A Visit with Elizabeth Sherrill and a Lesson in Prayer

Always the teacher. Always the seeker. Always the lover of God.

Posted in , Sep 24, 2018

John and Elizabeth Sherrill

I should have known that calling on Elizabeth Sherrill at her retirement home in Massachusetts would result in a lesson in prayer. Tibby—as she is affectionately known by all—is not only a gifted writer but a superb teacher.

It’s been a year of loss for her. Her beloved husband and writing partner John died this past December, shortly before their 70th wedding anniversary. She shared with me a new edition of their book They Speak With Other Tongues. She recounted how painful it is to read what it says in the parenthesis after his name: John Sherrill (1923-2017). Like seeing dates on a tombstone.

At the same time, I think of all that they did in that period covered by the hyphen. How they met on a ship headed for Europe after the war, how they created life-changing books like The Cross and the Switchblade by David Wilkerson or The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom.

How they nurtured the talent of countless writers, teaching and encouraging, leaving their mark on Guideposts for decades. And then to think of the countless stories they brought to the magazine over the years, ever since John joined the staff of Guideposts in 1951.

Not surprisingly, Tibby has received hundreds of notes from friends and readers and other writers, offering their sympathy. She said with some chagrin that she fears she’ll never be able to respond to every note in the rising stack. “People are glad to have this chance to pray for you,” I said.

She hasn’t stopped writing by any means. She has been an essential voice in Daily Guideposts and that will continue. She even mentioned—almost as an aside—a story she’s working on for the magazine. “Everybody will be looking forward to reading that,” I said.

But it was when we were talking about loss that she told a story about prayer. She was recalling John’s father’s very sudden death many years ago. They rushed to be with his mother at their apartment at Union Seminary where John’s father was a professor. All of them at a loss.

“We were sitting there, and there was a knock on the door,” she recalled. It was Reinhold Niebuhr, the great theologian and teacher. At that moment Tibby thought, “Now, we’ll get some helpful words of prayer.” The famous writer would know what to say.

Instead he said nothing. Not a word. They four of them sat there in utter silence. A reverential silence, a holy silence, a moment when words would never be able to fill the pain and sorrow.

And then as silently as he came, silently he left. Although he did leave something behind. The silence that listens and accepts and knows how God’s love is always present.

Thanks Tibby for that lesson. Always the teacher. Always the seeker. Always the lover of God.

Tags: Marriage
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