My librarian recommended this book to me. Then I went home and realized I already had it on my shelf. A friend had gifted it to me the week before.
I love diving into books that I know others are reading. I feel a sense of community building. I know I’ll have an opportunity to discuss my thoughts with others. And I assume that what I’m about to read holds some kind of universal quality that speaks to many kinds of people.
There are many “church” books on my blog this month. Some of you will be into that. Some of you will skim the titles and avert your eyes. But if you have ever wondered what God has to do with everyday life, please consider picking up Warren’s book. In it, she pairs eleven ordinary daily actions with a spiritual meaning. From waking, making the bed, brushing teeth, losing keys and eating leftovers to fighting with her husband, checking email, sitting in traffic, calling a friend, drinking tea and finally, sleeping, she gives meaning to some of the moments in our day that we might feel aren’t worthy of notice or are frustrating or are self-indulgent. She elevates these moments to shed light on how God sees us, and how we can better see God.
I took notes, and I pulled out so many quotes that I might as well have copied and pasted the entire book.
Near the beginning, she quotes Annie Dillard, saying,
“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” (23)
As I let Warren lead me through her day, I reflected on how my own life compared, where my worries were similar, where I could reach out to trust God more. Among other things, Warren made me feel better about being a person who likes ritual. I appreciated her reasons for accepting the limits of my body. She convinced me that not only should I get sufficient sleep, I should celebrate it!
I recommend this book for self-reflection, but if you’re in a situation where you can discuss in a small group, there’s a section at the back called “discussion questions and practices” where you and your friends and prayer partners can dive in deeper and really savor each chapter.
What do I want to remember from her teaching?
First, Warren reminds us that each morning, as our minds awaken slowly at first and then switch to hyperdrive as we consider expectations for the day, just as God was pleased with Jesus at his baptism before he began his ministry, we also begin beloved by God. I appreciated the way she interprets the act of making the bed as a small, repetitive way of restoring order, similar to God speaking creation and setting things up, noting that the “work of repentance and faith is daily and repetitive” (35).
In chapter four when she misplaces her keys, she details falling into the rabbit hole of psychological reactions. I could trace my own reactions (and feel as terrible about them) in parallel to hers as she described: logic, self-condemnation, vexation, desperation, last-ditch (prayer), despair, and then repeat. It’s a simple and yet profound picture of how we need to repent and ask for grace daily in order to practice contentment. Since I fell in love with Rich Mullins’ music as a teenager, I feel a nostalgic closeness to others who know or quote him, as Warren does in this chapter:
“Rich Mullins, one of my favorite writers and musicians, said that when he was a kid he’d walk down the church aisle and be “born again again” or “rededicate” his life to Christ every year at camp. In college he’d do it about every six months, then quarterly; by the time he was in his forties it was “about four times a day.” (56-7) (Originally quoted from a concert in Lufkin, Texas, in July 1997.)
She continues: “Repentance is not usually a moment wrought in high drama. It is the steady drumbeat of a life in Christ and, therefore, a day in Christ.” (57)
In chapter six, as Warren details a fight with her husband, she reminds us all too clearly that we mess up all the time, especially with those closest to us.
“We are quarreling people, but God is reforming us to be people who, through our ordinary moments, establish his kingdom of peace. Believing this is an act of faith. It takes faith to believe that our little, frail faithfulness can produce fruit. It takes faith to believe that laying down my sword in my kitchen has anything to do with cosmic peace on earth. And it takes faith to believe that God is making us into people -- slowly, through repentance -- who are capable of saying to the world through our lives, “Peace of Christ to you.” (87, italics mine)
That’s a long quote, but I share it because recently as I was settling a sibling squabble (or attempting to), one of my children didn’t want to apologize to another. In their stubbornness, both children remained angry and separated for a good stretch of the afternoon. Time moved on and they separately and silently agreed to put it behind them without a proper “peace walk” of any kind (which I wrote about in an earlier blog about our Church Family Retreat from last winter). They skipped a step. And I worried it would build resentment.
But before that, when my child was stuck in stubbornness, I suggested to that child that this was why there was war in the world. Perhaps it seemed like an outlandish leap. But on the other hand, my child could sense how badly one can want to hang onto the feeling of self-righteousness. My child understood how difficult it can be to admit wrong and ask for forgiveness.
The day moves on, and in chapter seven, the author checks her email. As she does she points out a revolutionary idea birthed in the Reformation -- that our work is blessed. “The idea that all good work is holy work was revolutionary.” (90) Specifically, we don’t have to be priests to honor God. We can honor him with the work in front of us -- even if it happens to be cleaning some heavily soiled laundry. I remember my pastor describing a friend of his who worked for many years at IBM...until he lost his job during their first-ever round of layoffs. Taking IBM's severance package, he changed paths and dedicated himself to young men's ministry.* While he was still fairly young, he was killed in an accident. My pastor was one of the young men influenced by his love for God and God's people and could describe first hand his amazement at the 700+ people who attended his memorial service, many from his work in ministry.
*This paragraph is corrected from its original content: I had remembered this story from an old sermon and had mistakenly thought that this friend's service to his co-workers at IBM was what led to the large attendance at his memorial service. My pastor used this example during his sermon just this week (8/4/19) and refreshed my memory. I have to believe that if this man was so influential in young adult ministry, he probably also had a presence at IBM. I believe his work at IBM was not wasted but played a part in God's role for him.
When Warren calls her friend to discuss her day, I remembered my own Christian friends who pray with me and for me and work with me as members of the body of Christ.
I loved that as she drinks tea in chapter ten, she points out that coffee was a Christian invention:
“The church has a reputation for being antipleasure...In reality, the church has led the way in the art of enjoyment and pleasure. New Testament scholar Ben Witherington points out that it was the church, not Starbucks, that created coffee culture. Coffee was first invented by Ethiopian monks -- the term cappuccino refers to the shade of brown used for the habits of the Capuchin monks of Italy. Coffee is born out of extravagance, an extravagant God who formed an extravagant people, who formed a craft out of the pleasures of roasted beans and frothed milk.” (131)
As I drink my tea and write this post I too celebrate with the psalmist who “enjoins us to taste and see that the Lord is good” (128).
I skipped a few chapters in my review here. I’ll let you go back and fill in the gaps, and figure out what I left out...and how it might reveal where I need more discernment and patience in my day. But if I could highlight one last passage…
We know that sleep is a biological necessity, but I love how Warren points out God’s intention in his design. “In Jewish culture, days begin in the evening with the setting of the sun” (150). But, “though the day begins in darkness, God is still at work, growing crops, healing wounds, giving rest, protecting, guarding, mending, redeeming” (151).
And how can we respond to God’s gift of sleep?
“Each night when we yield to sleep, we practice letting go of our reliance on self-effort and abiding in the good grace of our Creator. Thus embracing sleep is not only a confession of our limits; it is also a joyful confession of God’s limitless care for us. For Christians, the act of ceasing and relaxing into sleep is an act of reliance on God.” (152, italics mine)
That perspective sure makes me feel better about enjoying a good night’s rest!
Read Warren’s book. Learn to look for God in your peanut butter and jelly sandwich. And then curl up to rest and delight in his protection and love.
Here you will find a catalog of my writing and reflections.