Five Takeaways From the Life of Elisabeth Elliot
Updated: Aug 17
"While it is wise to learn from experience, it is wiser to learn from the experiences of others." --Rick Warren
Remember when we were kids and asked who our "heroes" were? What would you say now as an adult? While I never had the pleasure of knowing Elisabeth personally, I remember fragments of her story at a young age. She was brave and bold and rock-solid in her faith. When I started researching more of her story, I found Elisabeth emulates so much of what I myself hope to attain. She is the definition of a hero and here's what we can learn from her...
She was bold, but humble
Have you ever been around someone who had to speak? A dominator in the conversation who has a compulsory urge to share their relatable experience? Maybe someone can be bold, to speak up when necessary or when no one else will, but to also maintain a position of humility, I think, is an art.
I love Elisabeth's vulnerability, how she shares the depths of her heart with those she calls friends (aka anyone who reads her books or listens to her radio talk show.) It takes courage to expose, to unveil some of the wounds we bear and struggles we're facing. Her story is in no way glamorous. She probably didn't have much in the way of material things to show for her life's work. But she openly shared what she had, what God was teaching her, and gave Him all the credit in the end.
--> Where are some areas in life you may need to step up in boldness and courage? What about aspects of your life where you might need to practice humility?
She readily used her gifts
Girl never seemed to stay in one place very long. While I can imagine there were times of quiet and rest, she was a doer, and used the majority of her time on earth with a distinct mission to love people and share truth however she could.
She traveled. She wrote books (over 20.) She hosted a radio program for over a decade. She was active and ambitious. She freely gave of herself and befriended many. This included three marriages to godly men who shared her vigor and passion. The deaths of her first two husbands did not deter her from plowing forward in determination. Let's not forget a good chunk of this time she was living in the Amazonian jungle as a single mom.
And she was still serving where she believed she was called.
--> What are your some of your gifts/skills/talents? How are they being used right now? What is one small change you could make today to exercise your gifts in service to someone else?
She sought to understand the wounds of others
Elisabeth's life was woven together by threads of compassion. Even the very people who killed her husband she sought to understand. While I cannot even imagine the grief that stormed her heart, over time she was able to gain insight into why they operated with such violence. These people lived in darkness. It was their deeply-engrained pattern of hurt and fear that drove actions resulting in her own devastating loss.
We can do so much with compassionate hearts. This goes beyond empathy, drives deeper than sympathy. In fact, the Latin word for compassion is "compati," which means, "to suffer with." With true compassion, we hurt when others hurt; rejoice when they rejoice (Romans 12:15).
--> Are you rejoicing and hurting with the people close to you? What goes through your mind when you hear of others' losses or wins? Do you try to understand someone who has hurt you?
She looked for blessings in the grief
I'm not sure what a young Elisabeth dreamt of as a girl. Did she imagine herself raising a child alone in the jungle? Probably not. Losing two husbands seems in my own mind unfathomable. Yet, she looked up, not around her, for blessings and hope.
Something that strikes me about Elisabeth is her story did not stop with her trauma, that horrible life-altering loss she experienced in the jungle. She got back up, pressed on, and chose to see the light- God's provision and goodness even in the valleys of darkness. Clearly her hope and plans were founded apart from her circumstances.
--> While there are definitely seasons of grief, how can you seek out blessings in your current life stage? Are you striving for worldly happiness or a thankful heart regardless of the circumstances?
She lived with abandon
Living with abandon, not to be confused with recklessness, indicates acceptance. It's accepting our roles, abilities, and challenges, the ups and downs, highs and lows of life. This also means surrendering our own control, an essential component to Elisabeth's story and what makes it so beautiful- she knew her role.
Doubtless there were times when she threw up her hands in anguish. But she took the calling on her life in stride, submitting to the Author who wrote the story in the first place. She battled dementia during the final decade of her life, and this is what her husband, Lars Gren, says about her:
“She accepted those things, [knowing] they were no surprise to God. It was something she would rather not have experienced, but she received it.”
--> Are there some things you need to accept about your life? Are you fighting for control or willing to surrender? How would "living with abandon" transform things for you?
I'm grateful for those who have gone before us like Elisabeth Elliot. We have her life's journey along with those of so many others who have modeled womanhood, marriage, faith, and missions so beautifully. With her gaze fixed on her Savior, she carried out His work faithfully, leaving behind a legacy that I hope inspires you as I have been by reading some of her story. May you be bold, courageous, and tenacious in the work that you're doing today.
You can read more about Elisabeth, check out her books, or listen to her radio program here.