If you’ll indulge me one more anecdote from the life of Amy Carmichael, the following vignette is excerpted from a chapter entitled “Singleness Is a Gift” from the book On Asking God Why by Elisabeth Elliot.
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.’ “
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…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.”
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
(You can see a list of other posts in the 31 Days of Missionary Stories here.)
Other posts about Amy Carmichael:
Isn’t “No” an Answer?
What We Wanted All the Time.
Missionaries’ Letters to Mothers.
It’s the Little Things.
The Melting Point.
“Thy Calvary Stills All Our Questions“
From the worlding’s hollow gladness.
Make Me Thy Fuel.
Shadow and Coolness.
With All Our Feebleness.
Amy Learns to Die to Self.
A Book of Amy Carmichael Poems.