As a child, did you ever long to be garbage man, a cashier, or a bus boy? When I was a child, I, like most children, dreamt of fame, either one day becoming an actress or a singer. Some may seek a challenging career as a major league baseball player, an astronaut, or a teacher, but no one aspires for mediocrity to characterize their life. My desire is not to compare careers and aspirations as much as passions and aspirations, although I do believe our dreams and goals usually reflect our innermost delight. All of humankind experience the same type of longing. A longing in our souls that causes us to dream big and desire to be a part of something grand, not necessarily big in size, but life-changing and meaningful. Do we not all desire a life that makes an impact? So maybe I don’t want to join the entertainers on Broadway anymore, but I do want to have an influence on this world, either through mission work, being a great mother and wife, or a counselor perhaps. Why else are we on this earth for? Socrates once said “the unexamined life is a life not worth living.” I agree that we must examine our souls, not just go through the motions, in order to live an influential, meaningful life. When I say examine our souls, I mean ask ourselves hard-to-answer questions and answer them by journaling through thoughts.
The difficulty of searching our own souls comes when we wear ourselves out with unnecessary worries of tomorrow. I confess that many times I get overwhelmed by to-do lists and meeting peoples’ standards in order to live out an image of what I think the world wants. Examining the world today, at least in America, I notice selfishness; saving up money to buy the best car, nice clothes, anything to make ourselves look or feel better for the moment. Tendencies to ignore my soul, mind, and also the world around me cause constant evaluation on my part. I ask myself daily where I spend most of my time and energy and what consumes my mind, because the answer to that question usually stands for what I live for. What a confusing yet humbling and guilt-ridden question I think to myself. When searching to recover the desires of my heart, the question of what I live for brings me on my knees before God.
When I read about suffering that happens all around me, it helps me to grasp the reality of those living in pain, poverty, and bewilderment. Geoff Foster reports that, “There were 3.5 million double orphans (kids that lost both their parents to AIDS) in 1990; this number is expected to rise to 9.6 million in 2010” (1). The “Justice for Children International” organization says that 14 thousand people are trafficked in the United States each year; young boys and girls are sold as sex slaves, and yet we are either unaware of these disgusting truths or simply indifferent, making the possibility to help impossible. But what can we do about it we ask? Well not too much with that attitude. Even in Southeast Texas, Jane McBride says, “More than 85 thousand people in an eight-county area live on or below the poverty line.” With these few statistics how can people live mundane lives of selfishness, striving for the next boost of self-esteem?
Is there not something greater, a superior satisfaction that surpasses this seemingly desirable “stuff?” I believe with all the faith I have that there is something greater than this world. I believe that one day, those who believe that Jesus died to save them from their inevitable sin, and choose to live a life for Him, will render the present and eternal benefits of salvation. Settling for temporary satisfaction will never quench our innermost longings. We will always come out shorthanded, missing something. And one day, we will all die and come face to face with eternity. Some may look back at the world they lived in and wish they could return to it; whereas, others will never look back because there is a splendid homeland up ahead. Now you may ask how salvation and world hunger or AIDS relates to one another. In Matthew, The Bible reads, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt. 6:19-21). Therefore, when we store up earthly treasures for ourselves we must understand that they will fade away, and so much of our time and money is spent on unnecessary objects, when we could use our resources to help save people’s lives.
Some think they live in this world for themselves, but possibly beyond our comprehension there rests a far greater purpose for our lives. I am talking about a passion that drives us to center our whole being on something far greater than we can comprehend. I know that I want to live for Jesus Christ, and I long to live like Paul, who said, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil 1:21).
What do you live for? Do you live for something worth dying for? I certainly do not want to live for something that is not worth dying for. When I consider wise people, who contemplate death more than life, I think of the term martyr. Now to some, that word might initiate feelings of foolishness or fear, but I think those willing to die understand and obtain a greater satisfaction than this world holds. While most grapple for any measly strings of satisfaction they can get their hands on: money, sex, fame, others risk their lives daily because of a deeper satisfaction that lies beyond this mortal world. Like trying to comparing a small hole dug in the sand to the Grand Canyon, it is easy to compare their greatness. When we think martyrdom, we may associate the term with Muslim terrorists or the victim of Columbine, but Michael Tait once said that, “While we may not be called to martyr our lives, we must martyr our way of life.”
The term martyr used to mean hero, but Augustine thought Christians should avoid using that term in fear that it bore offensive connotations. Yet in the Bible, martyr means witness, not just witnessing anything, but witnessing the resurrection of Christ (Wilken, 28). So I believe that the term martyr means both, people that know Christ, consequently giving their whole selves to Christ, by dying to one’s self. In Luke 9:23 Jesus says, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” So if we martyr our lives away we are living for the sake of other’s that may possibly be dying (unsaved), because we have been made alive in Christ.
One man, characterized by a life of passion and selflessness was Jim Elliot, a gifted writer and speaker. Found in his journals, he mentions Thomas Hardy and Ernest Hemingway along with Christian writers such as Amy Charmichael and Hudson Taylor. Obviously, literature played a large role in his life and he loved to memorize hymns and poems. Though his writing and speaking did not characterize his life, he used his writing and speaking to claim to others what his life centered on, and that was Jesus Christ. His mission was to spread the gospel to the nations, beginning with Ecuador. He wanted so badly to evangelize to the Huaorani, to know them and tell them about his great God. The Huarani tribe believed in animism, where the body and soul never separates. Elliot was grasped by God’s will, not man’s, and he would not let the Aucus tribe go on without hearing the gospel of Jesus Christ. Jim Elliot definitely examined his own life, and that can clearly be seen in his book and journal entries where he wrote one of his most famous quotes, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” In 1956, when Elliot and four friends landed on the beach in Eastern Ecuador they were all five speared to death by members of the Aucus tribe.
The story does not end there though. When his wife, Elisabeth, went back to that same beach and shared the gospel with the same men who killed her husband and friends, many of them turned from their sinful ways and surrendered their lives to Christ. Until 1963, Elisabeth and their daughter, Valerie, lived with the Quichua Indians and from then on Elisabeth has given her life to writing about Jim and her own experiences. She wrote two books about his life called, Shadow of the Almighty: The Life and Testament of Jim Elliot and Through Gates of Splendor.
I believe that Elisabeth Elliot’s literature lives because of action, not just ideas. Jim Elliot gained something that he could not lose, and that was eternal life in heaven. Without Jim’s fervor and experiences, what would Elisabeth write? Literature knows no bounds. It blooms from performance and it causes performance. Without literature (stories of poverty, sickness, heroism) my heart would never desire to do what I want to do in my life. Like Toni Morrison says, “We do language.” Language. Literature. Writing. Speech. We do them all. The importance of these great devices is that they cause emotion leading to motion. I think the greatest works are those that stir out hearts and make us see the world in a different way, producing movement on the reader’s behalf. Who would we be without literature? Passion could not occur without it, and it could not live without passion. It creates a cycle of action, leading to writing, which leads back to action. I believe that Elisabeth Elliot understands that, and her joys, struggles, and intense emotions compel her to write. Her writing also challenges. She challenges the reader to search their hearts and take action.
So what holds us back from discovering that true passion in our lives? Do we fear the “stuff” we might have to give up? We might lose our comfort, or our self-presentations may shatter. I know I was definitely hesitant of losing my old lifestyle and following God’s plan for my life when I became a Christian and I still do resist Him sometimes. But the more time I spend with God, the greater my faith grows, and the more I begin to understand that His ways and thoughts reach far greater heights and depths than mine.
I know that the best times I have ever spent have been the times when I serve, not receive. When I give up my time for others, and ultimately allow myself to go beyond my own self-seeking desires. Elliot makes me wonder though, if I had to write an autobiography, would my life be seen as a martyr, would it cause others to act, or would my story get lost in the selfish abyss with the rest of our society? Hopefully one day my life will cause people to move, not just dream, but to lay their lives down for something far more powerful than this world.
“Child Sex Trafficking.” Justice for Children International. 2007. 12 Mar. 2007