I got mad at Shauna Niequist once.
I read her book Bittersweet, and I expected it to fix me.
I was so broken, so hurting, so full of bitterness and pain and I didn’t know what to do with any of it.
And this book called Bittersweet, with its subtitle of “Thoughts on Change, Grace, and Learning the Hard Way,” seemed to be just what I needed. I needed help with all those things.
Yet it did not fix me.
For rational people, this makes sense. They’re words on a page–ink arranged into letters and letters into words and words into sentences–and on their own, they hold no power. But I’m not always a rational person, and I looked to that book for healing like small children look to Band-Aids. To not find it there left me disappointed, saddened, and yes–a little mad.
But of course, it is not a book’s job to fix me.
It would be lovely if they could, though. The problem is, when I find something in myself I know is a little broken, a little jagged-edged, a little not quite right, I want something tangible I can do to make it better, and I want it quickly.
I want to read those pages and feel the edges of my hurt begin to close.
The only real way to fixing is through living, though.
Not that books are bad or that they can’t help in the healing process. It is so, so good to know we are not alone, to find that other people have sat where we have sat and had a hard time getting up too, to see the ways we may begin to put ourselves back together.
In Bittersweet, Shauna writes about her miscarriage and the longing and the sadness of What Might Have Been. While I don’t know the particulars of that kind of grief, I think we all know what it feels like to have things not turn out the way we had hoped, for whatever reason those hopes might have been taken away from us or never given in the first place.
But for today, for a minute, it’s not all right. I understand that God is sovereign, that bodies are fragile and fallible. I understand that grief mellows over time, and that guarantees aren’t part of human life, as much as we’d like them to be. But on this day…I’m crying just a little for what might have been. (page 110)
Those words don’t fix the pain of what might have been, but I’m becoming more okay with that.
Since that time I got mad at Shauna Niequist, I’ve learned I can read and take the stories and words for the gifts they have to offer, without expecting them to hold everything. As much as I’d like them to, these two-dimensional words will not, cannot, mend the very three-dimensional reality of my actual life.
They can help me know I’m not alone, they may point me in a direction that can bring healing—but they cannot heal by themselves. No book can handle that much pressure.
Instead, as I’m learning with many areas of life, sometimes the only way out is through.
Til next time…
p.s. How have books helped you?