At the beginning of 2014, I (Helen) set a goal to read 20 books within the year. Bittersweet, by Shauna Niequist, is book #20! If you’re curious, this is what I read in 2014 (those with links will connect you to book reviews by myself or Michael):
- Half the Sky, by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn
- I am Malala, by Malala Yousafzi
- Call the Midwife, by Jennifer Worth
- Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion, by Elizabeth Cline
- In the Shadows of the Workhouse, by Jennifer Worth
- Farewell to the East End, by Jennifer Worth
- Multiply: Disciples Making Disciples, by Francis Chan
- The Autobiography of George Muller, by George Muller
- Proverbs, Commentary by Katherine M. Hayes
- The Hiding Place, by Corrie Ten Boom with John and Elizabeth Sherrill
- Surprised by Joy, by C.S. Lewis
- The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak
- Quitting Church: Why the Faithful are Fleeing, by Julia Duin
- Holy Fire: A Balanced Biblical Look at the Holy Spirit’s Work in our Lives, by R.T. Kendall
- God’s Smuggler, by Brother Andrew with John & Elizabeth Sherrill
- Seven Laws of the Learner, by Bruce Wilkinson
- How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, by Gordon D. Fee & Douglas Stuart
- Foreign to Familiar, by Sarah Lanier
- Discipling Nations, by Darrow Miller
- Bittersweet, by Shauna Niequist
Some of these books were required reading for Titus or suggested reading for SBS and other teaching opportunities, while other books were read for pleasure or spiritual development. Bittersweet, book #20, was both a pleasure and an encouragement in my walk with God.
I’ve been meaning to read Shauna Niequist’s work for quite a while (she has three books published, and another coming out in March), but they’re not available at my library. As Titus drew to a close, and I found I had quite a bit more time on my hands as teachings wound up for this season, I purchased her second book, Bittersweet, for my Kindle. I wanted to savor the book, so I tried to read it over the course of a week, rather than gobbling it up in a day, but I could have easily read this book in an afternoon.
The book is comprised of about forty short essays, in which the author recounts some of the sweetest and most difficult moments of the season she found herself in – a season of great celebrations and beautiful memories, but also a season of loss and pain. While I haven’t experienced many of the things Niequist writes about, particularly motherhood and miscarriage, her heart of seeing God work in and through even the most difficult times in her life, was easy to connect with. Niequist writes the way I would love to write – a beautiful balance of painting pictures with words, and telling stories with honesty and vulnerability.
Two of my favourite essays were “Grace is new math” and “Thin places.” In “Grace is new math,” Niequist shares how the theme of grace was standing out to her everywhere in her life at the time she was writing. She writes of how she doesn’t want to need grace, and how it’s much easier to believe that there is a mathematical formula to life and relationships – that the “good things” about her outweigh the “hard things” about her, and because of this, she can “net” on the right side of things. But,
Grace isn’t about having a second chance; grace is having so many chances that you could use them through all eternity and never come up empty. It’s when you finally realize that the other shoe isn’t going to drop, ever. It’s the moment you feel as precious and handmade as every star, when you feel, finally, at home for the very first time.
Grace is when you finally stop keeping score and when you realize that God never was, that his game is a different one entirely. Grace is when the silence is so complete that you can hear your own heartbeat, and right within your ribs, God’s beating heart, too.
Grace of course isn’t a new concept, but at a time in my life where the theme of grace is standing out to me, especially after these last months as part of Titus Project, Niequist’s words were a great encouragement.
In “Thin places,” Niequist writes of the Celtic idea that there are “thin places” – places where the boundary between the natural and the supernatural worlds are “thinner” – where God’s presence feels closer and more real than ever. She speaks of Christmas in particular, as a “thin place:”
Christmas is a thin place, a season during which even the hardest-hearted of people think about what matters, when even the most locked-up individuals loosen their grasps for just a moment, in the face of the deep beauty and hope of Christmas. The shimmer of God’s presence, not always plainly visible in our world, is more visible at Christmas.
When we find a thin place, anytime, anywhere, we should live differently in the face of it, because if we don’t, we miss some of the best moments that life with God has to offer us. These thin places are gifts, treasures, and they’re worth changing our lives for…A thin place is an opportunity to be more aware of the divine fingerprints all over this world, and Christmas is one invitation after another to do that.
This describes Christmas for me so perfectly. When all the lights are turned off in the church on Christmas Eve, the band plays or the choir sings Silent Night, and everyone holds their candle in the darkness, that is a thin place – a place where God’s presence feels so real, almost visible in the very air.
Bittersweet is a beautiful read, the kind of book I want to give to everyone I know. The best endorsement I can think of for this book is that I’ve already started reading Cold Tangerines, Niequist’s first book, which will undoubtedly be finished before 2014 comes to a close. Number twenty-one.