I remember well my reaction twelve years ago when a friend first gave me The Path of Loneliness: Finding Your Way Through the Wildernes to God by Elisabeth Elliot. I was desperately lonely, having broken up with the man I thought I was going to marry, and struggling with the edges of depression that threatened to close in on me. I did NOT want to read a book on loneliness. I did not want to face my loneliness head on. I wanted my loneliness to end–with a man whom I would marry. I somewhat resented my friend for giving me the book and my God for letting me be in that situation. I read the book begrudgingly, too stubborn to really open my heart to all that was in it.
God was much more gracious to me than I deserved, giving me a wonderful husband not long after that. For some reason, while many of my friends had to deal with loneliness for years, I got to put it off for a long time. Then when we started trying to have kids, I was faced with the same threatening edges of depression after miscarrying and having a time of infertility. I read The Path of Loneliness again, and though I was happily married, the book resonated with me in a way I didn’t expect. I reread it a third time when preparing for a Bible study with older single women in our church. We had a deep, fruitful discussion when we got together as a group. I was moved yet again through my study of the book even though I was a wife with 2 young children and way too little time to myself to consider myself lonely.
I love Elisabeth Elliot. Often, when I think about the great cloud of witnesses from Hebrews, that group of faithful, battle-weary believers who have gone on before us and cheer us from the sidelines, I think of Elisabeth Elliot. She is my one real female hero of the faith. She understands the pain and struggle of the Christian walk, especially the particular battles a Christian woman faces. And her writing always moves me.
She opens the book with a poignant story of flying on an airplane a year after her 1st husband’s death and being overcome suddenly with a wave of emotion as she watches a man on another row retrieve something for his wife.
Only the most ordinary of gestures, meaning almost nothing, I suppose, to them. But for me, sitting by the window looking out at the cold stars, it speaks of a whole world that is lost to me now. A man and a woman. Together. His hand stretched toward her to help. (p. 12)
Whether widowed or never married, if you’ve been alone, you can likely identify with her . After several other moving examples, she ends the opening with the question, “What is to be done with loneliness?” This is a question we ALL must answer–single, married no kids, married with kids, empty nester, or widow. Some situations dictate we face our loneliness head on while others allow us to mask the underlying issues that loneliness exposes. But the heart issues that loneliness exposes can only be masked for so long. At some point in our lives, all of us have to deal with it.
This book is not for people who want pink fluff to mask their problems. Elisabeth Elliot exposes our hearts, asks hard questions, and peels away our superficial solutions. But her answers are so RIGHT. Reading this book, I felt the pain of the brutal exposure of my deepest fears, but in turn I felt the great hope that God is bigger than the worst circumstance life can hand me, spoken by someone who has lived it and earned the right to speak with such boldness. She paints a beautiful picture of the value of our suffering when offered up to God.
My theme is oblation–the offering up of all we are, have, do, and suffer. … I hesitate to prescribe a method for so solemn and vital a spiritual transaction … but a very simple thing has helped me. It is to kneel with open hands before the Lord. Be silent for a few minutes, putting yourself conciously in His presnece. Think of Him. Then think of what you have received in the four categories mentioned (are, have, do, suffer)–the gift of a child, for example, or years later, the empty nest; the gift of work on the inability to work; marriage or singleness; pleasures or burdens; joy or sorrow. Next viusalize as well as you can this gift, resting there in your open hands. Thank the Lord for whatever aspect of this gift you can honestly thank Him for …. Then, quite simpley, offer it up. … Lift up your hands. This is a physical act denoting your love, your acceptance, your thanksgiving, and your trust that the Lord will make something redemptive for the wholeness of the Body, even for the life of the world.
Do not look for dramatic effects. There may be no discernible result … It is a mistake to measure such things by introspection. He heard and answered. That is all there is to it. Let the anwswer be manifested in His own time and way.
I think then you will begin to know the strange peace that is not the world’s kind.
Read this book. It’s powerful.