Sister of the Common Life - Jess Schwartz

Sister of the Common Life - Jess Schwartz

by the setapartgirl Team, Jess White | September 11, 2014

Heroes of Faith:

Elisabeth Elliot, Corrie ten Boom, my dear “Mom-sie”

A Favorite Quote:

“Faith is like radar that sees through the fogthe reality of things at a distance that the human eye cannot see.” -Corrie ten Boom


1. Jess, share with us a little glimpse of your life leading up to coming to Ellerslie?

Growing up in a homeschool Christian family, I accepted Christ into my heart at the age of about six in Sunday school. As I grew up, I served Him with childlike devotion with my parents as faithful guides, which was such a blessing! However, in high school I began to slowly drift away. I developed a bit of an inner rebellious heart that began to grow cold to the things of God. This persisted when I went to college as inch by inch I seemed to be slipping away from God. I made some very foolish choices, choosing the “pleasures of this world” over the only True Source of fulfillment. One night about two years into college (roughly seven years ago), I realized that I was not living a life that was honoring to Christ. I saw that I was living a “normal-by-the-world’s-standards” version of Christianity, but not a TRUE Christianity. My actions, my words, my choice to be in a relationship, and my thoughts were soaked in worldliness and were a far-cry from bringing glory to the One who knit me together. I tearfully prayed to the Lord that night that He would bring me back to Himself. It took quite a while before I was fully willing to give up old friends and habits, but after that night my heart began the journey back towards serving Him.

In that early season of returning to follow Christ, there were some days when I knew I was being led to sacrifice things that just seemed too painful to give up (such as an unhealthy relationship). In those times, the Lord was so wonderfully merciful and patient with me. It was as though He was saying, “Oh, don’t you know, Jess, that I have plans that are so much more full and so much more grand than the things you are choosing now?” Though at the time it seemed to me like I was giving the Lord some very precious rubies, I can see now that truly what I gave Him was nothing more than a handful of worthless pebbles. In return for those sacrifices of my will, wow, such JOY has He bestowed upon me! Looking back, I am still in awe of how Jesus chose to redeem me from my own foolishness. It is so clear that it is only because of His love that He sought me out, and it is only because of His quickening Spirit that I now have new life in Him. What a glorious Savior we serve!


2. As a busy Set Apart Girl team member, what are some practical ways you protect your time alone with Jesus?

Besides savoring the time in the early mornings spent with my King, another practical step I take to meditate on Jesus throughout the day is to purposefully look for things to be thankful for. I lightheartedly call this “seeking out gems of thankfulness.” If the Lord calls us to be thankful always (1 Thess. 5:16-16), then you can rest assured that He has given us an overabundance of things to be thankful for. The Lord delights in us and He loves to reveal Himself every day, but we, in turn, must be always mindful of Him.

Psalm 40:4-5: “Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, who does not look to the proud, to those who turn aside to false gods. Many, Lord my God, are the wonders You have done, the things You planned for us; None can compare with You; were I to speak and tell of Your deeds, they would be too many to declare.

Over the past year, I’ve begun learning how to wake up each day with the excited thought that my Father in Heaven has placed little gems that reveal Himself throughout my day. Some days it is simple things, like being outside at just the right moment so that I see a sun ray sparkling off the first frost of fall. Other times, it is a deeper “gem” where the Lord reveals His Truth in a new light.


3. You were at college for four years and worked in a secular environment after that. Many girls struggle with living set-apart in environments that aren’t Christ-centered. What would you say are some of the biggest lessons you learned during that time? And how did you keep a Christ-focused heart?

After graduating from college, the Lord blessed me with a job at a Graphic Design/Marketing firm where I worked for four years before coming to Ellerslie. Most of my co-workers were not Christians, so I was faced with the choice: would I conform to the pattern that my co-workers set, or would I conform to Christ? Unlike the rocky start I had when I was in college, in this new working season I was resolved to follow Christ. As I began to learn what it looked like to focus on Christ throughout the day, I found ways to seek out His Truth. Often this meant singing worship songs on the way to work, reading Elisabeth Elliot books while on lunch breaks, and listening to sermons throughout the day. On a slightly humorous note, I remember the first time I was told of Eric Ludy and his Ellerslie sermons. The next Monday morning I resolved to listen to one at work. It’s a good thing that at that time I had the front part of the office to myself.  Had one of my co-workers walked by, they probably would have been worried at the sight of a healthy dose of tears on my face as I designed, not having any way of knowing I was listening to the rock-solid Truths of the Gospel being preached!

On a very practical note, choosing to live for Christ meant interacting with my fellow employees in a different manner than most of them interacted with each other. This often meant not engaging in certain conversations, not using certain words, and talking to my co-workers with honor (even if they may or may not have been the most honorable of individuals). Though I do wish I had been more bold in preaching Christ to my coworkers, I did find that they were often perfectly willing to listen to stories of how God had been faithful in my own life. Plus, it was a testimony to God’s goodness shining through my life that certain co-workers noticed that there really was a certain level of honor that I was cultivating.  As a result, they began to either avoid bringing up certain topics around me or apologizing when certain words slipped out. While I never actually asked them not to say those words and phrases, I did try to remember to thank them for their efforts to be gentlemen. Overall, in terms of my interaction with clients and co-workers, I believe the Lord was teaching me how to be honorable, but not aloof; guarded, but also friendly and uplifting.


4. Who from Christian history has impacted your life the most? Why?

Elisabeth Elliot, though I never have met her, has been very impactful in my life. It was through her books that I first began to realize there was something greater than just “modern” Christianity. While reading Passion and Purity, I began to see that God is fully capable of caring for our deepest desires. After that, Discipline: the Glad Surrender showed me that God wants ALL of me, not just part. I saw how she was willing to give her entire life in service to Him, and was fully willing to go anywhere He wanted her to go. As her words pointed me back to Christ I thought, “Wow, I want what she has!” Even though while newly married she was required to relinquish the husband she loved, she still lived a life totally devoted to Christ and was filled with such joy, peace, confidence, compassion, and fulfillment in Him. As I learned what it meant to give to the Lord the hopes I once held dear, one of Elisabeth Elliot’s quotes stuck with me:

“God never withholds from His child that which His love and wisdom call good. God’s refusals are always merciful—‘severe mercies’ at times but mercies all the same. God never denies us our heart’s desire except to give us something better.”

That phrase of “severe mercies” has been called to my remembrance multiple times throughout the past few years and it has been such a comforting reminder that God is filled with the Father’s love for me, even when it seems painful to me at the time.


5. When you look at this generation of young girls, what would be the one piece of advice you would give to them?

Trust God in all things. When your dear Savior asks you to give something to Him, fully trust Him that His way is best. In Jeremiah 17:7-8 the Lord says, “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, and whose hope is the Lord. For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters, which spreads out its roots by the river, and will not fear when heat comes; but its leaf will be green, and will not be anxious in the year of drought, nor will cease from yielding fruit."

I think often we can be tempted to think that the Lord’s plan will be drab and lifeless, but this passage in Jeremiah refutes that. Do you think a tree planted by the waters is drab? No! It has a continual source of fresh life from the waters that flow nearby filling up its roots! There have been times since I committed to be set-apart for Christ where I tried to take the reins of my life back into my own hands and follow the “plan of Jess.” Well, let me tell you, the “plan of Jess” pales in comparison to the “plan of God.” Though some of the dreams He asked me to give Him were so precious to me at the time, and I thought there was no way that He would be able to offer something sweeter, He always is faithful and always gave a more abundant life than I could have imagined on my own. The life of a Christ-follower isn’t dull and drab; it’s vibrant, full of sparkle, and abounding in love. Yes, the life He has now given me is not what I would have originally planned for myself, but I can say with confidence that His plan has been so much more rich and full than my own.


6. Share with us some of the challenges you’ve faced in living set-apart for Christ.

There was a moment sitting on a grassy knoll out in the country that I made the decision that I wanted to be set-apart for Christ. On that peaceful grassy spot, I finally made that bold declaration to the Lord that my all my dreams were relinquished to Him, but I still had much to learn about what the practical steps of walking through that decision looked like. I think one of the most challenging aspects of that decision was learning that what my feelings were telling me didn’t really matter if they didn’t align with Truth. God’s Word is always true, even when emotions don’t line up.

One key area that I needed to walk through was that even when the Lord felt distant, He wasn’t. There was a period of time after I had committed to the Lord to be set-apart for Him that He felt so far away. However, I knew from what I was reading in His Word that that couldn’t be true. Prayers made during that time are now precious to look back upon because my heart was desperately crying out for Him to give me understanding into His character. Those are prayers the Lord loves to answer!

“The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears, and delivers them out of all their troubles. The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart, and saves such as have a contrite spirit” (Psalm 34:17-18).

God, in His wonderful love for me as an individual child of His, answered those prayers at such a deep and personal level I still can’t help but be in awe of Him. He made it so clear that He is a God who truly does just desire me to be with Him. As a heavenly bridegroom loves to be with his intended bride, so our Savior loves us and cares intimately for us.


7. As a single girl, how would you encourage other singles as they wait and trust in the Lord’s timing for their future marriage?

One thing I wish I had understood fully when I was in high school/college was how God really does care about the intimate details of our daily life. Just like a groom loves the woman who is to be His bride, that is how Christ loves us, both individually and as the Church. He isn’t a distant figure who we only follow so that we can get to heaven someday. He is very present, very caring, and very much interested in being with us in our day-to-day life. As a college woman, I used to think all of my dreams and plans wouldn’t happen if I submitted my life to Christ. Now I see that by submitting my life to Christ, His plans and His purposes for my life are so much grander than anything I could have imagined on my own! Yes, I’ve had to give some things up permanently and there are other precious dreams that I’ve given over to the Lord to do with as He desires. Yes, there are seasons where I had to walk through the Lord’s refining fire, which can be quite painful. However, I can assure you that life is so much more abundantly rich, so much more abundantly full of grand adventure, and so much more abundantly sweet when following God’s pattern than when following our own.


Favorite things:

Leaping, skipping, and (especially) dancing with joy because of my Savior; going on “adventures” with my little brother, where our bikes are our “noble steeds” and suddenly a fallen tree in front of our path becomes a tall wall that needs to be scaled; the light, sweet scent of lilacs drifting through the air on a playful, spring breeze; homemade ice cream; my jolly family; gardening; listening to friends share rock-solid Truths that the Lord has been showing them.

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