Friday, December 6, 2013

'Thrashing about with God' by Mandy Steward

Thrashing About with God: Finding Faith on the Other Side of Everything
What if Jesus didn’t die so our lives could look perfect? What if He died so we could stop feeling like our lives have to be perfect to mean something? What if we simply live out our own story, even if it doesn’t look as others say it should? Mandy Steward set out in pursuit of these what-ifs. She didn’t find answers so much as she discovered a messy grace that knows no limits and a God that was and is willing to thrash about with her no matter her questions or struggles or doubts. What she found was abundant life, but it didn’t look like she thought it was going to. It was far different, and much deeper. This is a book without “easy” answers that lets those struggling with faith and searching for more know they are not alone.

Giving a book a ranking at all is something I'm loath to do in most cases but especially in this one, as it has a lot to do with what Mandy Steward addresses, including how she's decided to tackle her reactions to the opinions and labels of others. Given the subject matter, I'd hate to come across as a prime example of the type of person she's talking about within the pages. However, part of the process of writing a book includes inviting feedback from members of the public, so now I'll attempt to explain the great good I got from reading this on the one hand, and the niggling misgivings I had on the other, pulling me in different directions and resulting in a 3 star ranking; a tied vote, so to speak.

First, I've got to applaud her for being brave and honest enough to take a stand, and fight for her right to take time out from her normal life to reflect. A pastor's wife deciding not to attend church until she's worked through the issues in her mind and spirit is surely not a common occurrence. Mandy decided to break from her established pattern of seeking answers from older, wiser, (usually male) figures outside of herself to delve within.

Here are some of the issues she addresses. Jesus has promised us 'life to the full', but what do we really make of this? We keep searching, although we're not sure what it will look like when or if it comes. It's easy to get into a pattern of striving, assuming God must be holding back because we're falling short in some way. Taking time to reflect showed her how often she'd been stuffing genuine feelings of inadequacy deep beneath the web of performance she was trying to weave to make up for it. It took stepping back to help show her how she'd exhausted herself, chasing approval from others through performing and achieving. She has an eloquent way of writing which convinced me that this could be my story too. I'd be willing to guess that almost every reader of this book will come away recognising the benefits they could get from a similar performance detox.

However, as I was reading, I couldn't help wondering if her depression, many times, was tied up to a self-focused digging around where she didn't really need to go. Sometimes it seemed as she had a permanent "How am I feeling today?" thermometer attached to her. We all know that someone who continually takes their own temperature may most likely end up feeling unwell. It would be a shame not to live our lives because we're too busy examining them. I read this memoir on my kindle, but I'd be willing to guess it'd be a pretty thick hard copy book. That's a lot of soul searching.

Her stance to take a fast from Bible reading, as if it's all tied in with people pleasing, seemed a bit shortsighted. She gave the impression that she's fed up with it because she knows it all so well, but she doesn't seem to take into account how multi-layered it is, or to open herself to the possibility of being surprised by a fresh insight.

I think it's the sort of book to delve into one chapter or so at a time, when we're in the mood to feel challenged and have a good discussion. Reading it straight through from start to finish may bog us down a bit. Being inside my own head, grappling with a train of thought, gets tedious over the long term, and so it is with someone else's.

Although it's classified as a memoir, this felt a lot like reading someone's personal journal; a prolific artist/writer's free flowing thoughts. As I said, I felt awkward about reviewing it for this reason, as I wouldn't like somebody to rate mine. Mandy Steward has made herself vulnerable, so in the end, I respect and admire her for that. At one stage she said she came to the point of saying, "So what?" to people's value judgments, accepting that we all have our mixtures lightness and darkness that make us unique. Maybe that's one of the best things to take away from this.

I received a copy from Net Galley and David C Cook in return for an honest review.

3 stars

Thrashing About with God: Finding Faith on the Other Side of Everything available from Amazon

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