12 May 2007

A Model of Ladyship

I never knew Elisabeth Elliot, nor have I read much of her writings, or listened to her old radio broadcasts: "Gateway to Joy." But I was directed to something that she wrote recently, and found a webpage full of her wise words and gentle council. She wrote and edited a newsletter, called "The Elisabeth Elliot Newsletter", in which are many thoughtful essays and poems, and I encourage you to seek out some of the articles from this older woman of experience.

One of them I will reproduce here, on this occasion of Mother's Day, for all women, be they mothers, adoptive mothers, foster mothers, room mothers, house mothers, den mothers, or those who mother anyone who needs mothering. May all of us be blessed, and be such a blessing to others.

A Call to Older Women

by Elizabeth Elliot

In 1948 when I had been at Prairie Bible Institute (a very stark set of wooden buildings on a very bleak prairie in Alberta) for only a few weeks, I was feeling a bit displaced and lonesome one afternoon when there came a knock on my door. I opened it to find a beautiful rosy-cheeked face framed by white hair. She spoke with a charming Scottish burr.
"You don't know me, but I know you. I've been prraying for you, Betty dearr. I'm Mrs. Cunningham. If everr you'd like a cup of tea and a Scottish scone, just pop down to my little aparrtment."
She told me where she lived and went on to say that my name had been mentioned in a staff meeting (she never said how--was I thought of as a misfit at PBI? I wonder) and the Lord had given her a burden for me. Many were the wintry afternoons when I availed myself of her gracious offer and we sat together in her tiny but very cozy basement apartment while she poured tea for me and I poured my soul out to her. Her radiant face was full of sympathy, love, and understanding as she listened. She would be quiet for a little, then she would pray and, looking up, cheer and strengthen me with words from God. During and after my missionary years she wrote to me until she died. Only God knows what I owe to "the four Katharines"- -Katharine Cunningham, Katharine Gillingham Howard (my own mother), Katherine Cumming (my house mother when I was in college), and Katherine Morgan. These and several others have not only shown me what godliness looks like (many have done that), but have significantly graced my life by obeying God's special call to older women.
The apostle Paul tells Titus that older women ought to "school the younger women to be loving wives and mothers, temperate, chaste, and kind, busy at home, respecting the authority of their own husbands" (Titus 2:4-5, NEB). My dear "Mom Cunningham" schooled me--not in a class or seminar, or even primarily by her words. It was what she was that taught me. It was her availability to God when He sent her to my door. It was the surrender of her time, an offering to Him for my sake. It was her readiness to "get involved," to lay down her life for one anxious Bible school girl. Above all, she herself, a simple Scottish woman, was the message.
I think of the vast number of older women today. The Statistical Abstract of the United States for 1980 says that 19.5 percent of the population was between ages 45-65, but by 2000 it will be 22.9 percent. Assuming that half of those people are women, what a pool of energy and power for God they might be. We live longer now than we did forty years ago (the same volume says that the over-sixty-fives will increase from 11.3 percent to 13 percent). There is more mobility, more money around, more leisure, more health and strength--resources which, if put at God's disposal, might bless younger women. But there are also many more ways to spend those resources, so we find it very easy to occupy ourselves selfishly. Where are the women, single or married, willing to hear God's call to spiritual motherhood, taking spiritual daughters under their wings to school them as Mom Cunningham did me? She had no training the world would recognize. She had no thought of such. She simply
loved God and was willing to be broken bread and poured-out wine for His sake. Retirement never crossed her mind.

If some of my readers are willing to hear this call but hardly know how to begin, may I suggest to you:
1. Pray about it. Ask God to show you whom, what, how.
2. Consider writing notes to or telephoning some younger woman who needs encouragement in the areas Paul mentioned.
3. Ask a young mother if you may do her ironing, take the children out, babysit so she can go out, make a cake or a casserole for her.
4. Do what Mom C. did for me--invite somebody to tea, find out what she'd like you to pray for (I asked her to pray that God would bring Jim Elliot and me together!)-- and pray with her.
5. Start a little prayer group of two or three whom you can cheer and help. You'll be cheered and helped too!
6. Organize a volunteer housecleaning pool to go out every other week or once a month to somebody who needs you.
7. Have a lending library of books of real spiritual food.
8. Be the first of a group in your church to be known as the WOTT's (Women of Titus Two), and see what happens (something will).

"Say not you cannot gladden, elevate, and set free; that you have nothing of the grace of influence; that all you have to give is at the most only common bread and water. Give yourself to your Lord for the service of men with what you have. Cannot He change water into wine? Cannot He make stammering words to be instinct [imbued, filled, charged] with saving power? Cannot He change trembling efforts to help into deeds of strength? Cannot He still, as of old, enable you in all your personal poverty 'to make many rich?' God has need of thee for the service of thy fellow men. He has a work for thee to do. To find out what it is, and then to do it, is at once thy supremist duty and thy highest wisdom. 'Whatsoever He saith unto you, do it.'" (Canon George Body, b. 1840).

(Sept. 1989)
Post a Comment