good girls need [a lot of] grace, too

I’m in the middle of a book called Grace for the Good Girl by Emily P. Freeman. The subtitle is “letting go of the try-hard life.”

Let me tell you: this book resonates with me. I grew up “good.” I had a happy family life, PG-rated at most. I fell in with a sheltered crowd in high school and, as a homeschooler, I didn’t deal with the issues or temptations I would have faced at public school. As a teen, I never really rebelled against my parents.

In the book, Freeman writes:

This innate desire to be good indeed protected me from a lot of heartache and baggage. It protected me from teenage pregnancy and bad grades and jail. But it did not bring me any greater understanding of God. It did not protect me from my own impossible expectations (p. 26).

I don’t regret the happiness of my childhood. I do regret how I’ve felt about it.

I’ve been proud of it. I’ve been proud of myself for being “good,” for staying out of trouble, making decent decisions, and avoiding pitfalls. I’ve been proud of a “goodness” that wasn’t mine, that was soured at its core by pride.

This book, along with other things, is helping me see myself and my life in a new way. Although I’ve embraced grace already, I am beginning to understand it in a deeper way. I’ve tended to fall, again and again, into thinking that I have to work to become Christlike.

When we believe that God expects us to try hard to become who Jesus wants us to be, we will live in that blurry, frustrating land of Should Be rather than trust in The One Who Is. We will do whatever we believe it takes to please God rather than receive the acceptance that has already been given. We will perform to live up to what we believe his expectation is of us rather than expectantly wait on him (Freeman p. 32).

“…The acceptance that has already been given.” Yes. It’s done. God accepts me through Jesus Christ, and adding my own “good works” done with my own two hands to win his approval just doesn’t do anything for him. He is decidedly unimpressed by my attempts to impress.

What does that mean? That there’s no work involved? I should be free to do whatever I want, chasing my personal pleasures, because I’m secure in his grace?

No. There’s work involved. But it’s not my work; it’s his. It has to be – all his, or no good will come of it. Yes, I’m free to do what I want, to chase after the attractive butterflies of personal fulfillment. He won’t reject me…He never does. I’m the one who runs away. Always.

I’m learning a better way. I let him do his thing. Let him work inside me, even when I don’t understand what is going on. When I let go, he can live through me.

…Service is an act of faith. It isn’t me doing work for God, but it is me trusting God to do the work in me. That is what Mary [mother of Christ] did. She believed the angel, and then she offered herself as a servant. She didn’t pull herself up and get to work. Instead, she ran to her cousin Elizabeth and began to sing. Worship, not work, flows out of the hearts of those who believe (Freeman p. 63).

What a relief. I don’t have to perform for God. He isn’t scrutinizing my every action and decision. He tells me the truth about myself because he wants to heal me, but always extends his hand simultaneously to remind me that I’m accepted. I am loved.

Anything we do to get life and identity outside of Christ is an idol, even service to Christ. He doesn’t want my service. He wants me. And from that life-giving relationship, “streams of living water will flow from within” (John 7:38 NIV) (Freeman p. 65).



A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant SocietyA Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society by Eugene H. Peterson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is phenomenal. Perhaps it came at exactly the right moment in my faith and my appreciation for artistic writing style, but I loved it and would now rate it as one of my top 5 favorite books ever. Peterson writes beautifully, and with clarity, using the Psalms of Ascent as springboards to discuss aspects of long-term discipleship. The result is an honest assessment of the joys and tribulations of a walk with Christ. He does not candy-coat the faith or make apologies for sin, but instead communicates truth in such a lovely way that I couldn’t stop copying quotations into my journal. It shocked me to read, in the afterword, that this book was rejected by thirteen publishers on the claim that it was “not relevant to the church in North America today.” I beg to differ: it is precisely what we lackadaisical, feel-good Christians need to read, and to know, to find the deeper peace that comes with knowing God in a way that is true. I loved this book and will read it again, probably soon.

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Give Me the World Give Me the World by Leila Hadley

My review

rating: 5 of 5 stars
Since I can’t give this book 4.5 stars, I rounded it up to five. This is the travelogue of Leila Hadley, a 25-year-old who embarks on a journey around the world via plane, train, and (mostly) sailing vessel, with her small son in tow. She does this in the 1950s, when such an action raises eyebrows. But throughout the book it’s clear Hadley does not mind what people think of her. She’s spunky, but she has limits.

The appeal of this book, for me, lies not with Hadley as an individual but with her capability as a writer. She is brilliant. Her descriptions of India, of the Middle East, of Greece, and of sailing for months on a schooner with four scruffy Americans — all are astonishing in their clarity and beauty. More than almost any other author I’ve read, Hadley painted complete pictures in my mind. I feel like I went along for the ride and emerged, at the other end of her book, with my own vivid memories of the streets of Bombay and the ruins at Rhodes. Travelers or not, everyone should taste Hadley’s prose: it’s like eating a slice of literary cheesecake.

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book reviews

On Keeping a Journal Leaving a Trace: On Keeping a Journal by Alexandra Johnson

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
I found this book very inspiring. Those of us who love the idea of journal keeping but have a hard time with consistency will enjoy Johnson’s lavish descriptions of stationery shops and various types of journals, not to mention her numerous ideas and prompts to help you unlock creativity and start writing. She writes a book whose main premise is to sing the praises of keeping a journal, asserting that those who do are “leaving a trace” not only for the next generation, but for themselves. Johnson highlights the ways in which journal keeping assists in self-understanding. Not only is writing a therapeutic exercise, but it preserves your thoughts and impressions in a way that’s impossible through means such as photography, videos, or mere memory. Journals preserve what you felt and what you thought, not merely what you saw.

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Discovering the Lost Virtue A Return to Modesty: Discovering the Lost Virtue by Wendy Shalit

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
This book is excellent. I love the way Shalit confronts liberal ideologies about sex and turns them inside-out, exposing the destructiveness of our culture’s “anything goes” mindset. Every woman who has grown up in the last 30 years should read this book. Even those of us who were raised in a protected subculture (in my case, homeschooling) can glean a lot from Shalit’s exposure of the social norms in public schools (I never encountered the peer pressures she and many others faced). More importantly, this book helped me understand why there seems to be no dating culture outside of religious subcultures, and why the “free love” touted by 1960s feminists is anything but “free”: on the contrary, it comes with the side effects of rampant divorce, abuse, abandonment, and emotional pain.

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