Wise words from Edith Schaeffer (1914-2013)

I only heard Edith Schaeffer speak in person once. At that time, this extremely influential evangelical woman who passed away this past Saturday was already getting up in years.  Since her speaking engagements were regularly recorded, I haven’t had to spend much time with her to feel like we’ve been in the same room more than once.

Francis and Edith Schaeffer

Francis and Edith Schaeffer. Photo courtesy of Covenant Seminary's Francis Schaeffer Institute. Used with permission.

The irony of hearing the announcement of her passing Saturday is that I had just listened to a recording of one of Edith’s talks a few days earlier. It’s been years since I listened to a talk by either Edith or her husband Francis, with whom she co-founded L’Abri Fellowship.

Two points of wisdom that Edith shared came to mind almost immediately upon the news of her death. These are points that help me along the journey to work to end poverty globally.

How can we balance prayer and action?
It’s no secret that some of us easily move into prayer and others quickly move to action. I can easily go the activist route.

However, in listening to Edith’s talk called “Mary’s Part” just a few days ago, I started overcoming the Martha and Mary (Luke 10) either-or assumption. In her teaching, Edith pointed out to the fact that Mary did work, but she worked at the proper time—when, after sitting at Jesus’ feet, she was ready to work. Her whole life was not lived in contemplation, but rather Mary models the blending of prayer and action in balance.

What’s God’s job and what’s mine?
I have no idea how many books and sermons I have heard in my life, but there are a few tid-bits that have stuck. And one of those bits was from a message by Edith. She told of a time she was deeply, deeply struggling with divine sovereignty and human responsibility.

In her unrest, she went out to the nearby forest and lay on the ground.

At some point in her rumination, she looked up above her. She could see two tree trunks on either side. At the top of the trunks, the tree branches came together to make one single canopy. In that place, she began to rest about working out divine sovereignty and human responsibility. She said that somewhere up above, those branches came together and made a whole. Likewise, it is so with divine sovereignty and human responsibility. They come together in a mysterious way. And she found calm. When I struggle with this issue, my mind quickly goes to the two tree trunks and the think canopy of branches, and I can acknowledge mystery.

Learning from woman, learning from an artist
What you may be able to see from the above is something that I didn’t learn from Edith in an explicit way, but rather “by demonstration” (to use a term used commonly at L’Abri). She was very much a woman and also a deep theological thinker. Neither of those things out-did the other. Both were retained. She was also practical, attending to the needs of those who stayed with her and her husband in the early years of L’Abri.  And she was true to her artistic leanings in living out her faith. These are all things that hearten me as I consider living out my faith today.

What about you?

When you consider the issues of poverty globally, are you able to sit at Jesus’s feet until it is time to work?

Do you get stymied by the issues of divine sovereignty and human responsibility when you look at our world?

Finally, who do you look to as role models? And who do you think is looking to you as a role model—with your ups and downs and need for God’s mercy—to see you live your faith “by demonstration”?