The news of Elisabeth Elliot going to be with the Lord has caused many to reflect on how her ministry has blessed them, experienced largely through her written words. My wife Shannon has always been an enthusiastic reader of Elisabeth Elliot books. Her books were one of the tools that God used to mold my wife into the godly woman she is today. But yesterday it wasn’t the recollection of her published words specifically that ministered to us, it was her personal words to my wife in a letter I gave her eight years ago when I proposed to her.
It was the middle of February in 2007 and there was one thing on this New Jersey boy’s mind: “How should I ask this girl to marry me?” Four weeks earlier I had met a beautiful girl who was serving as a youth leader at a Calvary Chapel in Southern California. In those short few weeks I had learned enough to know that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her. Elisabeth Elliot was her favorite author and her bookcase testified to this. The diamond was set, the airplane ticket reserved, the limo ready to roll, flowers purchased, and the location chosen—but I still needed something to show her how special she was to me. That’s when I decided to make Elisabeth Elliot a part of my marriage proposal!
I wrote to Elisabeth’s husband, Lars Gren, with hope that he would persuade her to write us a letter full of marriage advice. I planned to present it to Shannon when I asked her to marry me. I dropped the letter into the mailbox wondering if it would even be read. A few days later my phone rang with the caller ID of a Massachusetts number. Could it be him? Did he receive my letter? I could hardly believe it as I answered the phone and began to speak with Lars Gren. His aged voice immediately invoked the respect it deserved as he began to drill me with questions about my intentions with this girl. I felt as though I was speaking to Shannon’s father as I repeatedly muttered “yes sir” or “no sir” to his barrage of God honoring questions. He required my understanding of how serious the covenant of marriage was and ultimately if I was going to make Christ the center of my marriage. By God’s favor he agreed to help Elisabeth write me the letter to present to my future wife.
Yesterday as Shannon carefully pulled that eight-year-old letter from her memory box we read it together with fresh eyes, just as eager to apply the advice to our marriage now as when we first read it. Lars and Elisabeth Gren gave us simple advice that is still profound, humble, and impactful as ever. We thought your marriage would be blessed too, so we are posting it here for you to read.
This week we returned from Trujillo, Peru, visiting Bert and Colleen Elliot (Jim's brother). They have been married and also missionaries for 58 years. We, of course, are just shy of 30 years together. So I thought that it would be wise to put 88 years "of wisdom" to see if there might be one or two things that would be of helpful as you embark on a new life with Andy. We assume from what he said that the question you are about to receive is not totally unexpected. He for some reason thinks that you will give a positive response. So here are a few thoughts that we discussed for a newly married couple while in Peru and it seems to fit your future too.
A daily giving of oneself to God's will and enjoying what He brings to you is a recipe for contentment. As years pass you will see that the difficult times will be looked on with appreciation and may provide good laughter for all to enjoy. Keep in mind that we especially need to laugh at ourselves. It is so easy to take ourselves too seriously. If one wants to roll the paper from front and the other from the back, just laugh! She rolls the toothpaste and he doesn't, laugh!
Remember to express words of gratitude and love to each other. Two principles which will keep you out of an attorney's office are: "Aim for the intention of unity, and have concern for the good of the other.”
They asked us, "What is a good devotional book for newly married?" Bert said that, "Newly married are just like oldie married" and recommended J. Sidlow Baxter's "Awake My Heart" and Spurgeon's "Morning and Evening." We use "Daily Light," which is a compilation of Bible verses. Another good one is Oswald Chambers’, "My Utmost for His Highest."
When Elisabeth received the word of the death of the five men, the immediate verse that came to mind was Isaiah 43:2 and it was that that held her. Another verse from that time while looking toward the future was Isaiah 50:7. Bert and Colleen recalled that in their first year in the Peruvian jungle as missionaries, in a most difficult situation, that it was their sense of being definitely called that held them and would allow no turning back. The same goes for marriage.
Read the Bible and pray together and by all means let the great hymns speak to you. Remember that the hymn writer writes out of life's experiences that are common to all. Here are a few: A MIGHTY FORTRESS IS OUR GOD, MY TRIBUTE, AND CAN IT BE, I CANNOT TELL, O THE DEEP, DEEP LOVE OF JESUS, BENEATH THE CROSS OF JESUS, HOW FIRM A FOUNDATION, MAY THE MIND OF CHRIST MY SAVIOUR. If you memorize those, it will be a good foundation for your worship in music and your life together.
Our best wishes and the Lord bless you as you seek to walk with Him. Isaiah 58:10-11
Lars & Elisabeth Gren
February 27th, 2007