Elisabeth Elliot has died. I didn’t know her, but this feels personal. Her books were influential to me as a young single woman in the early 1990s, particularly Passion and Purity and Let Me Be a Woman. At a time in my life when I had become weary of worldly pursuits, aside from the example and words of my own mom, Elliot’s words most shaped for me a vision of what biblical womanhood could look like.
Vigorous, Gentle Womanhood
I met her once as a single working girl about 20 years ago at a mission home where she was visiting and giving a talk. She was older even then, sitting in a chair, neatly dressed, hair carefully in place, wrinkly and rather still, with bright, intelligent eyes that betrayed an active sense of humor.
The way she lived her life and spoke about her adventures and marriages displayed a type of womanhood that caught my imagination. She seemed to own a womanhood that was both vigorous—physically and intellectually—and gentle.
The lives of female missionaries are a sort of bas relief against Western wranglings over things like gender quotas and free contraception. Elliot seemed to have a seasoned, sensible knowledge that came from rugged, basic pursuits—a sharp intellect and a sense of context and keen perspective born out of her edgy life experience as a missionary to unreached tribes. (The unentitled at work seeking the unreached.)
A Third Way Woman
Both the anti-feminist and the anti-delicate flower, she taught what I came to think of as a “third way” of womanhood that seemed like Ruth and that Proverbs 31 woman with her strong arms, shrewdness, and nurturing ways.
I recall her description of life in the jungle. Most of the day was consumed with merely trying to live rather than translating Scripture. I recall her description of the focus, effort, and energy required to make sure water was found, hauled, kept, and boiled each day while keeping a toddler from falling into the fire or water. I also recall her frank humility about her failings and missteps. I learned from her books the profound value of the ministry of the mundane, and the efficiency of biblically training indigenous peoples where possible.
In her writing she was direct but not harsh, open but not coarse. In her vigorous femininity, and in her teamwork with and delight in the masculinity of her husbands, she seemed more like some sort of American pioneer woman and nothing like a fish without a bicycle. More like Phoebe or Dorcas and nothing like a Diva.
A Nurtured Faith for the Next Generation
Elliot nurtured her faith with a disciplined mind fixed on selfless service to the world. She approached her marriages with a mind fixed on pursuing engaging, active partnership, and, yes, submission to a husband. And in her books she reached out to countless people with a simple, clear, direct style of writing.
I am thankful for her example, and as a 44-year-old mother of three, I want to commend her writings to the next generation of “third way women.”