Monday, November 30, 2015

When You Don't Know What To Do

Towering double wide doors opened to the large common area of the church. The south wall was made up of ornate etched glass which allowed soft light to fill the space. My traveling companion was a beautiful, shy woman whose life had been defined by many unfair things. She would be the first to tell you how it had been a long struggle to live beyond her painful past.

It had been years since the death of my young husband and raising babies alone, and losing most every temporal thing, but I still nursed pain and grief, as humans tend to do.

She and I both knew God had more for us, yet we still walked around cupping the ashes of our life. Together we hoped this conference would offer something to help us move forward.

We inched alongside tables filled with books, as the crowd made its way toward the auditorium.

I ran my hand over some of the titles: Shadow of the Almighty,  A Path Through Suffering, and Through Gates of Splendor.  –They were like old friends. I felt as if I knew the author, even though we had only met on the pages of her books. She had lived a wildly brave life filled with all the elements that would make up an epic movie.

Epic as in, the measure and scope and far-reaching impact of her one life lived in faith, for the world to see.

Certain parts of her famous story included young love, tragic loss, and hard choices. These had captured my heart for her, along with the fact that she was left to raise her ten-month-old daughter after her husband was killed. I felt like that gave us common ground.

When I met Elisabeth in the pages of her books, my faith had fledgling wings.

Her words resonated in deep places, but her life was hard to understand. How could she and the other families truly forgive the men who had killed their loved ones. when the church people I knew, couldn't forgive small offenses?

And how could Elisabeth have loaded her little blonde-haired girl in a canoe, to live with the very tribal people who had made her a widow? That was crazy faith.

Elisabeth rarely said things that were easy to hear. Yet, I still loved to listen to her voice on the radio say, "You are loved with an everlasting love. That’s what the Bible says. And underneath are the everlasting arms. This is your friend, Elisabeth Elliot." I wanted to believe her. I wanted to trust that God still did something beautiful with brokenness.

Somehow we were seated near the front of the venue where she was speaking. Elisabeth Elliot came out in a black dress that seemed too large for her. Her gray hair was swept up in a simple bun and she spoke with her distinguished inflection. An occasional smile revealed the space between her front teeth. She had not come here to impress anyone or deliver a flashy message.

At the end of her speaking time, there was a question and answer session. I couldn’t think of a single question for her that didn’t sound ridiculous and shallow compared to what she had lived.

The questions that were submitted covered topics of how to handle difficult people, jobs, and life situations.

Her answers could be summarized in the upside-down truths of the Bible such as; give to receive, lose to find, and die to live. 

And then there was an odd exchange between Elisabeth and her husband Lars.

It was his job to choose questions from the basket and after selecting one, he would place it in front of his famous wife. This had gone smoothly until the end. I watched as Elisabeth read a slip of paper and pushed it away, picking up a different question, which she read aloud and responded to.

Her husband gently slipped the rejected paper back toward his wife.

Again, she scanned the paper and pushed it aside, looking at her husband and shaking her head, “no.”

I was humored as they repeated this several more times. His nudging and her resistance.

Finally, with notable irritation, Elizabeth Elliot read the question aloud.

The woman who submitted the question held little back. Her husband had died. She described her bleak financial situation and how her faith was shaken. She had emotion-packed questions. "How can I go on?" "Where do I begin to pick up the pieces?" "Where is God in all this?" "What am I to do now?"

And this hero of relentless faith, who had endured seasons of great loss and lived through some of this life’s most difficult trials and uncertain times, simply stated: “Just do the next thing.”

Perhaps to some her answer would be cold and cliché.

If the brokenhearted woman had said that to me, I would have rambled on about how sorry I was to hear her hardship and agreed with her that life isn’t fair and maybe she should find herself a good counselor with the little money she could scrape together to work through the stages of grief.......

But knowing the depths of what Elisabeth had lived through––how she knew what it was to have eaten the bread of adversity and drink the water of affliction––gave us all reason to let her simple answer settle down into our souls.

Years have slipped by since I sat in the third row of that auditorium. And my faith hero went home to be with the Lord this year.

But those five simple words, "just do the next thing." I've hung on to them.

What does that look like?

Just wipe the next runny nose.

Just change out the next load of laundry.

Just hum the next song of thanks.

Just whisper the next prayer.

Just speak the next kind word.

Just do the next gracious act.

Just leave the outcome of this complicated situation to God and do the next thing in front of me.

When I, "just do the next thing...." ––there is peace.

And to know that all I have to do, is the next thing––it makes waiting on God a doable thing.

That friend? She and I were able to see a woman who allowed God to be God, in her life. And she gave us some practical advice on how to live that out.

Elisabeth Elliot made this anonymous poem famous. 

At an old English parsonage down by the sea,
there came in the twilight a message to me.
Its quaint Saxon legend deeply engraven that,
as it seems to me, teaching from heaven.

And all through the hours the quiet words ring,
like a low inspiration, ‘Do the next thing.’
Many a questioning, many a fear,
many a doubt hath its quieting here.

Moment by moment, let down from heaven,
time, opportunity, guidance are given.
Fear not tomorrow, child of the King,
trust that with Jesus, do the next thing.

Do it immediately, do it with prayer,
do it reliantly, casting all care.
Do it with reverence, tracing His hand,
who placed it before thee with earnest command.

Stayed on omnipotence, safe ‘neath His wing,
leave all resultings, do the next thing.
Looking to Jesus, ever serener,
working or suffering be thy demeanor,
in His dear presence, the rest of His calm,
the light of His countenance, be thy psalm.
Do the next thing.
-Source Unknown

This post is in memory of Elisabeth Elliot. 1926-2015

She had a profound impact on many and I'm grateful to be one of those many.

Do you have a faith hero?


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© Rhonda Quaney