Grace for Aging, with Evelyn ChristensonGrace for Aging
Leslie Basham: Up through the end of her days, Evelyn Christenson was asking the Lord to help her grow and learn. Here’s how she was praying at eighty years old.
Evelyn Christenson: Keep me faithful, Lord. That’s what I’m saying at this age. It's the hardest transition, by the way, when you have to start peeling off not doing what you want to do because there’s not enough strength in all that but to stay faithful. In these years, this is what I’m learning now because I’ll never be done. I’ll never be done with, “Lord, change me.” Never.
Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Friday, February 1.
Nancy Leigh DeMoss: If you’ve listened to this program for any length of time, you’ve probably heard me say at some point that one of my goals in life, ever since I was a little girl, has always been to be a godly, old lady. So over the years, I’ve always looked for examples of women who are the kind of woman I’d like to be as I get older. Evelyn Christenson, a name that is familiar to many of you, was one of those examples for me for many years before she went home to be with the Lord in 2011.
Today we’re going to hear a conversation that I recorded with Evelyn about how to lean on the grace of God during those final seasons of life.
Nancy: It’s a very special privilege for me this week to be at a conference my friend, Evelyn Christenson, is attending. I was so thankful to learn that she was going to be here. I asked her if she would take some time just to mentor me and to let us talk together for Revive Our Hearts because I knew that you would want to hear something of her life message.
She has a powerful life message in the area of prayer. She's written fifteen books. She's spoken at conferences and seminars and workshops all around the world, and has trained thousands and thousands of people to pray. She's known as a woman of prayer.
I learned recently in reading about Evelyn that she's had some other life experiences that have taught her much about the heart and ways of God. I asked her if she'd be willing to share with us just out of some of those experiences that I know will relate to many of our listeners.
Evelyn, thank you so much for taking time out this afternoon. I know you're eighty years old and still so vibrant, yet I know you are dealing with some physical issues and operating on a third of your heart. I can't imagine what you would do if you had your whole heart functioning. I can't keep up with you as it is now. What a rich life God has given you, to look into your countenance and see such a fullness and a freedom and a Spirit of Christ, but I know that that has come at a price.
Evelyn: A very definite price.
Nancy: You have talked in different ones of your books about your three children who are grown and have children of their own now. But I learned recently that you also went through some very difficult experiences as a young woman in relation to losing children.
Nancy: Tell us a little bit about what happened and how God walked you through some of that process.
Evelyn: Well, the wonderful thing about being eighty, Nancy, is that I can look back and see how God used those experiences very definitely in what He was calling me and preparing me to do and to be. When I look back, now I can do it with a thankful heart. I couldn't at the time, and I don't think anybody going through losing four babies, which I have done . . . I don't think anybody at the time would say, "Oh, isn't this wonderful? Isn't this fun?" It is not. It is very traumatic.
When we were first married, I was pregnant, and we lost that baby in a miscarriage. That wasn't as traumatic as the next miscarriage because in-between those I had lost a baby, a full-term baby, stillborn. We had just lost Chris' father just before that, five weeks before that. He died very unexpectantly. Then our baby was born dead. I knew the baby was dead for ten days before I delivered the baby, finally.
Nancy, we were in World War II. I don't think anyone who hasn't gone through a war realizes how traumatic it is and all the things you go through. Our doctors and our nurses were all overseas, and if it weren't for my mother I wouldn't have lived through that stillborn because for two solid days I was in steady labor with contractions about one minute apart.
Nancy: Knowing that this child was dead?
Evelyn: Knowing the baby was dead, and it was a very serious thing. My husband was gone; he was still in training. He hadn't gone overseas yet, which he did. But we wanted that baby so desperately and to fill the place with his dad having just died. We thought, "Oh, man, now there's going to be a little baby." But there wasn't.
Nancy: Was it a boy or a girl?
Evelyn: That was a little girl, and she was a very, very deformed little baby, and we don’t know why. Now they know some of the reasons. They didn’t know in those days.
Then, of course, there was the next miscarriage. My husband had come back from Germany. He was stationed in England actually, but he’d been bombing Germany; he was a bomber pilot. All of this had gone on; it was a very traumatic time in our lives. Also, my father had become an invalid.
Nancy: So these three pregnancies had all been within several years?
Evelyn: Yes, about four years, and so God said so clearly to me that this was for my good.
Nancy: Did you just immediately accept that?
Evelyn: You know, I did. If God says something Nancy . . . . I think I got this from my mother. I watched her. If God said it, it was okay. I accepted it from the Lord. I not only accepted it, I made it my philosophy of life, and I have lived by it from age twenty-three to age eighty. Nancy, God has never failed me. I have failed Him so many times. I have fallen on my face many, many times, but never God.
This is one of the joys of getting old (everything isn’t a joy getting old), but one of the joys is to see how God actually did this. He would show me, sometimes almost immediately. Sometimes He would just say, “Well, when you get to heaven you’ll see, you’ll understand,” or maybe “After awhile.” And a few years later I’d look back and see. Oh, my word.
But God showed me very definitely that very day, “If you had all these babies”—that would be three right then, and we were in college—“if you had those three babies, there is no way that you could get your college education and Chris could get his and seminary.” Because his father had dropped dead unexpectedly and left two minor children for whom we were partially responsible to financially, there would have been no way we ever could have done what God called us to do. I don’t think it was just Chris who was called. I was called, too. We could not have done it with those three babies. We could not have.
Now that God had given us three children and eight grandchildren, I don't know what I would do if I had all seven of them. I'd be a pretty busy mother! But God didn't make a mistake. He knew what He was doing. This is for your good, even losing babies.
Nancy: You had to be willing to accept that even if you couldn't understand.
Evelyn: I understood the first time when He said it; I understood. A lot of things have come in my life I haven't understood, but I have so deeply ingrained in my thinking and my belief that God is not making a mistake; that whatever comes in my life I can say I know that God is not making a mistake. There have been very difficult things in my life.
One of the hard things was writing about our families and what happens when families pray. There are things you never tell anybody, especially in a book, you just won’t, but these are those hard, hard things.
Nancy: Right. And that wasn't the last child you lost?
Evelyn: Oh, no. It wasn't the last child. We had one child, our Jan, who was a perfectly fine. She was a wonderful, precious, little girl. Then after we were in our first pastorate, I was pregnant (but didn't know it when we left for the pastorate) with our little Judy. Things weren't right when I got toward the last of the pregnancy.
Things were not good. Something was very wrong with Judy. When she was born I had an extremely difficult delivery. They told me that it was the hardest kind they had ever recorded in the hospital. I said, "Thanks a lot."
Judy was born with spina bifida, and she was paralyzed from the waist down. They told us it’s a water system that doesn’t circulate correctly. She went through several surgeries and everything. They told us if she ever spiked a high fever, just to take her to the hospital. Her water system, her fluids in her body could not take care of a high fever. One night she was perfectly good and well and happy when I put her to bed, and when I picked her up in the morning, she had a 105 degree fever. So, I knew I had to take her to the hospital.
Nancy: She was how old now?
Evelyn: Seven months old. Well, she died at seven months. She was in the hospital a couple months.
Nancy: How were you praying at that time?
Evelyn: Oh now, this is what was so amazing. This is when I got angry. A former pastor of ours had said, "My goodness, God must love Evelyn and Harold a lot to give them all this trouble and all these problems." I became so angry. He was talking about Hebrews 12. The night in that first parsonage where I lived the first year, I stayed on my knees in that bedroom all night long fighting with God.
Nancy: For the life of that child, that little girl.
Evelyn: I kept saying, "This is a great way to show me You love me. Isn't it enough that there are three of them? Haven't I learned enough?” All these things I had learned already. I was telling God all these things. I was angry and I fought, and all at once, in Hebrews 12 God said to me, “Evelyn, if you are going to be the pastor's wife . . ." Now, He doesn't teach us all the same things, but what He was teaching me was, “If you are going to be the pastor's wife I want you to be, you're going to know these things."
Nancy: What was it in Hebrews 12 that you were seeing?
Evelyn: He was saying, "that we are disciplined because He loves us so we will be holy, and it is for our good."
Nancy: Discipline. Does that mean you had done something wrong?
Evelyn: No, no. That word used to be "chastening" in the old translations. It isn't so much a chastening. It is preparation for. It's honing, making finer gold in the hot fire, all of that.
Nancy: Did you ask yourself, "Have I done something wrong? Is God punishing me?"
Evelyn: Well, I didn't even think I had because we had gone to our first church. We had done everything that we were supposed to do. We had gone through all the schooling. As far as we knew, we were on track with God, so I wasn't questioning if I'd done anything wrong.
"But why?” When I had done everything that I had thought I was supposed to be doing. “Now, why are You doing this to me, Lord? Haven't I done enough? Haven't I given enough? Haven't I suffered enough?" I think a lot of us ask that question. And He said, "No, you're going to have to learn."
Then, Nancy, that night . . . I admit I was fighting God. I was angry at that pastor for saying that. But when it broke, it broke. And Nancy, I suffered and I grieved after that.
Nancy: This is while your little girl was still in the hospital?
Evelyn: She was still in the hospital. Even when she died, I didn't fight. I accepted God's will. That night on my face . . .
Nancy: When you say you broke?
Evelyn: Whatever it was: my defiance, my anger, my everything. It just went. It broke like a dam.
Nancy: Was that a surrender for you?
Evelyn: It was a surrender.
Nancy: A relinquishment?
Evelyn: Both. It was a surrender to God.
Nancy: Not knowing whether she would live or die?
Evelyn: No, we didn't know, but she didn't live. I pretty much knew from the doctors. He could have performed a miracle if He wanted to. The grief was very, very much there, of course, when we lost her.
Nancy: So, the surrender doesn't mean that you don't feel the pain?
Evelyn: Oh no. I felt the pain in those couple months that we had with her in the hospital. We watched her literally burn out because her system could not handle the fever. She almost turned purple. She was just burning up. To watch your own child go through that was very, very difficult. But I never asked God why again.
I was doing a radio broadcast, a call-in broadcast, from California just a couple years ago. Somebody called in from the east coast. She said, "Evelyn may not remember me, but I was a little girl when she was a pastor's wife." We were then in our second church. She said,
My mom and dad went through a real sorrowful thing because my sister, my little baby sister, died. Pastor Chris and Evelyn were on vacation. They gave up their vacation to come back to be with my mother and dad. I was this little girl, a little toddler about four probably. I watched my pastor's wife, Evelyn, come back and stand . . . [The secret here is the little casket. You see, this isn't a miscarriage, this is a casket.] I watched Evelyn, my pastor's wife, walk up to my mom by the casket, and all she did was take my mom in her arms. I don't remember that she said anything, but she held my mom, and she cried and cried with my mom.
Nancy: This was some years after you had lost your little girl?
Evelyn: Some years, many years afterwards. But I knew God said, "If you are going to be a pastor's wife, you need to know, your heart needs to understand." I held that member of my church. She was a member of my Sunday school class. I held her in my arms, and we just wept together. That woman calling on the radio station said, "I said to myself when I watched that happen, 'When I get big enough, I want to be like that if that's what a Christian is.'"
God comforts us so that we can comfort those who are in like circumstances. I believe with all my heart that that's the reason. God chose to train and prepare me. Not every pastor's wife goes through this, but that was part of my training. I have found in my whole round-the-world tours that I have taken that women are alike all over the world. They all lose babies.
For awhile I got tired of starting back there at the beginning of where I really learned to pray and my relationship with the Lord and Romans 8:28 and everything. Finally, people would say to me, "Evelyn, don't start teaching where you are now. Please start teaching where we are now, where you were then." I had to learn that, to go back to where they are. That's extremely important.
It's not so much what you say, but they know they can feel if you feel their hurt, and that's extremely important. You don't have to be a pastor's wife. You can be anybody. We all have those we mentor. We all have those who look up to us for security who come running to us when things hurt. Every woman has that, every man. This is something that God has called us to do as Christians, to be that support. But you don't understand unless you've had some hard things first.
Nancy: Of course, you couldn't see all that fifty, sixty years ago what God was making, how He was refining. One of the things I love and admire about you, Evelyn, is your tenderness of heart. In fact, I remember years ago hearing you say in a conference where you were speaking and I was in the audience. I wrote it down, and I came across those notes again recently where you said that "hardly a night goes by that the Lord doesn't wake you in the middle of the night and that you weep and pray for the lost."
I heard you say that and I couldn't even, I'll tell you honestly, I couldn't begin to relate. This is all part of the writing of that book in your life.
Evelyn: God had to allow those hard things, and I believe He even sends some of them. You go through all the Old Testament. God sent hail. God sent the drought. God does these things, but He does it for a reason.
The wonderful part about this is, now that I'm eighty and it's been true for quite a few years now, I can look back and I can see Romans 8:28, that God is working out everything for my good because I am called according to His purpose.
Now, when I was twenty-three, God gave me that verse at my second miscarriage. I had to take it on absolute faith—absolute faith. There was no track record. I didn't know. I just had to say, "Alright, Lord. I believe You, and I will take this on faith." I have lived that verse. My children and my husband will tell you, I lived that verse.
But the wonderful part is, Nancy, as we get older the joy is that this is unshakeable faith. You look back, and you say, “He did it. He did it. He did it.”
I have one of the most precious gifts from God, and it's an unshakeable faith. My mother had it. I watched her through a very difficult life. My father was unfaithful. He was everything that he shouldn't have been until he finally found Jesus. She had unshakeable faith in God. She never wavered, and I have a gift from my mother. This is a heritage that is a very precious thing to me.
Nancy: But you didn't start with unshakeable faith. You're saying it developed over the years.
Evelyn: I started with just that faith because faith is not knowing what's going to come. You trust God. You have faith in God.
Nancy: When you can't see.
Evelyn: When you can't see. But when you get my age and you look back, there are some things you know. This is something I know. I know how He keeps His promises because of who He is. Getting old is one of the greatest gifts God could ever give to anybody. I am of all women most blessed. I've said this many times, "I don't deserve it." All He's wanted was my empty self saying, "Lord, I want Your will." It hurts almost more than I could handle sometimes—to lose my life for Christ's sake. But that's what it's been through all these years, losing my life for Christ's sake.
But the great thing is, it sounds like it's all loss, it's not. One Easter I was trying to lose my life for Christ's sake. Chris missed me upstairs, and I was down weeping on the old, green chair. He came down and said, "What's wrong?"
I said, "I'm writing this book, and I'm trying to lose my life for Christ's sake."
He says, "Well, if you ask me, I think you have already done 99% of it."
And I said, "If I have, this 1% with which I'm wrestling is one huge 1%." I was weeping. It was Easter morning. I never made it that morning.
Finally, I was going up to Ottawa, Canada, for a weekend of meetings. The night before while up there in the hotel, I said, "Lord, I obviously can't handle this whole thing all at once." I was in this process of emptying, emptying, emptying myself of what was wrong, and surrendering.
But you know the exciting part about God is that He doesn't leave you in the emptying process. He lets us get that done. But the most amazing thing happened. There was a sweetness. I don't know what it was; it was good. It was just the Lord.
Nancy: It's the resurrection side of the cross, isn't it?
Evelyn: One side is the giving, the hard side—but the joy on the other side! I mean, I was so filled with some kind of joy and excitement.
Nancy: That makes me think of Jesus "who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross." The problem is we're trying to get off the cross.
Evelyn: Yes, and see that isn't it at all.
Nancy: Jesus went through the cross and then the resurrection.
Evelyn: See, that's it.
Nancy: I wonder if so many times we don't experience that fullness of joy because we are not willing to go through the cross.
Evelyn: Oh, I think almost always. That's what it takes so often in my life, has taken in my life, going through the hard things, but the joy that comes in the morning is absolutely awesome.
Nancy: But it's a morning after a night of weeping.
Evelyn: Oh yes, yes. The joy, the sweetness, the more secure with Him. It was the most awesome experience, and it wasn't my last one. There have been other times when I have given up, and He always comes back with more of Him when there's less of me.
Nancy: Well, Evelyn Christenson and I recorded this conversation several years ago. She was eighty years old at the time, and I loved the way she continued growing and seeking the Lord and developing in her faith right up until the time she went home to be with the Lord in 2011.
After Evelyn died, someone on her staff emailed me photos of several different pages from Evelyn’s Bible, and it was amazing to me to see how many notes she had taken over the years of studying God’s Word. Virtually every page was just covered. The margins were filled with notes. Some of them in pen, others in markers of different colors where she was just noting things that the Lord had said to her through His Word, and prayers she had prayed in response to the Word of God.
In fact, I printed out one of those pages and have it framed, sitting on the desk in my study as a reminder of my heart to be seeking the Lord and growing in my understanding of His Word all the way to the finish line.
I think you’d enjoy seeing a picture of a page from Evelyn Christenson’s Bible, so we’ve put that up for you at ReviveOurHearts.com. I hope that you’ll go there and take a look at it and be inspired as I have been by her love for God’s Word.
Now, we don’t have time to air my complete conversation with Evelyn, but when you support Revive Our Hearts with a gift of any size, we’ll send the entire interview on CD. Just ask for the series, “Grace for Aging,” when you call to make your donation. The number to call is 1-800-569-5959, or you can visit us online at ReviveOurHearts.com.
On Monday we’ll hear the story of a young woman who had plotted to kill her parents and rob a police officer. I know you’ll be encouraged to see how God can transform a life that seems to be hopelessly broken. Please be back with us for Revive Our Hearts.
Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.Offers available only during the broadcast of the radio series.