FamilyLife Today® Podcast

The Gift of Joy: Accepting What God Has Given

with Elisabeth Elliot Gren | September 4, 2009
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How should a single view his or her singleness? Be sure to listen to today's broadcast when best-selling author Elisabeth Elliot talks about the challenges of singleness.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • How should a single view his or her singleness? Be sure to listen to today's broadcast when best-selling author Elisabeth Elliot talks about the challenges of singleness.

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

How should a single view his or her singleness?

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The Gift of Joy: Accepting What God Has Given

With Elisabeth Elliot Gren
September 04, 2009
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Bob:  The Bible says there is a way that seems right to a man but the end thereof is death.  That can be true when it comes to relationships.  Here’s author and speaker Elisabeth Elliot.

Elisabeth:  When you tell a little boy five years old who wants three Popsicle’s – you tell him no, then he’s going to say, “You never let me have anything.”  And that’s exactly the way we act with God.  “He has given us so much but he has not given me the one thing I am convinced I have got to have.  And so I’m mad at God and I’m not going to trust him for that.  I’ve got to take this thing into my own hands and I’m going to get myself a husband or I’m going to get myself a wife.”  And that is extremely dangerous.

Bob:  This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, September 4th.  Our host is the President of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine.  If you’re single and you want to get married and you’ve been thinking maybe I just need to loosen things up a little bit, stay tuned.

And welcome to FamilyLife Today.  Thanks for joining us on the Friday edition.  How old were you when you got married?

Dennis:  I was almost 25.

Bob:  Barbara about the same age?

Dennis:  A year younger.

Bob:  So you guys really weren’t old enough to be desperate were you?

Dennis:  No.  I’d loved and lost a few times.  I’d swung and missed.


Did you ever swing and miss?

Bob:  No comment.

Dennis:  I want our listeners to make note of this.  We’ve always been honest here on FamilyLife Today starting with me and now Bob is playing a little poker.


Bob:  Do you think if you had gotten to 28 or 30 years old and you still weren’t married…

Dennis:   I think I was close to pushing the panic button at 25.

Bob:  Were you?

Dennis:  I was.  I wanted to be married as a young man and frankly needed to be married.  It has been said that men are barbarians until they get a…

Bob:  Until marriage civilizes them?

Dennis:  That’s exactly right.  Now that’s not true for everyone there are some single guys that aren’t barbarians.

Bob:  It was true of you.

Dennis:  It was true of me.


And it took Barbara to civilize whatever portion of me that has met that standard.

Bob:  I’m wondering if you think you would have gotten to a point where you would have said as a single maybe I need to make some compromises on God’s standards.

Dennis:  I don’t know about that.

Bob:  In order to move things along a little bit.

Dennis:  I think the older I got the more I embraced God’s standards.  I really felt like I had learned some valuable lessons through some mistakes I had made in dating relationships.  I wanted to marry what I called at that time a super wog.

Bob:  A super wog?

Dennis:  A super woman of God.  I feel like I did that and now 38 years later I have no regrets.  I have no regrets.  In fact as we come to this broadcast we wanted to share with you one of our favorites.  In fact, wouldn’t you have to say, Bob, this would be one of your top five?

Bob:  This is in my top five list absolutely.

Dennis:  What a treat to interview and talk with Elisabeth Elliot.  She is such a sweet lady.  I really love and appreciate her.  I admire her.  She’s an interesting combination of spiritual hero and a spiritual maverick.  She is a fox and I think she enjoyed being interviewed by us because we gave her the dignity that she has earned but we also kind of winked at her and jabbed her a little bit.  She enjoyed it.  She really did.

Bob:  This was recorded back in 1996 and her book, Quest for Love had just come out.  She had written a book a number of years before called Passion and Purity that was filled with advice for singles on how to and how not to approach relationships.  Quest for Love was feedback that she had gotten from people who had either followed her counsel or ignored it.  We sat down to talk with her about the whole dating scene and what advice she had for singles we found her counsel was remarkably refreshing and very relevant.

Dennis:  You have been single for more years than you’ve been married, even though you’ve been married three times.  Is that right?

Elisabeth:  That’s right and I’m almost seven decades old.

Dennis:  Your first husband was martyred for his faith, second husband died of cancer, and Lars Gren, your third husband and current husband you’ve been married to for almost 20 years.  Talk to a single person, Elisabeth, as to how he or she should view his or her singleness?

Elisabeth:  As a gift, Dennis.  I really believe with all my heart that everything in my life is a gift.  I had to learn this lesson through deep sorrow when Jim Elliot died, my first husband.  I waited for him for five-and-a-half years, God brought us together, but he only gave us 27 months of marriage.

Psalm 16:5 is one of my life verses, “Lord, you have assigned me my portion and my cup and had made my lot secure.”  Now I didn’t think that the assigned portion of 27 months was really sufficient.  That was not my idea of how long God should have allowed me to have a husband.  And I remember coming out of our marriage ceremony and thinking how wonderful those words “till death us do part.”  Nothing else can possibly part us except death, and that’s probably 50 years down the line.  And it was 27 months.

So God allowed me to become a widow.  This began to be revealed to me as a gift.  Now, of course, we’re all single – we have the gift of singleness up until we get married.  Then we’re given the gift of marriage, and marriage is a gift.  It is not a right.

Too many young people have the idea that marriage is a right and if God doesn’t give me this, then he’s cheating me which is exactly what Eve thought in the Garden of Eden.  She wanted what was not given.  The one and only thing that God had withheld was the one and only thing that she was absolutely determined to get.  And she got it and along with it, sorrow and death and destruction and all the rest.

So I had the gift of marriage for 27 months.  Then I had the gift of widowhood.  Now who would ever ask for that?  Nobody would ask for the gift of widowhood.  But I began to see that this was the given in my life and when I have a chance to talk to singles, especially the older ones that are beginning to despair, I say, “Number one, do not put your life on hold.  It is this present moment in which God wants to be glorified and you are single this present moment.”

Well, women will often say to me, “I just know that I don’t have the gift of singleness.  You know, I just know I’m supposed to be married.  I’m so maternal, I just feel that God wants to give me a husband and family and all this.”  And I say to them, “Well, are you single?”  “Yes.”  “Well, then you have the gift of singleness on this particular day.  Maybe next Thursday God is going to bring along the dream man of your life.  Maybe he’s not.  But you must learn to glorify God in the situation where God has assigned you.”  And I go back to Psalm 16:5, “You have assigned me my portion.”

Dennis:  Elisabeth, speak to the woman or the man who as a single frankly doesn’t like the gift.  They don’t like the gift they’ve been given and they’re struggling with resenting God for this gift.  What would you say to them?

Elisabeth:  Well, nothing could be more fundamental in our Christian walk than learning the great lesson of acceptance.  I mean, do you love God – do you love God enough to receive what God gives you and to be cheerfully accepting of what he does not give you?

And when I learned by short-wave radio that my first husband Jim Elliot was missing, the first thing that came to me was those words in Isaiah 43:2, “When though passeth through the waters, I will be with thee, and through the rivers.  They shall not overflow thee.  When thou walkest through the fire, though shalt not be burned, neither shall the flame kindle upon thee, for I am the Lord thy God.”

I became powerfully aware of that presence in the deepest waters, the hottest fires and the darkest valleys in my life.  When I learned that Jim was dead, which was about five days later, the words that came to me then were from a poem by Amy Carmichael which in the providence of God I had memorized years before.  “In acceptance lieth peace.”  I don’t think we have the right to call ourselves faithful disciples until we learn that our heavenly father loves us with an everlasting love and he will never withhold from his child anything that he knows is good for them.

Now you two men as fathers, you know perfectly well that you have had to say no hundreds of times to your children.  And when you tell a little boy five years old who wants three Popsicle’s – you tell him no, then he’s going to say, “You never let me have anything.”  And that’s exactly the way we act with God.  “He has given us so much but he has not given me the one thing that I am convinced I have got to have.  And so I’m mad at God and I’m not going to trust him for that.  I’ve got to take this thing into my own hands and I’m going to get myself a husband or I’m going to get myself a wife.”

Dennis:  And that’s dangerous.

Elisabeth:  And that is extremely dangerous, and we have plenty of stories of the disasters that have occurred.  I got one in my book, this woman says, “Six months after receiving Christ as my Savior I found myself strongly attracted to a single man in my church.  So I called up one of the pastors I was close to and asked him how I should handle it.”  Well, the first thing I would say to the poor girl is, “Handle what?  You don’t have anything to handle, I mean, except your own feelings.”

Anyway, she said, “I knew there was a difference between the world’s ways, the ways I had been living for 23 years, and God’s ways.  Oh, how I wish he had given me your advice.  But instead, after my feelings had continued for a month he told me I should let this young man know.”  This is the pastor telling her this.

“Big mistake.  Three other pastors at the church gave me the same advice, saying ‘If I were a single woman, I would.’  But they’re not women.  Now I live with the consequences of a strained relationship with a man whom I see quite often because we go to the same church and we have the same friends.  Yuck.  I wish I could move to the other side of the world.”

Bob:  There are single women listening in their 30’s and in their 40’s wondering about their gift of singleness and wondering if someday God will take the desire they have for marriage away.  Will he do that?

Elisabeth:  Very likely not.  And I point them to Deuteronomy 8.  In Deuteronomy 8, Moses is reviewing the history of the children of Israel and he says, “He suffered you to hunger in order that he might know what was in your heart.”

And you remember that the children of Israel were wailing and screaming and complaining because they didn’t have the leeks and onions and garlic and watermelons and fish that they’d had back in Egypt and they were sick and tired of this stuff they got every day, manna.  And it says that a company of strangers came in and said in effect, “Is this all you’ve got here?”  You know, and so instead of the Lord removing the desire for leeks and onions and garlic, he caused them to hunger for this purpose that he might know what was in their hearts.

And I don’t know any situation in which we are more likely to find out what is really in our hearts than where we have been deprived of something that we thought we should have.  And, of course, I was deprived of my husband Jim and the Lord was saying to me, “Now I want you to glorify me as a single woman again.  And I’m giving you this gift and I want you to fulfill this calling faithfully, gladly and humbly.”

Bob:  Did you wrestle and rebel with that?

Elisabeth:  I certainly wrestled, Bob.  I hope that I didn’t really rebel.  I would just get down on my knees and just say, “Lord, you know what my natural feelings are about this.  But Lord, I have surrendered them all to you long ago.”  It was when I was 12 years old that I’d prayed Betty Scott Stamps’ prayer, “Lord, I give up all my own plans and purposes, all my own desires and hopes, and accept thy will for my life.”  “In acceptance lieth peace” and I know that’s true.

It happened again when Ad was taken from me.  He was prayed over, he was anointed, we had people coming from across the country telling me they had a word of knowledge that God wanted to heal Ad Leach.  He died.  And the Lord is saying, “So here’s the gift of widowhood again.  What are you going to do with it?”  You know, I can rebel and I can be miserable.  Or I can say, “Yes, Lord” and I can be happy.

Dennis:  Well, one of the themes of your books that seems to be in all of them is the call for the Christian to endure in the midst of suffering.  You believe the scripture calls us to remain faithful in the midst of circumstances that aren’t working out to what we wish they would.

Elisabeth:  Suffering is a gift, Dennis.  It is a gift.  Paul says, “Unto us it is given not only to believe but also to suffer.”  And Jesus referred to “the cup that my Father has given me.”  What was in that cup?  He was reviled, he was persecuted, he was hated, he was mocked, he was captured, he was flogged, he was blindfolded, he was stripped, and he was crucified.  That was the cup.

And we know his human nature was in agony over that.  He sweat as it were great drops of blood in Gethsemane.  And finally, he said, “Not my will.”  He said, “If it be possible, let this cup pass.”  The cup didn’t pass.  It wasn’t possible because he could not save himself and save you and me.

Dennis:  One of the most memorable stories I’ve ever heard you tell is the story of Gladys Aylward.  It illustrates what we’re talking about here in a most profound way.  Would you share that with our listeners?

Elisabeth:  Well, Gladys Aylward was a London parlor maid with no education and she believed that God was calling her to China.  And when her brother found her studying a map, he said, “Well, Glad, where are you going?”  And she said, “To China.”  And he said, “Glad, you must be out of your mind.”  And she said, “Jehovah God has spoken to me and I am going to China.  Well,” she said, “I didn’t know where China was but I got a map and I studied.”

Then she tells the long story of how she took a train all the way across Europe and Russia and Mongolia and China, and she ended up standing on the wharf in Shanghai.  And she said, “When I was a child I had two great sorrows.  All my friends had beautiful golden curls and mine was black.  And when all my friends was still growing, I stopped.

When I stood on the wharf and I looked over all these people to whom Jehovah God had sent me, and every single one of them had black hair and every single one of them had stopped growing when I did.  And I said, ‘Lord God, you know what you’re doing.’”

Dennis:  And that’s why I like that story.  I have never forgotten you telling that story and the phrase, “Jehovah God, you know what you’re doing.”  And that can be true for a single person, but it is an issue of faith and belief and obedience.

I think there are young men listening right now who are saying alright I’m ready to get down on my knees but I may lack some courage here.  What would you coach them and encourage them to do?

Elisabeth:  The verse that Jim Elliot wrote underneath his signature in my year book in college was 2 Timothy 2:4.  “A soldier on active service will not become entangled in civilian affairs.  He must be wholly at his commanding officer’s disposal.”

That taught me a lot about Jim Elliiot before we had any personal conversations on any spiritual matters.  I saw here is a man who has made up his mind what he wants more than anything else in the world and that was to be obedient to his commanding officer and to be disposable.  And he was quite literally disposable when he went to the Auca Indians and got himself speared to death.  He knew what disposability was about.

But I would suggest to a young man that you just put yourself on the line with the Lord.  Say Lord, I’ll do anything you say and I will keep my mouth shut and I will stay away from the women until you bring the right woman to me at the right time.  Please show me.

Then the man can go and ask counsel of godly men in the church.  Ask them to pray with them and for them and to perhaps point out some possibility.  Maybe that man and his wife would be the ones who would invite three young men and three young woman to their house or four young men and two young women or whatever.  Not making it look like they are trying to match up anyone.

Bob:  The next question is how will I know that this is the one when God brings her?

Elisabeth:  Well, everybody wants to know the answer to that question.  There isn’t any answer that I can give except that God knows how to make it clear to you.  There’s another story in the book, Quest for Love, about Charles Alexander who was the song leader with the famous 19th century evangelist R.A. Torrey.  Alexander was very eager to get married and he had a list of qualifications that he was looking for in a wife but he was traveling all over the world with R.A. Torrey so he was never in one place for very long.

Finally after about seven years of looking for the woman who fit this list of his and not finding her he got down on his knees and said Lord, I don’t know where she is but You know.  I am going to surrender my list.  Now You give me the woman of your list.

It wasn’t very long after that that he met a lovely young woman who came and was on the platform with him in one of these campaigns.  He didn’t even know her name but he was very attracted to the graceful, gracious manner that she had and to her simple quiet words of testimony.  He went home that night.  He was staying in a very big mansion with some Christian people and he asked his hostess if she knew that girl.  She said, yes, she is my daughter.  And he said would you introduce me to her?  She did.  He took her out for dinner and he proposed.  He said, in five minutes we were on our knees and it was settled.

Dennis:  That can be difficult, Elisabeth, for a person to grab hold of and then retain possession of.  I know single people and they can grab hold of it for awhile and the desire and the longing to be married comes back.  And it’s like a cross that they carry.

Elisabeth:  Well, that’s exactly what it is.  What do we expect the cross to look like?  In what form do we expect the cross to be presented to us?  Jesus said, “If you want to be my disciple – you don’t have to be but if you want to be, these are the conditions.  Number one, give up your right to yourself.”

Now, of course that’s difficult.  It is the most difficult thing that God could ever ask of us, especially in today’s climate where everybody says, “It’s your life, it’s your body, you have a right to yourself.  If it feels good, do it.  If it doesn’t feel good, forget it.  Don’t let anybody tell you what to do.”  And Jesus quietly continues to say to us, “If you want to be my disciple, give up your right to yourself.”

Secondly, take up the cross.  Now, in what form is that going to be presented?  It is going to be presented in the form of suffering.  What else do we expect?  The cross is an instrument of torture.  Why should we be surprised?  So, of course we’re going to have to get down on our knees again and again and ratify that once-in-a-lifetime surrender.  As I said, I had made that surrender when I was 12 years old but there isn’t a day that goes by, Dennis – and I am not exaggerating – there’s not a day that goes by in which I do not have to consciously take up the cross in some form.

I want to encourage young people who are suffering because of their singleness and let’s not mince the fact of the words about the fact that many women suffer because men are disobedient.  Men are not making – they are not willing to make commitment.  It takes sacrifice.

Love takes sacrifice.  It takes giving up the right to yourself.  And in today’s world, there are not very many men that are wanting to do that.  So women suffer but they suffer according to the will of God, even though it is because of a man’s disobedience.

And I do have to tell you that little story of Gladys Aylward’s talk with me when the two of us were sitting on the sofa together.  We were talking about being single and I was a widow at that time and she had never been married.  And she said when she first went to China she had never even thought of wanting to be married.  But after about six years of working very happily by herself, she met – there was an English couple of missionaries who came out to work right near her and she observed their life and saw that they had something very wonderful that she did not have.

So she prayed that God would call a man from England and send him straight out there to China to where she was and get him to propose to her.  I mean, she was a no-nonsense woman, I’ll tell you.  And she just put that on the line and she said, “Lord, send him out here and have him propose to me.”  And I’ll never forget the intensity with which she leaned toward me across that sofa and with her little bony finger and she said, “Elisabeth, I believe God answers prayer.  He called him but he never came.”

Dennis:  The young man didn’t hear.

Elisabeth:  He heard but he disobeyed.

Bob:  And I’ve got to ask you that today.  There are a lot of 30-year old young men in churches.  Should they get busy about the business of finding a wife and getting married, or should they wonder about whether they have the gift of singleness?

Elisabeth:  Both.  Yes.  I say they should get busy and get down on their knees and say, “Lord, I want your will.  Do you want me to be married?  If so, Lord, you know how to lead me to the right woman at the right time.  And I want you to know, Lord, that I am available and I will do what you want me to do.”  And there are stories in my book, Quest for Love, about people who literally got married as a matter of obedience.  Of obedience, not falling in love.

Bob:  Not desire.

Elisabeth:  Not feeling good about this person.  But God knows how to lead you to the right person.

Dennis:  The interesting thing is, Bob, as Elisabeth has written this book at the end of each of these stories, at the end of the chapter, she’ll have reflections on how God brought the people together or reflections about the choices that people made, right and wrong.

The thing that hit me is how mysterious our God is and how different his ways are.  And how he delights in seeing people trust him and then work out the circumstances that makes some very good stories.  Elisabeth, I want to thank you for being on the broadcast.  It’s been a delight to get together with you again and I hope you’ll join us again here on FamilyLife Today.  Will you come back and join us again?

Elisabeth:  I’d love to.  Thank you.

Dennis:  Great.

Bob:  We’ve been listening back to an interview recorded in 1996 with Elisabeth Elliot.  I was watching you during this interview and I’m thinking, Dennis has some practical application points he’d like to share with some of our listeners.

Dennis:  When Barbara and I dated it was not really dating.  We just kind of spent time together as friends and I called her and asked her to marry me and our listeners are not going to believe this but she didn’t have any feelings for me.  It was not a commitment based upon how I had swept her off her feet.  She believed as I did that God was bringing us together as a couple.

Bob:  When you say she didn’t have any feelings for you you were friends?

Dennis:  We were.  There was fondness in terms of nice guy.

Bob:   She was not gogga over you.

Dennis:  No, there was no physical involvement.  In fact it wasn’t until after we were married that she began to develop some feelings for me.  That’s kind of funny to admit because we have this picture of romance here.

I think what she is presenting is a noble picture of what love ought to look like.  That picture is a couple of mature single people who haven’t lowered themselves to the standard of the culture but they embrace the book.  The bestselling book of all time, the Bible following Christ and they are spiritually in tune to what God wants them to do.  They are listening carefully so that when they find the right one as it was with us we had been hanging out with each other for six weeks.  I asked her to marry me and six weeks later we were married.  It wasn’t a commitment based upon emotion.

Bob:  You could have written a chapter in Elisabeth’s book Quest for Love couldn’t you?

Dennis:  Yes, and I’m thinking that there are some guys who are listening to this broadcast who would like to know what that guy’s line was that he got that girl to say yes, in five minutes.  The issue was it wasn’t a line.

Bob:  That’s right.  It was a life.  They both knew and that is what they both responded to.  They could see Christ in one another and they knew that commitment was the fundamental foundational commitment.  At least there you have something you can build on, right?

That’s part of what Elisabeth has addressed in the book, Quest for Love which we have in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center.  And it is also what she addressed in the book Passion and Purity and we have that book as well.

Go to our web site FamilyLife and there is information on how you can receive both of these books from us.  If you are interested in getting both books we’ll send along at no additional cost the CD that features our conversation with Elisabeth Elliot that we have featured this week.

Or if it is easier to call the toll free number is 1-800-FL-TODAY.  That’s 1-800-358-6329.  That’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life and then the word TODAY.

When you contact us someone on our team will let you know how you can have the resources sent to you.

As we’ve reflected back this week on this classic interview with Elisabeth Elliot I’m thinking of the tens of thousands of folks who over the years have helped make these kinds of programs possible.  Those of you who help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today—either a one time donation or on an ongoing basis.  You are an essential part of the team making FamilyLife Today a reality.  We are listener supported and without your donations we could not continue to produce and syndicate this daily radio program so that it can be heard on this local station and on a network of stations all across the country.  We do appreciate your partnership with us.

This month if you are able to support FamilyLife Today with a donation of any amount we have a thank you gift we’d like to send you.  It’s a CD that features a conversation we had a number of months ago with Chip Ingram.  Chip is an author and a pastor and he had just written a book called Love, Sex, and Lasting Relationships.  This ties in to what we have been talking about this week.  It was a very compelling conversation and we’d like to make those CDs available to you as our way of saying thank you for your support of this ministry when you do make a donation this month of any amount for FamilyLife Today.

If you are donating on line at FamilyLife type the word “love” in the key code box that you see on the on line donation form and we’ll know to send you a copy of these CDs.  Or if you are calling 1-800-FL-TODAY to make a donation over the phone just say could I get those CDs about love or relationships.  We’ll know that ones you are talking about.  Thanks again for your partnership.

We hope you have a great weekend.  We hope you and your family are able to worship together this weekend.  I hope you can join us back on Monday.  Steve and Candice Watters are going to be back with us on Monday.  This time we want to talk about children and they are equally forthright about that subject.  They believe for a lot of young couples it’s time to go for it.  We’ll hear from them on Monday.

I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team.  On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine.  We’ll see you back Monday for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

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