Jim and Elisabeth Elliot: A Deep and Delighted Love

He said:  “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”

She said:  “The deepest lessons come out the deepest waters and the hottest fires.”

And all the world still takes note, for Jim Elliot was a courageous missionary pioneer and martyr. Elisabeth Elliot was a superior writer and a sought after Bible teacher. Both are remembered as spiritual giants.

He also said:  “I didn’t know I would get this way, Betty, but I am lost, utterly lost without you. I love you, my darling, and sometimes just have to stop where I am and heave a sigh.”

She also said:  “I love you madly, and think their just isn’t anyone else to compare. Are you sure you’re not perfect? I think you must be mistaken, because I just love everything about you.”

But of course these words were private, addressed to each other, and sent by mail from separate South American mission outposts in the days leading up to their wedding. Valerie Elliot Shepard has combed through her parents’ letters and journals and the resulting treasure is Devotedly: The Personal Letters and Love Story of Jim and Elisabeth Elliot. While the story of their courtship has been told in Elisabeth’s classic Passion and Purity, it is now possible for readers to trace the unfolding romance from love’s first stirring at Wheaton College in the late 1940’s all the way through the birth of their daughter Valerie.

A Persevering Love

When Jim and Elisabeth (“Betty”) landed in classical Greek classes together, the love that grew between them surprised them both. She was serious and studious; he was a visible presence on campus (and something of a character) who was quite vocal about his intentions to embark upon a career as a single missionary.  Nonetheless, through crisscrossing postmarks and star-crossed years of separation by circumstances and geography, their love persevered and survived five long years of waiting for a green light from God. Journal entries and letters document a growing devotion to each other alongside an expanding desire to follow unswervingly the will of God, even if it meant giving up all hope for a future together.

Listen in:

From Elisabeth’s journal (116):

“Oh, the joy which has come in knowing that I am one with Christ . . . oh, the marvelous, unspeakable interchange of joy–He my joy, I His joy–He my satisfaction, I His satisfaction. For I am accepted in the Beloved. . . I am In Christ–may He be seen in me.”

And from Jim’s journal (31):

“Prayed a strange prayer today. I covenanted with my Father that He would do either of two things–either glorify Himself to the utmost in me, or slay me. By His grace I shall not have His second best. . .”

A Persevering Faithfulness

Just as young adults in 2019 cannot conceive of a relationship conducted entirely by snail mail, it is also likely that few can visualize a love in which each seeks his greatest satisfaction not in the beloved, but in the Savior. Because they allowed their vision to be shaped by Truth, Jim and Elisabeth were able to maintain an astonishing degree of clarity about their callings while still acknowledging the depth of their longing for one another. When the Bible says, “In Your light we see light,” this is not a promise of an uncluttered and pain free life, but rather an assurance that while “faith does not eliminate questions, faith knows where to take them.”

Valerie Shepard’s stated purpose in unpacking and sharing this trunk full of written memories left to her by her mother is that readers would discover anew God’s “unchanging, faithful, merciful, and loving character,” and be “fully moved in obedience to Him that we too might leave a lasting legacy of faith as [her] parents did.” (45) With mid-twentieth-century black-and-white pictures, images lifted from the handwritten letters, and a vintage feel to the book’s layout, Devotedly was a delight to read and to savor.

Readers can expect to be challenged by the laser focus of two young adults who took seriously their role as disciples–as followers of “Him who bore a cross.” As a mother and a grandmother, I want to let my prayer life be shaped by the knowledge that my most-loved people will not be exempt from disappointment, delay, or even confusion at times, for perseverance through difficulty is often the tool God uses in the shaping of a deeper devotion and a more faithful following.

Many thanks to B&H Publishers for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with honesty.

“You are loved with an everlasting love. That’s what the Bible says. And underneath are the everlasting arms,”

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P.S. I recently read and reviewed the book Elisabeth wrote about her days of waiting and wondering, while adjusting to life as a single missionary. Made for the Journey: One Missionary’s First Year in the Jungles of Ecuador is a beautiful account of radical obedience in a context of wondering what God might be up to.

I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. If you should decide to purchase Devotedly: The Personal Letters and Love Story of Jim and Elisabeth Elliot simply click on the title (or the image) within the text, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

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