Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Remembering the impact of the book Passion and Purity on my teen years

Until the will and affections are brought under the authority of Christ, we have not begun to understand, let alone to accept, His lordship. The Cross, as it enters the love life, will reveal the heart's truth. My heart, I knew, would be forever a lonely hunter unless settled "where true joys are to be found."

In the midst of sorting my bookshelves this year, I pulled out the book Passion and Purity by Elisabeth Elliot, which I believe I stole from my parent's bookshelf in high school, read, and have carried with me ever since.

In high school I read a lot of dating and purity books. I considered jumping on the courtship bandwagon (I did choose not to date in high school) and read Josh Harris's book I Kissed Dating Goodbye, but it never really seemed practical in a world where my family was generally across the country or the ocean. Most of the books were okay, but often cheesy, and really none of them hit me like Passion and Purity.

It was interesting to skim through it again years later and to see in it so many of the thoughts that became the foundation of how I viewed dating, romance, and marriage. I kept some of those quotes on my wall or desk for nearly 10 years after reading the book. Yes, it can be quite old-fashioned and Elisabeth and Jim (the Jim Elliot who was killed by the Auca Indians several years after their marriage) were certainly straight-laced (though simultaneously deeply passionate) in their relationship and a lot of people would view them as extreme. I guess I never felt like Elisabeth was telling readers to be like her, she was simply laying out principles. AND she writes beautifully and quotes beautiful things. AND their own love story is a pretty riveting and interesting tale in and of itself.

I love the unruly manliness of Jim Elliot in their story. I love that she likes him from afar but has no idea that he likes her back until he suddenly confronts her about their need to deal with their mutual affections, at which point he proclaims his love for her (note... yes, it moves straight to love at first declaration) but says he probably will never marry because it's best to be single when he's headed overseas, and thus they have no future together. Hah.. so black and white, so passionate in the face of her quiet carefulness. I love that through the years that they move forward without a relationship, he proclaims his love for her and there is no question in his mind that if he ever marries, it will be HER, she has his entire commitment and yet no commitment at all because for literally years he moves ahead with plans to go overseas and never marry.

Brutal. I love his personality because it's the kind of guy I was always attracted to (and married!). Blunt, all in or all out, passionate. I love reading her musings because she, like me, is carried away by romance but always, always comes down to practicality in the midst of her dreaming. She questions, sometimes even too much, and is extremely self-disciplined. That's the central theme of their story, actually. Sacrifice and self-discipline. This stuck with me - the idea that what I really want must come from somewhere other than my initial will and emotions when it came to relationships. This is a conversation Ms. Elliot had with a reader:
"I've prayed for His will, and I've prayed for a....husband, and that's what I'm going to get, because Jesus loves me and Jesus wants me to be happy."
"So if you don't get him, will that prove that God doesn't love you?"
"Doesn't He want me to be happy?"
"He wants you most to be holy.... The problem stars when we make up our minds what will give us happiness and then decide, if we don't get exactly that, that God doesn't love us. We slither into a slough of God-hates-me-self-pity."

And yet, in the midst of Jim and Betty's self-discipline she's honest about the beauty of both emotional passion and physical desire. She quotes him, "I'm hungry for you, Bett. We're alike in our desire for God. I'm glad for that. But we're different too. I've got the body of a man, and you've got the body of a woman, and frankly, I want you. But you're not mine."

There is great passion in their writing, their story. Great passion amidst restraint. I think so often people looking in on those that chose to take intimacy in small increments (both in what was said and in physical touch) can perceive a lack of intimacy. On the contrary, for me sometimes the reserve held back such a flood of emotion, passion, things unspoken and undone but longed for and felt. It isn't easy or fun and I don't think you choose to wait on things simply for the waiting's sake. I learned from the Elliots, though.... that the greater the good, the greater the potential for evil as well. In this great passion is the potential for great mistakes, and so you build a guard and take great care to give worth to the love that is being built.
There are those who recognize something far greater than their own passions, even though for the world at large there seems to be nothing else of any consequence. The majority will sacrifice anything - security, honor, self-respect, the welfare of people they love, obedience to God - to passion. They will... congratulate themselves for being so free, so released, so courageous, so honest, and "up front." The greater the potential for good, the greater the potential for evil. That is what Jim and I found in the force of the love we bore for each other. A good and perfect gift, these desires. But so much the more necessary that they be restrained, controlled, corrected... that they might be reborn in power and purity for God.
She writes this right after her first date with Jim:
The Lord told King David to set up an alter  on the threshing floor that belonged to Araunah the Jebusite. When the king asked Araunah if he might buy it, Araunah begged him to take it, as a gift, along with his oxen for an offering and the threshing sledges for fuel. "No," said the king, ".... I will not offer the Lord my God whole-offerings that have cost me nothing..."
Lord, I said, here's my heart.
I like that this book doesn't lay out a specific plan for exactly what a relationship should look like. Instead it directs the reader to the centrality of submission to Christ, of Him being the central pursuit in the midst of the great beauty of romance.

1 comment:

That Married Couple said...

That sounds really interesting!