Most of us are familiar with the poignant story of late missionaries Jim and Elisabeth Elliot. Their courageous gospel outreach to the Huaorani people of Ecuador and willingness to lay down their lives have influenced countless others to sacrifice for the sake of Christ. Elisabeth told the story of their mission, Jim’s life, and martyrdom in her book, Through Gates of Splendor. Elisabeth and her daughter went on to continue ministering to the Huarorani people even after his death, and many were saved by God’s grace through their testimony.
What fewer people know is that Elisabeth–a theologically astute woman in an age of radical feminism–went on to write other books, particularly for women, such as Passion and Purity, and this one, Let Me Be a Woman. Written as a letter to her daughter (minus the format), it is a lovely work full of biblical advice for women of God.
As a new wife and mother myself, I found Elisabeth Elliot’s insights to be particularly helpful and quotable. She uncompromisingly stands on the truth of Scripture at a time when feminists and liberals were encouraging women to do the exact opposite.
ONLY GOD DEFINES WOMANHOOD
This is the central point Elliot makes–God made woman, so God alone determines what it means to be a woman. She confronts the feminists of her era (the mid-70’s) head-on, not with harsh words and platitudes, but with a passionate defense of the creation account in Genesis, along with other Scriptures, such as excerpts from Paul’s writings on womanhood. Her esteem for the Word of God is clear. She shows the power and beauty of living as the woman God desires us to be.
Surely this topic has been discussed at length by many authors, but Elliot’s way of expressing these truths is often unique. For instance, she raises the hypothetical scenario of how things would have been different if, when Satan tempted Eve with the possibility of being “like God” (essentially being her own god), Eve had instead said, “No, but let me be a woman.”
What if, rather than striving to be in the role of god, or of man, for that matter (as feminists propose), we fully embrace our role of being women–women who obey God’s design for us and all that it entails? Elliot rightly concludes that we would honor the Lord and benefit richly from doing this.
Nearly every time she defends a “controversial” truth from the Word, Elliot shows the good purpose behind it. One great example is when she denounces the concept of the “female pastor” and adamantly teaches against women filling the pulpit (something I’m thankful for). Along with this, she also explains how the limitations God has given us as women are actually liberating gifts! They deliver us from chasing after sin and disobedience, and direct us toward true freedom and joy.
That is exactly what we women need to hear, every time we struggle to rejoice in the way God has fashioned our role as women. Every restriction from God is actually a freeing command to avoid what is evil and enjoy the good He has called us to do.
NATURE’S RHYTHM: OBEDIENCE AND PRAISE
Throughout the book’s relatively short chapters, Elliot gives us intricate descriptions of nature that remind us of the beauty of God’s creation. They are not only peaceful and pleasant to read, but also instructive. She reveals how animals, plants, mountains, oceans, and the rest of the earth all obey the Lord perfectly by praising God through their design.
Unlike us, they don’t rebel against God, because they simply do what they were created to do by marvelously pointing to their Creator.
We, however, have sinned and fallen short of His glory, and though we have a much greater capacity to reveal God as image-bearers, we mar our reflection of Him through our disobedience.
So our goal, then, as Christians reconciled to our Creator, is to find our place in His design–to do what we’ve been created to do–to be thankful and glorify God in all things. As women, that is achieved through learning what it means to be a godly woman and living it out.
TRUSTING GOD’S ORDER
One thing we know is true of our unbelieving society: they desire to cast off the image of God and overthrow His authority. Sin is the ultimate expression of rebelling against the order God has created and commanded. This is what Elliot teaches in various parts of the book.
Even as Christians, we sometimes sin and try to do things our own way. Rather than fulfilling our biblical roles as women in every situation, we ignore these distinctions and take over men’s roles. In Chapter 17, Elliot explains that men are the ones who lead and initiate, while women generally follow and submit. But there are times when, in the name of convenience, pragmatism, or even serving the church, we can become presumptuous and cross a boundary in God’s Word. She writes, “We discern in ourselves certain propensities or even gifts and, without thought for possible restrictions which may be placed upon their use, start wielding them” (40). Don’t we see this in the church, today? Women with wonderful talents, who sadly use them to the dishonoring of the Lord.
Of course, this applies to both women and men. Elliot mentions several times how men can overstep their authority and become abusive or controlling. They can allow their “power,” which is meant to be used to protect and care for woman, to become a weapon–something God never intends.
True freedom comes through self-discipline. Instead of obeying our flesh, we obey our loving Master, who teaches us how to use our gifts and abilities for His glory rather than our own. This requires us to humble ourselves and joyfully accept our positions as what is best for us.
FEMININITY, BODY AND SOUL
One interesting observation Elliot makes is how our femininity is expressed throughout our whole being–we are women, through and through. While being in Christ is ultimately more important than our gender (Gal. 3:28), we are still eternally male or female. Our souls have all of the designs of femininity: our desires, strengths, weaknesses, and gifts, distinct in many ways from those of men. Even more clearly, our bodies reflect our sexuality in their frame and features, along with our calling as mothers (you can imagine which parts I’m referring to).
No matter what feminists and “gender revolutionists” say, we can’t erase the markings of our womanhood.
The curse that came upon us in Genesis also makes itself known through the pain we experience, and the craving to usurp authority. Every woman has felt the pangs of our cycles (and for mothers, childbirth), and the lurking temptation to act like Eve and wrongfully exercise power over men. Satan loves to whisper the same lies he used against our first mother in the Garden–but we can overcome him by the Word and Spirit of God. We are new creations in Him.
IN EVERY SEASON
As a woman who has lived through periods of being single, married, widowed, and remarried, Elisabeth Elliot has ample wisdom to give about each of these stages. And that’s what they are–stages, each one not necessarily permanent as God moves through our lives in different ways and at various times.
Rather than assigning themselves to lifelong singleness, Elliot suggests to her female readers that they remember the Lord can bring a husband along in His timing, and they should be open to that, even if they feel they have the “gift.” The gift, as she explains it, is the stage itself, so that we can experience both the gift of singleness and the gift of marriage in the same lifespan, just as she did.
Whether we are single, married, or widowed, we are still women called to self-giving and sacrifice. Elliot emphasizes that serving Christ and the church is our calling no matter what, and that in this service we can find fulfillment as we struggle with the trials of unwanted singleness and even depression.
Unlike the feminists of her time, Elliot uplifts motherhood and homemaking as huge blessings and opportunities. But she gently reminds the women who do not or cannot have these roles that they are still fully women of God, fully capable of expressing their femininity in the season they are in. What a great encouragement for women in the church today!
WHEN YOU MARRY
Since her daughter was preparing for her wedding day, Elliot spends a sizable portion of the book giving her gems of wisdom regarding marriage–namely, how to keep a godly marriage alive and centered on Christ.
As we’ve already seen, Elliot embraces the biblical model for the relationship between husbands and wives. But she makes the astute point that the hierarchy, as seen in the leadership of the man and the submission of the woman, is about position and not worth. It is about the biblical harmony of the couple as they complement one another in their roles, which are equal in importance before God. Despite what some religions and cultures teach, women are not, in the economy of the true God, of any lesser significance or worth than men. Thus the responsibilities of husbands and wives to honor and love one another carry the same weight, though they are played out differently.
Elliot acknowledges the cost to marriage. Since serving your family takes full priority, marrying means letting go of your own goals and ensuring that caring for your husband and children comes first.
To demonstrate this, she uses the beautiful example of Mary, the mother of Jesus, who was given the calling to birth the Savior of the world. Elliot reminds us that Mary “might have hesitated because she didn’t want to go through life being known only as somebody’s mother. She might have had her own dreams of fulfillment. But she embraced at once the will of God” (55).
Think about how many women today feel discontent being wives and mothers, and seek to follow their own passions to the detriment of their families. They do not want to accept the will of God. They strive at what they consider to be a “higher” calling.
What we need is eyes opened by God–to look at the Scriptures and see the beauty of the Lord’s commands for us to love our husbands and children. To know that it is especially in the mundane, tedious tasks, in the daily suffering and dying to ourselves, that we demonstrate Christ to our families and world. Oh, how important a calling it is! Let’s never underestimate the power of a godly family to further the kingdom of God.
SUSTAINING A GODLY MARRIAGE
“Settle it once for all; your husband is a son of Adam” (69). A basic biblical truth, yet as Elliot shows, we are quick to forget this fact when our husband sins against us. We are shocked and react outrageously: “How could you!” But in reality, that’s a silly response. How could he? He’s a sinner… just like we are.
Elliot gives so many of these simple, wise sayings about marriage, that I want to summarize them here:
- You’re married to a man; don’t expect him to be womanly. Don’t try to fit him into your own mold. (88)
- Expect the unexpected. Men are different from us, and there are things we won’t fully understand about them, and vice versa. (74)
- He will be flawed and imperfect for the rest of his life–as will we. We need patience and humility to live together peacefully. (88)
- Marriage is never stagnant. It either gets better or worse. It will get worse without effort. Be aware of which way your marriage is going, and work on it always. (92)
- Don’t be surprised when he’s not the man you married. He changes over time, just like you do. Embrace the man that he is. (95)
- The promise to God is the anchor for your marriage. (167)
- Marriage is not a contract; it’s not about splitting everything equally. It’s a covenant, in which we lay down our lives for one another. (120)
- “Snoring is the sweetest music in the world. Ask any widow” (90). Your husband’s quirky traits will become precious to you if you remember God could take him any time. Be thankful for him.
- Be loyal to one another. Suffer with your husband, support him even if he fails. Everything that happens to him, happens to you. Love him in every season. (163)
- Being and feeling “in love” is a temporary, emotional thing. Loving is a choice, based on the promise. Love, even when the feelings aren’t there. Choose to love. (63)
LOVE MEANS A CROSS
In her final chapter, Elliot uses 1 Corinthians 13 to demonstrate the character of love and how it works out practically in marriage and all our other relationships. She points to Christ and the gospel (which she has done throughout the book) as the ultimate example of love and self-sacrifice. “Love means a cross”– it means letting go of our own desires and loving God and our neighbor even if it means embracing suffering. This is what Christ calls us to, as He tells us to pick up our crosses and follow Him. Dying to self means living in Christ.
At first all we can see is the cost, but then we remember the reward. Just as Jesus “for the joy that was set before him endured the cross,” (Heb. 12:2), we go through every season and trial with our eyes fixed on Him and the gift of eternal life He has given.
Living as a Christlike woman… loving our husbands even when they hurt us… spending countless hours pouring into our children… serving the church with all our heart… none of these callings are easy. But when they are done for the Lord, they are not forgotten, and they are not purposeless. He will be glorified, and we will find freedom and joy.
Knowing this, let’s embrace who He has made us to be. Let’s be women.
I recommend this book to women of all ages. It may be an older work, but the truths are timeless, since Elisabeth Elliot’s wisdom came from the unchanging Word of God. For that reason it is WHEAT. Be blessed in your reading!