Does dating and courtship always have to be so complicated? Not according to best-selling author and speaker Elisabeth Elliot. On today’s broadcast, hear Elisabeth tell stories about other sweethearts who waited for God’s timing in romance.
Does dating and courtship always have to be so complicated? Not according to best-selling author and speaker Elisabeth Elliot. On today’s broadcast, hear Elisabeth tell stories about other sweethearts who waited for God’s timing in romance.
Bob: There are some names that a lot of people know and some of them are folks you’ve never heard of before.
Dennis: But this name you have heard of. Elisabeth Elliot. If you don’t know who she is she was for a number of years a missionary in the country of Ecuador and her husband Jim Elliot was martyred for his faith. He was one of five men who lost his life.
Bob: January of 1956.
Dennis: That’s right. She remarried another gentleman and he died. Then she married her current husband, Lars Gren. I have to tell you that my only regret is that you couldn’t have been with us not only on this interview but other interviews we’ve done with Elisabeth Elliot and Lars Gren. They are in Arkansas terms, a hoot.
They are a lot of fun. She is one of the most articulate people I’ve ever met. She is theologically sound and spot on in terms of understanding the culture. Today we are going to talk about a vital subject in terms of selecting a spouse. She speaks to it directly.
Bob: One of her best known books is called Passion and Purity. In this book she wrote about her relationship with Jim Elliot while both of them were at Wheaton College back in the 1950s. Ultimately they married. She talked about the principles of purity as you approach a courting type relationship.
When that book came out there were a lot of people who read her advice things like don’t kiss until you are married and just thought where is this lady coming from?
Dennis: She’s coming from the Bible by the way. Not that the Bible tells you you shouldn’t kiss until your married but she is talking about protecting your innocence and your purity. There is nothing wrong with that.
Bob: Over the years people who read her book some of them said I’m not going to follow her advice. Others said this makes sense. Many of them wrote to her later and said here’s what happened in my relationships and she compiled a book called Quest for Love where she told the stories of those who had pursued purity and those who had ignored the Bible’s command for purity. We had a chance to sit down with her probably more than a decade ago back in 1996. It is one of our all time favorite interviews. It is a classic. We’ll just go ahead and dive right in and let our listeners hear the timeless wisdom of Elisabeth Elliot.
Dennis: Tell me what really motivated you to take all these letters and then craft a book about how people made the choice of selecting a spouse?
Elisabeth: Well, it was the letters that poured in from readers of Passion and Purity that made me realize that there were still a lot of things that needed to be said that hadn’t been said in Passion and Purity.
Passion and Purity is basically the love story of Jim Elliot and me, which began when we were college students and God kept us apart for five-and-a-half years. Finally, He brought us together after we had both been missionaries, singly, on two different sides of the Andes and Ecuador. I was in the western jungle; he was in the eastern jungle. But young people today just don’t seem to want to wait on the Lord. And so I got floods and floods of letters telling me the awful messes, the really chaotic messes that young people are getting into today because of what’s called dating.
Now there was such a thing as dating back in my day but it was a very far cry from what today’s system, if you want to call it that, is. And a little further back, my parents never used the word dating. There was no such thing. When my father wanted to court my mother, he had to go to her home and sit in the living room. They did not go out alone. And this system of putting a 17-year old girl with an 18-year old guy all by themselves in a car and sending them off alone – why should we be surprised at what happens?
Bob: You know, I remember the first time – I think I was in college the first time I heard about the book Passion and Purity. And somebody said to me, “The lady in this book says you shouldn’t kiss until you get married.” And it was like, “Can you believe anyone would be so backward, so archaic as to even suggest a standard like that?” I’m sure you expected that kind of response from people when you wrote the book. Didn’t you?
Elisabeth: Yes. You’re exaggerating a little bit. I didn’t say you shouldn’t kiss until you get married, but I said keep your hands off and your clothes on. That’s the basic rule for everybody. And you certainly should not even hold hands until you’re engaged. And I confess that Jim and I did kiss after we became engaged. I’ve had a number of letters from young people who have made up their minds that the safest thing is to wait until they’re at the altar, when the pastor turns to them then and says, “You may express your love for each other,” at which point in front of an audience they have their first kiss. That’s great. I wouldn’t make fun of that at all. But I don’t say that that’s actually necessary.
But I do think that when young people – the minute they start messing around along the edges, then they’re already beginning the downward slide. I spoke to a group of kids just this past Saturday, high school – 600 high school kids. I said to them what I often say, “I know that you think I’m an old lady that comes from some other planet and that I can’t even imagine how you feel about these things. But I know what you’re going to say to me. You’re going to say, ‘Well, you know, this old lady – are you going to tell us, Elisabeth Elliot, that it’s a sin to hold hands?’”
My answer to that is, “No. I’m not going to tell you that it’s a sin to hold hands. But I’m going to ask you a question. Why do you do it?” And there’s a dead silence. Well, they do it because it feels good. It’s fun. My next question is “Is there any difference between shaking hands with the pastor at the door of the church and holding hands with a member of the opposite sex who is attractive to you when you’re in a dark place? Is there any difference at all?” Then, of course, they kind of giggle and nudge each other.
I said, “Of course, you know there’s a tremendous difference. And so what are you doing? Why are you doing this?” Because it’s fun. Because it’s exciting. And that is exactly the way God intended it to be. God intended that there should be a certain progression from point A to point B to point C, and ultimately to consummation in marriage. But when is it appropriate to start playing that game? It is not appropriate until a commitment has been made.
Dennis: Elisabeth, there are moms here listening to our broadcast right now and they’re hearing you talk about this and this is resonating. But they’re looking at their toddlers or they’re thinking about their school-age children, perhaps teenagers that will be coming home from school in a few hours, and they’re asking the question, “Where in the world did we go wrong?” What would you say to her to help her understand what happened in our culture and especially within the Christian community, that we’ve lost our sense of holding to high standards and holiness?
Elisabeth: Well, of course, in the Christian community it’s always been a temptation from the time of the New Testament to be conformed to the world. And the Bible tells us over and over again in different ways, “Don’t take your queues from what the world is telling you.” I often say to people who are struggling with whether this or that is right or wrong, “
Anything at all that becomes a by-word in the world, a secular concept which you hear repeated again and again, such as “if it feels good, do it” – anything at all is highly suspect. What the world is telling me is probably wrong. Let’s just assume that it’s wrong. They need to examine it and decide if it lines up with scripture. But that is certainly a problem that’s not new.
Dennis: You speak of dating in your book and you take some pretty serious shots at this concept. You’ve questioned the entire courtship/selection process that we’re involved in now. Isn’t that right?
Elisabeth: Absolutely. Yes. As I wrote this book, Quest for Love, I was compiling stories from Christian biographies from way back. For example, Hudson Taylor and George Mueller and from some contemporary letters that I’d had from students, from young people who were following exactly the same principles that Hudson Taylor and George Mueller were following, people who earnestly wanted the will of God. They believed that God knew how to show them the right person at the right time. And we need to distinguish between a man’s search for a wife and a woman’s search for a husband.
I’ve tried to spell out as clearly as possible in two books that there is a vast difference between masculinity and femininity. That’s another thing that has confused everybody because this idea of equality and interchangeability has messed up both the men and the women. I believe with all my heart that men are to be the initiators and women are to be responders. I’ve spelled out my reasons for that in Let Me Be a Woman the book on femininity and The Mark of a Man the book on masculinity.
So it is indeed the responsibility of men to be particularly on their faces before God asking the question, “Lord, is marriage in Your will for my life?” I think we can assume that in most cases the answer will be yes. It’s a very rare man that will feel very clearly that God was calling him to remain single. My point is that women are not to go out and do the looking. We are not to be searching for a husband.
Single people throughout the history of Christianity have greatly blessed the church. So it’s entirely possible that God does want some men to understand that calling. And Jim Elliot was one of those who felt very strongly that he needed to be willing to be single.
People thought – I mean we thought from Wheaton campus that Jim Elliot must be a woman-hater because he had made up his mind when he came to Wheaton that if he was going to become approved unto God – and he called that his AUG degree (Approved Unto God) – and get a BA (the Bachelor of Arts), then he was going to have to eliminate one or two things from his program that the average college man thought were absolutely necessary.
One of those things was dating. So he just made up his mind he was not going to date. And as he matured and approached his final year in college, he made a commitment to the Lord. “If it’s required that certain men remain single for the sake of the gospel” – for example, in pioneer missionary work – “then Lord I’m willing to be one of those.” It wasn’t that he was not interested in marriage. But when he began to feel that God might give him permission to get married sometime, then he decided that he had already made up his mind which woman on that campus he would like to have.
My point is that women are not to go out doing the looking. We are not to be searching for a husband. And, of course, I get hundreds of letters from women who tell me these horrible stories of the result of these searches. They’re putting themselves in a place of total availability to the guys – whatever they want, wherever they want it. And the guys are delighted. They don’t have to do a thing.
Elisabeth: They sit and wait for the phone to ring, and the phone rings and the women are on the line inviting them out. And when they go out they don’t know whether I’m picking up the tab, is she picking up the tab, is this going to be Dutch? I mean, who decides where we’re going to go? I just – my heart goes out to them. I think, “You have been sold a bill of goods. It is nonsense.”
Bob: I can imagine though a single woman saying, “You don’t know guys today. If I don’t initiate, it will be years. These guys are not initiators and me just sitting back – some other girl is going to go initiate and then I’ve lost. There’s no way.”
Elisabeth: That’s absolutely right. And you can bet your bottom dollar I’ve had a lot of letters exactly like that. But I have had a lot of letters telling me the results of that kind of a search. If these guys are such wimps that they’re not going to be the initiators, you don’t want them for husbands. A husband is a man – I mean, a man has got to take the risk.
When I wrote my book, The Mark of a Man I asked my friend Dr. J.I. Packer, what do you think of when you think of masculinity? Without any hesitation he said responsibility. A man has to take the responsibility of being rejected, the risk of being rejected. A real man is going to be willing to do that.
One chapter in the book is so relevant to this question of a man having to take the huge risk of proposing to a woman. It’s the story of Dick Hillis, a missionary in China. Dick had fallen in love with a girl on the campus named Margaret but Margaret was going with his best friend. And it certainly appeared that they were going to get married. Well, Dick went on to China still loving this girl Margaret and never having said a word to her, never having had a date or anything. But he had just picked her out as the kind of godly woman that he would hope the Lord would give him.
He went to China, leaving a buddy of his the responsibility of reporting to him every six months about what was happening with Margaret and this other guy. So six months went by and the letter came, “They are still together.” And another six months and he said, “They are still together.” And this went on for – I’ve forgotten how many years – something like two or three, maybe four years.
Dick continued to trust that somehow, sometime, somewhere maybe God still would give him this woman Margaret. Finally, the letter from his buddy came and said, “They’ve broken up because Margaret has been called to China.” So Dick immediately wrote a letter of proposal to Margaret to be waiting for her when she arrived in Shanghai. She opened this letter and scratched her head and thought, “Dick Hillis. Now let me think. That name is kind of familiar. I think we must have been in school together.” She was floored, as you can imagine, and he said in his letter, “There can be no courtship until after the proposal. That’s why I’m asking you to marry me.”
Bob: Wait. She got a marriage proposal in the mail from a guy she couldn’t even remember?
Elisabeth: Only vaguely did she remember the name.
Elisabeth: She didn’t tell a soul. She was so utterly floored by this. And being a godly woman she thought, “Well, God does do some strange things. I’m not just going to write this off. But Lord, what shall I do?”
It wasn’t very long after that that she was invited to tea by an older missionary lady. And Margaret certainly didn’t bring up any subject of courtship or marriage or anything. But this lady somehow or other, in the course of having tea together, divulged to her her own story. She told about how the Lord had brought her and her husband together without any time of getting acquainted at all and “We’ve had a wonderfully happy marriage for all these so-many years.” So Margaret sort of chalked that one up in her mind and thought, “Maybe God is doing something here.”
I’ve forgotten all the details but it’s in the book -- it’s one of the chapters in this book, Quest for Love --how eventually through correspondence alone they did become engaged. Dick was very wise in saying to Margaret, he said, “If I were to ask you if you came to China because of love for God or love for the Chinese, I feel sure that your answer would be because of love for God, because you would have trusted that if you loved God and if He was calling you to China, then God would know how to give you a love for the Chinese." Would it not be reasonable to assume that if you think it might be the will of God to marry me then God can give you a love for me? I want you to know I love you.”
Dennis: Wow. What a great story.
Elisabeth: Well, it’s one of a number of great stories that I’ve compiled.
Dennis: It is one of a number of great stories. And I want you to tell one more story before we end the broadcast today. But I want Bob to tell our listeners how they can get a copy of Quest for Love along with the classic book that you’ve written, Passion and Purity. In this book you really do call single people to holiness and to take a fresh look at this whole idea of courtship in that book.
Bob: We are listening back to an interview today that we recorded back in 1996 We are listening back to an interview today that we recorded back in 1996 with Elisabeth Elliot. This is one of our favorite interviews of all time. Just to hear those stories again I think of the singles who are longing for a relationship. They are wondering how do I make this happen? I think you listen to Elisabeth Elliot and you come away with this answer. There is no formula for making it happen but there are principles that are biblical principles for finding contentment in whatever season you are in and for trusting the Lord.
Dennis: Yes, and I think most importantly, Bob, there is a person. There is the person of God who brings two people together and who still orchestrates relationships and cements hearts together. That really is her point there. It’s God who can give you love for another person. Ultimately, I think the strongest marriages are built around receiving your spouse as God’s perfect gift for you. That’s a good reminder for all of us who are married and a great exhortation for every person who is single.
Bob: I’ve often thought I wonder what books that are being written in our day are still going to be read 50 or 100 years from now. It would not surprise me if some of the books that Elisabeth Elliot has written in her lifetime are not the kind of timeless classics that are still being recommended a century from today should the Lord tarry.
Her book, Passion and Purity is a classic. Even though I read it in my 20s when it first came out it’s a book that I encourage my teenagers to read. I would imagine they would encourage their sons and daughters to read it a generation from now.
We’ve got the book in our FamilyLife Resource Center along with the follow up book that we talked about in these interviews called Quest for Love. I want to encourage parents. Get a copy of both of these books and go through them with your teenagers. They may read some of this and decide they don’t agree with some of this. That’s okay because it’ll start a conversation about what your standards are going to be and what does God’s word have to say about relationships.
You can request copies of both of these books when you go to our web site FamilyLifeToday.com. Or you can call toll free 1-800-358-6329. That’s 1-800-FL-TODAY. Someone on our team can let you know how you can have either or both of these books sent to you. If you do order both of the books we’ll send along at no additional cost the CD audio of our conversation with Elisabeth Elliot so you can listen to it again. Again our web address is FamilyLifeToday.com and our phone number is 1-800- “F” as in family, “L” as in life and then the word TODAY.
Over the years as we have tried to address this subject in a number of different settings and in a number of different ways we’ve had tremendous response from listeners saying this is the kind of help I need. I need to be reminded of what the Scriptures say and I need to be reminded that the cultural approach to relationships will lead me in the wrong direction.
We had a conversation a number of months ago with Chip Ingram who had just finished a book called Love, Sex and Lasting Relationships. It tackles many of these same issues. We sat down with him and talked for more than two hours about the themes from that book. This month we want to make the CDs of our conversation with Chip available as a thank you gift to those of you who can help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today with a donation of any amount.
I think most of you know that FamilyLife Today is listener supported which means that when we hear from listeners like you we are able to continue the program on this station and other stations across the country. When we don’t hear from listeners we have to sometimes make the difficult decision as we did recently to go off the air in some key markets. That’s always a tough decision to make. So if you are able to help with a donation this month feel free to request a copy of our two CDs with Chip Ingram on love, sex and lasting relationships.
If you make your donation online at FamilyLifeToday.com you’ll want to type the word “love” in the key code box on the online donation form so we’ll know to send you the CDs. Or if you call 1-800-FL-TODAY and make your donation over the phone just ask for the CDs about relationships. We’ll know what you are talking about. We’ll be happy to send those to you. Thanks again for your support of this ministry. We do appreciate your financial partnership with us.
Before we are done here today when we interviewed Elisabeth Elliot more than a decade ago one of the questions we asked her was about her own love story. We asked her to share with us the details of how Jim Elliot, her first husband, proposed to her and here’s is how she responded.
Elisabeth: He confessed his love for me long before he proposed to me. I was graduating from college. He still had another year to go. I was a senior and he was a junior. And in May, just a few weeks before my graduation, we went for a walk. We’d had some conversations. He was a close friend of my brothers, so my brother brought him to our home for Christmas and Jim and I had sat up and talked until 2:00 and 3:00 in the morning. We had also been taking the same major. We were both Classical Greek majors so we were in almost exactly the same classes. So I’d seen him a lot and had a few conversations with him. I think we studied some together and stuff like that.
Just before graduation he took me out for a walk and he said, “Bet, I think we need to get squared away how we feel about each other.” I was floored. I almost went through the sidewalk because I didn’t know that Jim had any feelings for me. And my momma had told me when I was 13 years old “never chase boys and keep them at arm’s length.”
So I had done my level best to make sure that nobody had any idea that I was interested in Jim Elliot. So it made me a little bit irritated to think that Jim was saying “I think we’d better get squared away how we feel about each other.” I thought, “Well, what gives this guy any idea that I have some feelings for him?”
Dennis: Now wait a second, but the truth was…
Elisabeth: That I did.
But I thought I had done such a wonderful job of concealing them. I hadn’t rolled my eyes at him. I hadn’t tried to sit next to him in class. I hadn’t put a little smiley faces on his book covers.
So anyway, I responded by saying, “What do you mean?” And he said, “What do you mean, what do I mean. You know what I mean. I’ve been in love with you for months.” And he said, “I’ve been trying to show you this in every way except verbal.” But he said, “Now I’m telling you, I love you.” Didn’t you know that?
I said, no. Well, he said you must be deaf, dumb, and blind. I’ve been trying to show you in every way. We went into a park and we sat down on the grass facing each other. We were more than an arm’s length apart, according to my mother’s rule, and we talked for seven hours.
And he said, “I am not proposing to you. I cannot ask you to marry me.” He said, “You’re going to Africa, I’m going to South America.” He lived in Oregon; I lived in New Jersey. I was graduating; he had another year. The chances of our seeing each other again seemed to be zero. He said, “I have to leave you in God’s hands.” And he said, “God knows how to bring us together if he ever wants us together. But he said in the mean time I am not going to lay a finger on you because I have no rights over you. You belong to God. You go ahead and go to Africa. God can bring us together.”
So that’s a very long story which is told in my book, Passion and Purity. But it was five years later in Ecuador where I was working on one side of the Andes, Jim on the other, that God finally gave to Jim a green light.
The reason he had hesitated so long was that he had been told by senior missionaries that there was jungle pioneer work that needed to be done only by single men. So he had given that a very good try for a whole year and concluded that if this single woman that he loved was doing pioneer work all by herself in the jungle on the other side of the Andes there really wasn’t any reason why I would be a hindrance to his pioneer work on the eastern side of the Andes. At which point he felt that God gave him a green light to propose to me. So it wasn’t until then that he sent me a cablegram, asked me to meet him in Quito. I got on my horse, I rode about five hours to the closest town, and then I rode 10 hours in a banana truck, and we met in Quito. And sitting by a fireplace Jim said, “I want you for my wife. Do you want to marry me?”
Dennis: And you said?
Elisabeth: Well, I said something like do I want to marry you? And he said, yes, that’s what I’m asking you. And there was a long pause and I said, “Yes.”
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