Bittersweet by Shaua Niequist


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Bittersweet: Thoughts on change, grace, and learning the hard way by Shauna Niequist was really quite moving. It's a series of semi-autobiographical/motivational chapters that touch on pain and the beauty we can find in it. Shauna is quite the artist, I found, given the way she takes experiences of brokenness that are common to many of us, sketching in honest detail why they hurt us so much, and then lingering on the way pain and death intertwine with beauty and new life. Imagine a painting of a flower pot that's been knocked over by some kind of turbulence, and is now laying on its side amidst scattered shards and soil. Looking more closely, you notice that the flower has managed to take root and even flourish where it had spilled onto the ground. That's pretty much how this book has impacted me.

Shauna has an honest, down-to-earth way of sharing her own stories about heartache, loss, and troubles that resonate with many of us. There's lots to relate to in this book: The pain of losing a child, the sorrow of losing a grandparent, the difficuly of keeping a marriage healthy during hard times, the loneliness one feels when friends and acquaintances remain silent and distant during your time of grief. But there's plenty of fun and light-hearted stuff in here too: Shauna draws the reader in with meaningful, well-written stories, and unique insights on the joys of cooking, traveling, weddings, and quality time with friends and family.

It's definitely a book for women, as it deals a lot with issues around motherhood, female friendships, and "crying in the bathroom." However, some of the chapters are great for men too. I've had moments where I just *had* to show my brother, my husband, and my uncle a chapter or two. And once they start the first few sentences they're usually hooked until the end. Of course, the point isn't that they got hooked on the chapters, but that the book has an enjoyable way of revealing truths about common life stages and experiences that stay with the reader long after the book has been shelved.

One of my favourite chapters is called "Things I don't do" about having boundaries on our personal time, and getting a healthier perspective on our priorities in life. It's one thing for me to describe this chapter to you, though, and quite another to read it. I'll post excerpts of Shauna's book here on my blog in the near future to show you what I mean about her refreshing insights and writing style.

If I had one concern, it would be her take on theology and her critique of theologians. She's a pastor's kid, as am I, so I would have expected her to have a more nuanced and sophisticated view of the Gospel and the people who teach it to us. Her perspective sounds a lot like the disdain for theology I heard from members of a former church I attended, and I'm concerned that a growing number of Christians--who are understandably disillusioned with dogmatic, fundamentalist-style Christianity--are throwing out the baby with the bathwater when it comes to regarding God's Word and the people He has gifted as teachers with value and respect. This chapter appears near the end of the book, so it didn't affect my experience of the rest of her thoughts, which was good. I'll post more about this in the future as well. But this is the only reason I can't give the book a perfect rating, as much as I would have liked to.

So I give it four out of five stars. If you can find a copy, I definitely recommend reading it at least once. As for me, I'll be re-reading Bittersweet many times over.

A special request: I'd be Shauna's first customer if she were to publish her tips on dining and entertaining, along with recipes for the many fabulous dishes she describes in Bittersweet. They all sounded so delectably irresistible!

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I want to express my sincere thanks to Zondervan for the opportunity to review Bittersweet. I received a complimentary copy of this book from Zondervan in exchange for writing a review, and I was free to express my honest impressions of the book, whether positive or negative.

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