book review | Bittersweet

I need writers who are honest.  I’m not looking for propaganda or a pep rally, because I prefer voices I can trust.  If I can tell that a writer is being honest with me about her life, then I can trust her to tell me things about my own life that I’d otherwise not be willing to hear.  Shauna Niequist is an honest writer, and I’m so glad she came out with a second book. 

Bittersweet is a book about the danger of a life that has no trials – or perhaps the myth of such a life – and a celebration of the things that grow in us through difficulty.  This is dangerous turf, if you ask me, because if ever there were a topic that has produced too much cheap, meaningless, sentimental crap, this might be it.  But Bittersweet delivers something way more satisfying than that. 

It’s a book that’s rooted.  I like thinking theologically, but if you’re not careful, spending too much time in your head can leave you unmoored from reality.  Shauna’s writing pulls me back into gravity.  She says it like this:

“Many of the most deeply spiritual moments of my life haven’t happened just in my mind or in my soul.  They happened while holding my son in the middle of the night, or watching the water break along the shore, or around my table, watching the people I love feel nourished in all sorts of ways.  From my vantage point, the idea that faith and meaning and all the other important things happen in your mind or soul where no one can see them is one of the worst byproducts of modern Christianity.”

Ironically, it’s books like Bittersweet that most remind me that I do have a soul that needs attention (and that it’s best tended through being honest with friends and with myself). 

I don't always trust writers who talk about disciplined lives of faith, because they seem to come from a different galaxy than me.  They piously, easily get up at 4am for 3 hours of prayer and Scripture meditation before a day devoid of temptation.  If that's you, that's awesome.  But I don't understand you.  And I don't know if I can learn a whole lot from you.  But Shauna I understand.  When she talks about the disciplines she practices, they come from a place of hunger and need that is more powerful than however impulsive she may feel.  Any success I've ever had with implementing disciplines in my life has been because of a similar desperation.  It's not easy.  It's just that we discover that it's necessary.   

Shauna talks honestly about losing a job and losing a baby and the dreams that went with each, and somehow weaves together something terribly hopeful from those frayed threads.  She leaves you fed up with a social life that’s not much more than a giant projection of who you wish everyone would think you are.  She reminds you that maturity is a good thing, and that it doesn’t come through pretending, but rather through paying an expensive price to grow.  And she speaks about her connection to God in a way that is authentic and important, with a weight that she earns through telling her own story with such bravery. 

I felt the same way about Shauna’s first book, Cold Tangerines, that I do about Bittersweet.  In so many ways I’m tempted to skate through life, barely making contact with the ground beneath my feet, because I’m too busy or too desperately in need of feeling self-important to crumble into the earth (which is exactly what I’m afraid will happen if I slow down).  It’s books like this that help me see how insane that is and remind me of what’s so fantastic about becoming rooted in people and a God who love you and whom you love.  I’ll hope you’ll buy it and read it right away.  Here's the link.

Shauna and her team have made a generous offer, too.  One of you will win a free autographed copy of Bittersweet delivered straight to your door.  Here’s what you need to do:

Head to the contact link here on the blog, and use it to tell us about something good that has grown in your life through a trial.  The more specific the better (not that we need the scintillating details… I’m just saying this is about a specific time when God grew something good out of something difficult.)  Make sure you include your mailing address when you submit, and be sure to write "BITTERSWEET GIVEAWAY" in the subject line.  We’ll pick our favorite and pass it along to Shauna’s team so they can get the book to you!