Loneliness. By Elisabeth Elliot. Nashville: Oliver-Nelson, A Division of Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1988. 158 pp. Cloth, $12.95.
When a person reads a number of books by the same author, even if they are works of fiction, such as the mysteries of Agatha Christie or the novels of Georgette Heyer, to a certain extent one gets to know the author as a person. When one knows a writer personally before reading her book or books, subtle little turns of phrasing and even tones of voice seem to come through.
In the case of Loneliness, subtitled It can be a wilderness. It can be a pathway to God, this reviewer is pleased to be in the latter category. To Elisabeth Elliot (nee Howard), her sister, and four brothers I have been “Aunt Winnie” for many decades. Mrs. Katharine Howard, Betty’s mother, was my best friend.
Betty Elliot is a literary, biblical, and compassionate person, all of which traits surface in her over fifteen books.
Her literary roots are deep. She is from a Christian family with notable writers on both sides. I refer to the Howard-Trumbell connection, associated for many years with The Sunday School Times, to which my late father, W.H. Griffith Thomas, was a weekly contributor, and I a very occasional one. My friendship with Betty’s family dates back to 1911, my first summer in the United States, which was spent at Northfield, Massachusetts. There I met her father, Philip E. Howard, Jr., a future editor of The Sunday School Times.
Elisabeth’s fine literary style is shown everywhere in Loneliness. The quotation on the back of the dust jacket gives a taste of the contents as well as the style:
Loneliness comes over us sometimes as a sudden tide. It is one of the terms of our humanness, and, in a sense, therefore, incurable. Yet I have found peace in my loneliest times not only through acceptance of the situation, but through making it an offering to God, who can transfigure it into something for the good of others.
The author’s fondness for good writing is shown by her well-chosen quotations from such varied writers as Joseph Conrad, C.S. Lewis, George Herbert, Amy Carmichael, George Matheson, and George MacDonald. Elisabeth’s books are all biblical in one way or another. She not only quotes the Bible frequently (in several versions, including two that are more literary than theologically sound—the New English Bible and the Jerusalem Bible), but she always seeks to apply Scripture constantly to daily life.
Loneliness gives good examples of the three traits we have mentioned, including compassion. From her own suffering and experience Betty seeks to reach out and help others. She shares the very personal experiences of her heart and life, including the loss of two husbands, Jim Elliot, a missionary, and Addison Leitch, a theologian. This book has been a blessing to me in my own widowhood and a recent trial of possible loss and separation.
Some of Mrs. Elliot’s chapters are entitled: “Loneliness Is a Wilderness,” “The Gift of Widowhood,” “A Love Strong Enough to Hurt,” “Death Is a New Beginning,” “A Share in Christ’s Suffering,” “Turn Your Solitude into Prayer,” and “How Do I Do This Waiting Stuff?” They end in a crescendo of chapters on peace, prayer, and spiritual maturity, climaxed by the transformation of “A Vale of Trouble” into “A Gate of Hope.”
This reviewer can indeed recommend so beautiful a volume. If it is applied with a faithful reliance on divine power, it will help turn a wilderness of grief into a veritable pathway to God.
Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society