Each month, you’ll hear from one of us on what we’re reading and a little bit about the book. Enjoy!
“… I believe with all my heart that God’s Story has a happy ending. . . . But not yet, not necessarily yet. It takes faith to hold on to that in the face of the great burden of experience, which seems to prove otherwise. What God means by happiness and goodness is a far higher thing than we can conceive….”1
These words resonated with my life in 2020 and were just a few that I highlighted in my copy of the book Becoming Elisabeth Elliot, the authorized biography on Elisabeth’s early years, by New York Times bestselling author Ellen Vaughn. I have read several of Elisabeth Elliot’s books through the years including, Discipline: The Glad Surrender and Be Still My Soul. Elisabeth’s writing has always challenged me to take a deeper look at my faith. If only I could have such a disciplined Christian life and be as self-sacrificing as Elisabeth Elliot! At times her standards seemed unattainable.
But Becoming Elisabeth Elliot allows one to catch a glimpse into her early life before she was well-known and thrust in the spotlight. The reader peeks into the process Elisabeth experienced as a young student, a new missionary, and then as one who suffered and survived the tragic death of her husband, Jim Elliot. So often much of what we read about Elisabeth usually pertains to her life after her husband, Jim, was speared to death by the Waodani tribe in Ecuador. It was refreshing to read this book focused, in large part, on her early years. The reader discovers a simple young woman with complexities and struggles like the rest of us.
Vaughn does an excellent job of using journal entries and letters to tell Elisabeth’s story. It was sweet to read about Elisabeth’s early life and college years as a young woman sold out to serve the Lord on the mission field. Elisabeth is well-read, intelligent, hard-working, and straightforward in her interactions with others. Her no nonsense manner might be considered socially awkward in some situations. Even at 21 years old, she saw her life as one of sacrifice to be put on God’s altar for His purposes. Throughout the book, the reader recognizes that Elisabeth has a spiritual intensity and level of obedience that might be considered rare.
There are some laugh out loud moments as you read about her tenacious character. As I discussed the book with friends, we questioned one another on whether or not we would have been friends with her during some of those years! The reader gains insight into how Elisabeth continues to develop her strength and faith in college and the years that immediately follow. It is tender to get an inside look into the relationship between Elisabeth and Jim as they both seek to serve God and follow through on their individual callings as Christ-followers and missionaries. They are both typical college students in so many ways but were also determined to keep God and His will as their priority.
In Becoming Elisabeth Elliot, the reader learns about an extremely intelligent woman of character whom God is shaping and molding for His plans and purposes. Throughout the book, the resounding message to trust and obey God comes forth. I struggled to pause, reflect, and not read ahead of my book club. The photos included in the book added to my reading experience. They helped me picture the time period, the culture, and the people along with their flaws. The book is well-written, and I wanted to know more about this woman whom I’ve known only through her writing. I found that there were so many things I didn’t know about her. She saw some of her books banned from Christian bookstores at one point, and she debated well-known feminist Gloria Steinem in the late ‘60s and ‘70s. Through it all, Elisabeth’s goal was not to succeed but to obey God. Vaughn does an excellent job giving Elisabeth a voice beyond her journals, letters, and books.
Here are just a few of my favorite quotes from the book:
“The very word ‘faith’ precludes the possibility of doubt.”2
“He leads us right on, right through, right up to the threshold of Heaven. He does not say to us, ever, ‘Here it is.’ He says only, ‘Here am I. Fear not.’”3
“Once more, I see that there cannot be love without suffering.”4
The final chapter was actually one of my favorites. Vaughn focused on the problem of pain and how Elisabeth had learned at a young age that God’s will is not always safe, pain-free, nor prosperous. Like Elisabeth’s writings, Vaughn’s focus is how God keeps our souls safe and secure for eternity. But this life is different.
“Suffering in this world somehow refines our character and marvels in the next world; the one that lasts forever, the one with joys beyond human conception. And suffering is one of God’s sanctifying tools.” 5
Michelle Hicks is the managing editor for Journey devotional magazine with Lifeway Women. Michelle served as a freelance writer, campus minister, and corporate chaplain before coming to Lifeway. She is a graduate of the University of North Texas and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Michelle has a deep hunger for God’s Word and wants others to discover the abundant life they can have with Jesus as their Lord and Savior.
1. Elisabeth Elliot, as quoted by Ellen Vaughn, Becoming Elisabeth Elliot (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2020), 260.
2. Ibid., 81.
3. Ibid., 253.
4. Ibid., 89.
5. Ibid., 271.