In my normal, mother-with-three-kids-at-the-library style, I browsed the newly arrived fiction shelves near the kid’s room. I didn’t recognize any authors right away, so I picked up one that had a pretty cover. I was about to put it back down when the author’s bio caught my eye.
“Sharon Garlough Brown holds an M. Div. from Princeton Theological Seminary…”
“…and is a pastor and spiritual director with the Evangelical Covenant Church…”
Sold! My Dad is a pastor with the same denomination and I have attended their churches all throughout childhood, and young adulthood. I knew it would at least be theologically sound, so I tossed it in my bag.
Later that afternoon, I started to read, and I could not put it down! I kid you not, I have three children, and I was reading while they ate breakfast, while they played outside, as they got dressed. I even read as my husband watched Warriors play off basketball one night. Not only was the book a page-turner, it was a spiritual journey that challenged me and the way I spend my time. I could relate in some way to each character and the struggles they overcame as the story progressed.
The book follows four women from totally different walks of life that attend a seminar on Spiritual Formation at a retreat center. They meet every other Saturday for the six weeks of class, and the author fills in the spaces between the classes. Each lady is challenged every week to be or do something out of their comfort zone.
The ladies are a pastor on sabbatical, an empty-nester/widow, a woman in a difficult marriage, and a graduate student. I could relate to each one of them on some level. The pastor on sabbatical doesn’t even know it, but she is tired, and worn out from ministry; she turned her relationship with God into serving him, and nothing else. The widow is on a journey to discovering who she is without being a wife, or a mother. The woman in a difficult marriage has a rough start to adulthood and is struggling to live her Christian life in a marriage where her husband doesn’t believe. And the graduate student is figuring out what it’s like to follow God with her heart, and not just with her head.
As I read, I was challenged to really look at the way I interact with the Lord. These ladies spent lots of deep, thoughtful time with the Lord, and he spoke to them so often, and so deeply. I know I have young kids, and time is not something I have a lot of, but it made me think about how I use the time that I have. At one of the spiritual formation classes, the director gave them an exercise called “Lectio Devina.” I have done this before in the past at church retreats, but seeing it through the eyes of these women gave me a new appreciation for it, and a push to read my bible differently. You take one short passage, and read it through slowly a few times; you can even use just one verse. You wait until something jumps out at you, and then you spend time meditating and journaling about that one word or phrase. The Lord can speak to you in wondrous ways through this process because you are giving him time and space to speak: two things that I am so bad at giving him.
As you read through the book, the author gives instructions, through the spiritual reformation directors handouts, on deepening your relationship with Christ. And who couldn’t use more of that??
I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves stories that are told from varying perspectives, a la Jodi Piccoult. But also I recommend it to those of us that need a jumpstart, or renewal of our times with the Lord. I found it in these pages, and I hope you will, too.