Many times during my adult years, I’ve been asked if I felt burdened by “having to be like” my mother. I’ve often said no, because for about 20 years, I wasn’t consciously thinking I had to be.
When I went to Wheaton College, I assumed I would be like my two amazing parents in zeal for God and study habits. I had a carefree, expectant attitude that “of course, I would be like them” because I wanted to be. I was naïve.
My Father’s Words to Live By
I hadn’t read the whole book The Journals of Jim Elliot until about six years ago. I had perused it, searching for the “good parts,” but I’d never read it all the way through.
When I did, I came across four maxims, and it dawned on me that these were ideals that I could live by, with God’s help. Now that I’m no longer the youthful and carefree idealist I was when I entered Wheaton, I see much more clearly that serious prayer and meditation are keys to making these my own.
- “Answer to the rudder, or answer to the rocks.”
- “Wherever you are, be all there. Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be the will of God.” (This is the one most people quote, along with “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose”).
- “Determination, not desire, determines destiny.”
- “He who maketh Ease his god, Sufficiency his altar, Pleasure his priest, and Time his offering knows not what man is born for.”
This simple fourth sentence scrawled from my father’s pen convicted me. I felt that I’d often made ease my god. I’d quietly assumed that my own sufficiency could accomplish things, whenever I felt like it, by generally doing whatever pleased me.
I realized that my many “wants” over the years became “wishes,” but not actual accomplishments. I struggled for the first two years at Wheaton because I didn’t realize what self-discipline and diligence it would take to be as excellent a student as my parents were.
Mother’s Wise Instruction
My natural personality is spontaneous, fun-loving, and easily distracted; in fact, the Indians once called me “pilipinto,” which means butterfly. I remember my mother stressing to me that when I did my chores, I had to do them thoroughly. I couldn’t skip off to do something I’d rather do.
I also remember her telling me, when I thought I was really “dumb” in junior high, that I wasn’t dumb; I just wasn’t applying myself to my studies! She was teaching me, as a good mother should, that we live by principles, not by feelings.
Determination, as my father wrote, reminds me that I mustn’t be tempted to stray from the job at hand. I must go about the work God wants of me today, whether it’s writing or washing dishes.
Weight of Legacy
In 2015, after my mother died, when I began planning the memorial service at Wheaton College, I was overwhelmed by the weight of responsibility of the legacy, which I felt lay on my shoulders to carry to others. I knew that her brilliance, her writing ability, her clarity of thought, and her absolute determination to obey Christ above all other desires were gifts given to her that I didn’t have.
With tears, I said to my husband, “I can’t carry this; it’s too heavy!”
He had a wise answer: “It’s not yours to carry, Val. It is Christ’s. All you will be doing is pointing to him, showing others his love, and expressing your love for the same Lord she loved and obeyed.”
I was so relieved to hear that, because I knew God would be faithful to help me, just as he was faithful to her.
I remember well how often she quoted the verse from Isaiah 50:7, and how thankful I am that she truly lived it: “The LORD God will help me; therefore I have not been humiliated; therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know I will not be put to shame.”
Grateful for the Legacy
Instead of being intimidated by my parents’ remarkable legacies of faith and love, I am overwhelmed with gratitude for them.
What an example of godliness, life in the Spirit, and love by his grace did I experience in knowing my mother!
And having written Devotedly: The Personal Letters and Love Story of Jim and Elisabeth Elliot, I now know my father better, too. His zest for life, good cheer, and unflagging zeal for God’s glory have all deeply affected me.
How thankful I am to have had this unique opportunity to learn more about them and their love for the Lord and each other.