amy carmichael…

I got this in my inbox this morning from Elizabeth Elliot. It helped to give a little perspective and peace to my ever wounded heart.

Singleness is a Gift

Nearly a hundred years ago a twenty-eight-year-old woman from a windy little village on the north coast of Ireland began her missionary work in India. Amy Carmichael was single, but on the very eve of her leaving the docks, an opportunity “which looked towards ‘the other life'” was presented.

Amy, with the combined reticence of being a Victorian and being Irish, never said how or by whom this “opportunity” was presented. She spoke very little of matters of the heart. She was also a thoroughgoing Christian, with a soldier’s determination to carry out her Commander’s orders. Single life, she believed, was not only a part of those orders; it was also a gift.

She tried not to suggest in any way that her gift was superior. “Remember,” she wrote, “our God did not say to me, ‘I have something greater for you to do.’ This life is not greater than the other, but it is different.” It was simply God’s call to her.

The oldest of seven children, she had been full of ideas to amuse, educate, inspire, and spiritually edify her brothers and sisters. One of these ideas was a family magazine called Scraps, beautifully handwritten, illustrated, and published monthly for family and friends. Before Amy was twenty, one brother knew the direction her life was taking. In a series of sketches for Scraps he wrote:

Our eldest sister is the
light of our life.
She says that she will never
be a wife.

Amy took as her guide the ideal set forth by the apostle Paul: “The unmarried (woman) concerns herself with the Lord’s affairs, and her aim is to make herself holy in body and in spirit. . .I am not putting difficulties in your path, but setting before you an ideal, so that your service of God may be as far as possible free from worldly distractions” (1 Corinthians 7:34, 35 PHILLIPS).

With all her heart she determined to please him who had chosen her to be his soldier. She was awed by the privilege. She accepted the disciplines.

“A Touch of Disappointment”

Loneliness was one of those disciplines. How–the modern young person always wants to know–did she “handle” it? Amy Carmichael would not have had the slightest idea what the questioner was talking about. “Handle” loneliness? Why, it was part of the cost of obedience, of course. Everybody is lonely in some way, the single in one way, the married in another; the missionary in certain obvious ways, the schoolteacher, the mother, the bank teller in others.

Amy had a dear co-worker whom she nicknamed Twin. At a missions conference they found that in the posted dinner lists, Twin and a friend named Mina had been seated side by side.

“Well, I was very glad that dear Mina should have Twin,” Amy wrote to her family, “and I don’t think I grudged her to her one little bit, and yet at the bottom of my heart there was just a touch of disappointment, for I had almost fancied I had somebody of my very own again, and there was a little ache somewhere. I could not rejoice in it. . .I longed, yes longed, to be glad, to be filled with such a wealth of unselfish love that I should be far gladder to see those two together than I should have been to have had Twin to myself. And while I was asking for it, it came. For the very first time I felt a rush, a real joy in it, His joy, a thing one cannot pump up or imitate or force in any way. . .Half-unconsciously, perhaps, I had been saying, ‘Thou and Twin are enough for me’–one so soon clings to the gift instead of only to the Giver.”

Her letter then continued with a stanza from the Frances Ridley Havergal hymn:

Take my love, my Lord, I pour
At Thy feet its treasure-store.
Take myself and I will be
Ever, only, all for thee.

After writing this, Amy felt inclined to tear it out of the letter. It was too personal, too humiliating. But she decided the Lord wanted her to let it stand, to tell its tale of weakness and of God’s strength. She was finding firsthand that missionaries are not apart from the rest of the human race, not purer, nobler, higher.

“Wings are an illusive fallacy,” she wrote. “Some may possess them, but they are not very visible, and as for me, there isn’t the least sign of a feather. Don’t imagine that by crossing the sea and landing on a foreign shore and learning a foreign lingo you ‘burst the bonds of outer sin and hatch yourself a cherubim.’ ”

The Single “Mother”

Amy landed in India in 1897 and spent the first few years in itinerant evangelism. She began to uncover a secret traffic in little girls who were being sold or given for temple prostitution. She prayed that God would enable her find a way to rescue some of them, even though not one had ever been known to escape.

Several years later, God began to answer that prayer. One little girl actually escaped and came (led by an angel, Amy believed) straight to Amy. Then in various ways babies were rescued. Soon she found that little boys were being used for homosexual purposes by dramatic societies connected with Hindu temple worship. She prayed for the boys, and in a few years Amy Carmichael was Amma (“Mother”) to a rapidly growing Indian family that, by the late 1940s, numbered about 900. In a specially literal way the words of Jesus seemed to have been fulfilled: “Everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life” (Matthew 19:29).

In answer to a question from one of her children who years later had become a close fellow worker, Amy described a transaction in a cave. She had gone there to spend the day with God and face her feelings of fear about the future. Things were all right at the moment, but could she endure years of being alone?

The Devil painted pictures of loneliness that were vivid to her years later. She turned to the Lord in desperation. “What can I do, Lord? How can I go on to the end?”

His answer: “None of them that trust in me shall be desolate” (from Psalms 34:22 KJV). So she did not “handle” loneliness–she handed it to her Lord and trusted his Word.

“There is a secret discipline appointed for every man and woman whose life is lived for others,” she wrote. “No one escapes that discipline, nor would wish to escape it; nor can any shelter another from it. And just as we have seen the bud of a flower close round the treasure within, folding its secret up, petal by petal, so we have seen the soul that is chosen to serve, fold round its secret and hold it fast and cover it from the eyes of man. The petals of the soul are silence.”

Her commitment to obedience was unconditional. Finding that singleness was the condition her Master had appointed for her, she received it with both hands, willing to renounce all rights for his sake and, although she could not have imagined it at the time, for the sake of the children he would give her–a job she could not possibly have done if she had had a family of her own.

Many whose houses, for one reason or another, seem empty, and the lessons of solitude hard to learn, have found strength and comfort in the following Amy Carmichael poem:

O Prince of Glory, who dost bring
Thy sons to glory through Thy Cross,
Let me not shrink from suffering,
Reproach or loss ….

If Thy dear Home be fuller, Lord,
For that a little emptier
My house on earth, what rich reward
That guerdon* were.

*recompense; something earned or gained


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