I now can have a heart of submission because I can trust God.

I have struggled, wondering how to submit when it seems he does not lead. God has shown me how to quiet down, and especially how to notice my husband’s unspoken leadership and my surrender to it. God now lavishes me with blessings by giving my husband thoughts and decisions that are amazingly not his own.

Like his out-of-the-blue desire to go camping as a family this summer. This was something I longed to do, tried to get him to agree to, but gave up trying. My husband is not a gift giver, but on Easter he gave me a very sweet gift that was not just chocolate. It was a thoughtful gift, a particular thing that he knew I would enjoyvery special.

Lisa: A transformed marriage.

Elisabeth: Totally transformed.

Lisa: How does transformation take place? If somebody is listening and their marriage they feel is beyond hope . . . You just read that, and they get a glimmer, “Yes, maybe God can transform my marriage.” Where do you start?

Elisabeth: Where to start, I would say, is down on your knees. Golda Meir said, “When you’re at work you think of the children you left at home. At home you think of the work you’ve left unfinished. Such a struggle is unleashed within yourself, your heart is rent.” I am sure that is one of the big problems with so many women who are obliged to go to work. But I have had a number of letters from people, from women who have laid it all before the Lord, and the Lord has changed their husband’s hearts. Their husbands have agreed to scale down in the way they live in order to allow their wives to stay home and take care of the children.

It may mean a very drastic sacrifice, but many letters that have come to me have revealed the joy and the peace that has come through the willingness to forget about the world’s notions of what you have to do, what you have to have, and where you have to go.

 And Elisabeth, aren’t you really talking about the need for a woman to wait on the Lord and to trust in God to do in her husband’s heart what she can’t do. Now the Scripture says that “The king’s heart is in the Lord’s hand. He turns it as the rivers of water whithersoever he will.” (Prov. 21:1 paraphrased).

A wonderful illustration from the Scripture that comes to mind is that of Mary of Nazareth who had this remarkable, never-to-be-repeated visitation from the angel telling her that she was to bear the child, the Son of God. Joseph didn’t have that experience when she did. He didn’t see the angel; he didn’t hear the angel speak. It appears from the passage that he may not have believed her story initially.

He was minded to put her away, to divorce her. He wanted to save her from embarrassment and shame. There is no evidence that Mary took it upon herself to try and convince him that what God had said to her was true.

I think so many times, as women being more sensitive perhaps, we do believe that we may have an insight from the Scripture or a spiritual sense about a matter before the men around us. The dangerous thing is when we make it our job, take it upon ourselves to tell the husband, to tell the pastor, to tell the men in leadership in our churches, “This is the way it is to be. This is what God has told me.” We feel it is our responsibility to get them to see this great truth. Invariably, my observation is that pushes the men further away from wanting to respond to the Lord.

Because Mary knew how to ponder things in her heart, to keep them there, to treasure them, to be quiet and to wait on the Lord, in God’s time He sent an angel to Joseph to give the same word. Then Joseph was faithful to believe and to act on what God had shown him. I think it is so hard for us to just wait. We are natural fixers, controllers, manipulators, and we have to fix everything and make it right. God is saying to us, “Wait on Me, and give Me a chance to act in the heart and life of that man.”

Used with Permission. Revive Our Hearts.

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1 Responses to Part 2 - The Courage to Be a Woman - A Conversation with Elisabeth Elliot - Nancy Leigh DeMoss

  • Winnie Christopher says:

    Thank you for sharing this. I have discovered Elisabeth Eliiot only recently but find her life inspiring.

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[Doers—Not Hearers Only] Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. — James 1:21 (NKJV)

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