Chapter OneMe, Lord? Single?
There was not much of a view from the window. The central
feature was the garbage cans behind the dining hall.
The closed windows shut out neither the tremendous crash
and clatter of early morning collections nor the noisome
effluvium of the day's cooking. Nevertheless I was tickled
pink to have that little room. It was a single one, what I
had been wanting and finally got when I was a senior in
college. It had a bed, a bureau, a bookcase, and in the corner
by the window, a desk with a straight chair and a lamp.
A place for solitude and silence, a "closet" of the sort Jesus
said we should go into to pray.
I did my studying and some of my praying at the desk.
There were maple trees and an old elm behind the garbage
cans, and I was often distracted by the crowd (the flock?
the skitter?) of squirrels that lived there. I watched them
getting ready for winter, tearing up and down, frantically
transporting provisions, scolding, chattering, flicking their
tails. I watched the maple leaves change color and fall,
watched the rain paste them to the black driveway. I
watched snow fall on those trees and cans.
It isn't hard at all to put myself back in the chair at that
desk. When I sit at a different desk now and read letters
from puzzled young people, I become that girl again who
gazed out at the snow. What I wore was not very different
from what they wear now-styles easily come full circle
in thirty-five years. I had two skirts, three sweaters,
and a few blouses, which I did my best to mix and match
so that it looked as though I was wearing different outfits.
Wednesdays were easy. Everybody in the senior class wore
the same blue wool blazer with a college emblem sewn
over the breast pocket.
My hair gave me an awful time. It was blond, hadn't a
hint of a bend in it, and grew about an inch a month. How
easy it would have been to wear it hanging long and
straight, but that was unthinkable then. My curls were all
a "put-up job." I could afford only one permanent a year.
In between times I relied on the old pin-curl system,
twirling strands of hair around my finger every night
before I went to bed, securing them with a bobby pin.
If I couldn't do much with my hair, I could do less with
my face. Like most girls, I wished I were pretty, but it
seemed futile to tamper much with what I had been given,
beyond using a cautious touch of pale lipstick (something
called Tangee, which cost ten cents) and a pat of powder
on my nose.
I needed that tiny, cozy room that year, perhaps more
than ever before. Some issues that would set the sail of
my life were to be dealt with. During the preceding summer
I had finished praying about whether or not I was to
be a missionary. I was. After what my Plymouth Brethren
friends would call an exercise and what people now would
call a struggle, it was clear at last. The struggle was not
over any unwillingness to cross an ocean or live under a
thatched roof, but over whether this was my idea or God's
and whether I was meant to be a surgeon (I loved dissecting
things) or a linguist. I came to the conclusion it
was God who called and the call was to linguistics. I asked
for assurance from the Lord and got it, so that was that.
But there was another matter of business not by any
means finished. That was the one for which God knew I
would need a "closet." It was about being alone-for the
rest of my life. I was saying "Me, Lord? Single?" It seemed
to come up between me and my Greek textbooks when I
sat at the desk, between me and my Bible when I tried to
hear God speaking. It was an obstruction to my prayers
and the subject of recurrent dreams.
I talked often about this to God. I don't remember mentioning
it to anybody else for many months. The two who
shared the suite of which my room was one-third were
not the wildly popular sort of whom I would have been
envious. They were quiet, sensible girls a few years older
than I-one a music major who spent most of her time
practicing the organ in the conservatory, the other a former
WAVE (the women's branch of the Navy) who was
an expert at knitting argyle socks. Both of them, in fact,
turned out countless pairs of socks and mittens and sent
them off somewhere by parcel post. "When you get a needle
in your hand," Jean said to me one day, "you are just
lost, aren't you?" Compared to those two, I was.
After college Jean married. Barbara is still single. I have
no memory of any discussions with them on love and marriage
(though we must have had some), but I am perfectly
sure that for all three of us singleness meant one thing:
virginity. If you were single, you had not been in bed with
any man. If you were to be permanently single, you were
never going to be in bed with any man.
That was a hundred years ago, of course. But even a
hundred years ago anybody who quite seriously believed
that and acted on it would be seen as an oddity by many
people. Perhaps we were in the minority. I can't be sure
about that. Certainly the majority professed to believe that
sexual activity was best limited to husbands and wives,
whether or not their private lives demonstrated this conviction.
Now, however, at the beginning of the twenty-first
century, times have changed, they tell us. For thousands
of years society depended on some semblance of
order in the matter of sex. A man took a wife (or wives)
in some regularly prescribed manner and lived with her
(or them) according to recognized rules. He "messed
around" with other men's wives only to his peril. A woman
knew that she possessed a priceless treasure, her virginity.
She guarded it jealously for the man who would pay
a price for it-commitment to marriage with her and with
her alone. Even in societies where polygamy was allowed,
rules governed responsibilities to spouses, rules on which
the whole stability of the society depended.
Somehow we've gotten the idea that we can forget all
the regulations and get away with it. Times have changed,
we say. We're "liberated" at last from our inhibitions. We
have Sex and the Single Girl now. We have freedom. We
can, in fact, "have it all and not get hooked." Women can
be predators if they want to, as well as men. Men aren't
men unless they've proved it by seducing as many women
as possible-or as many men, for we may now choose
according to "sexual preference." We can go to bed with
those of the opposite sex or those of our own. It doesn't
matter. A mere question of taste, and we all have a "right"
to our tastes. Everybody's equal. Everybody's free. Nobody
is hung up anymore or needs to deny himself anything.
In fact, nobody ought to deny himself anything he wants
badly-it's dangerous. It's unhealthy. It's sick. If it feels
good and you don't do it, you're paranoid. If it doesn't feel
good and you do do it, you're a masochist.
The reason my roommates and I believed that singleness
was synonymous with virginity was not that we were college
students a hundred years ago when everybody
believed that. It was not that we didn't know any better.
It was not that we were too naïve to have heard that people
have been committing adultery and fornication for millennia.
It was not that we were not yet liberated or even
that we were just plain stupid. The reason is that we were
Christians. We prized the sanctity of sex.
I sat at that desk by the window and thought long and
hard about marriage. I knew the kind of man I wanted.
He would have to be a man who prized virginity-his own
as well as mine-as much as I did.
What do women want today? What do men want? I
mean, deep down. What do they really want? If "times"
have changed, have human longings changed, too? How
about principles? Have Christian principles changed?
I say no to the last three questions, an emphatic no. I
am convinced that the human heart hungers for constancy.
In forfeiting the sanctity of sex by casual, nondiscriminatory
"making out" and "sleeping around," we forfeit
something we cannot well do without. There is dullness,
monotony, sheer boredom in all of life when virginity and
purity are no longer protected and prized. By trying to grab
fulfillment everywhere, we find it nowhere.
Chapter TwoThe Life I Owe
A young British preacher named Stephen Olford spoke in
our college chapel for a week. Two things he said stayed
with me: He quoted from the Song of Solomon, "I charge
you, O daughters of Jerusalem, that ye stir not up, nor
awake love until it please." He interpreted this to mean
that no one, man or woman, should be agitated about the
choice of a mate, but should be "asleep" as it were, in the
will of God, until it should please Him to "awake" him.
The other thing he urged was that we should keep a spiritual
journal. I determined to follow his advice on both
I bought a small, brown looseleaf notebook, almost
exactly the size of my small, brown leather-bound Bible,
given to me by my parents for Christmas in 1940. These I
kept together at all times. I wrote on the flyleaf of the notebook
the Greek words meaning "For to me to live is
Christ ." On the first page I copied out one stanza of
Annie R. Cousin's hymn, taken from the words of Samuel
O Christ, He is the fountain, The deep, sweet well of love! The streams on earth I've tasted
More deep I'll drink above: There to an ocean fulness
His mercy doth expand, And glory, glory dwelleth
In Immanuel's land.
I called the notebook the "Omer of Manna," taking the
idea from Exodus 16:32, "And Moses said, This is the thing
which the Lord commandeth, Fill an omer of it to be kept
for your generations; that they may see the bread wherewith
I have fed you in the wilderness, when I brought you
forth from the land of Egypt."
"Lord, what is love?"
. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in
God 1 John 4:16
This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have
"Father, how is this possible?"
. The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy
Ghost which is given unto us.
Romans 5: 5
O Love, that wilt not let me go, I rest my weary soul in Thee; I give Thee back the life I owe, That in Thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be.
"I give Thee back the life I owe"-owe? Why owe? It's
my life, isn't it?
"Have you forgotten that your body is the temple of the
Holy Spirit, who lives in you and is God's gift to you, and
that you are not the owner of your own body? You have
been bought, and at a price!"
The sense of destiny: Someone has paid for me with
blood. How the knowledge lifts my sights beyond the
moment's hot desire!
But now this is the word of the Lord, the word of your creator, O Jacob, of him who fashioned you, Israel: Have no fear: for I have paid your ransom; I have called you by name and you are my own.
There my destiny is defined: to be created, fashioned,
ransomed, called by name. What was true of Israel is true
of the Christian who is a "child of Abraham" by faith.
When you pass through deep waters, I am with you, when you pass through rivers, they will not sweep you away; walk through fire and you will not be scorched, through flames and they will not burn you.
For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your deliverer
A young woman came to me several years ago to ask,
"Is it okay to tell God I'll be a missionary if He'll give me
I said no. She had not yet understood His claims. Are
we in a bargaining position with our Creator, Redeemer,
the Holy One? ". It was no perishable stuff, like gold or
silver, that bought your freedom from the empty folly of
your traditional ways. The price was paid in precious blood
. the blood of Christ."
March 1, 1948-"So will not we go back from thee: quicken
us, and we will call upon thy name. Turn us again, 0 Lord God
of hosts, cause thy face to shine; and we shall be saved." Psalm 80:18, 19
On Thy brow we see a thorn-crown, Blood-drops in Thy track.
O forbid that we should ever
Turn us back.
Lord, I have said the eternal Yes. Let me never, having put my
hand to the plough, look back. Make straight the way of the Cross
before me. Give me love, that there may be no room for a wayward
thought or step.
Chapter ThreePassion Is a Battleground
The confusion that followed my earnest prayers is not surprising
to me now. If there is an Enemy of Souls (and I
have not the slightest doubt that there is), one thing he
cannot abide is the desire for purity. Hence a man or
woman's passions become his battleground. The Lover of
Souls does not prevent this. I was perplexed because it
seemed to me He should prevent it, but He doesn't. He
wants us to learn to use our weapons.
A few samples from my diary of the preceding year illustrate
the confusion I was in and provide, I'm afraid, a more
accurate sketch of what I was then than memory would
lead me to draw.
February 2, 1947-Longing for someone to love, but perhaps the
Lord wants me only for Himself.
February 3-Sara Teasdale: "Why am I crying after love?"
February 16-Hal dates my roommate, then waits for me later
in the evening.
February 17-Hal walks me home. Don't really want to go out
February 18-Phil asked me out. Refused.
February 21-Hal had five dates with my roommate last week.
I haven't had that many with him all told.
February 22-Hal drove me home from the post office. I wrote a
poem inspired by the fickleness of couples around me. Should
I officially break off with Hal, call for a showdown, just let
him work it out? March 8-Accepted date with Hal for a concert.
March 9-Broke date, told Hal we must stop dating. He said there
would never be anyone else.
March 10-Was I hasty? March 11-Shall I apologize? March 12-Wished I hadn't broken date.
March 14-Tried to see him.
March 17-Talked, returned presents, thanked him for all he'd
done. Miss him.
March 23-Met Jim Elliot. Good talk. Wonderful guy.
July 1-Once in a while I think about singleness . God can
surely give me abundant life. May I never turn aside.
October 26-Read about Henry Martyn of India, who had to
choose between the woman he loved and the mission field.