For so much of my life I have been able to love God and serve him through activity and achievement – teaching the Bible, pastoring struggling believers, helping the seekers. When I became ill and housebound, I could no longer connect with God in those ways. Truthfully, I don’t think I have yet fully discovered a new spiritual love language, but at the moment I am drawn to things that I would previously have run a mile from: monastic ways, contemplative prayer. This is why I wanted to read Micha Boyett’s book, Found, about a mother discovering the rule of St Benedict and everyday prayer.
I have been hungry for this book. I wanted her to tell me how to do it, how to ‘do’ Benedictine prayer, so I could reconnect with God. But this is not a ‘how to’ book. It is a story of exploration and discovery. Found is a story of searching for God in the middle of the ordinary.
Micha describes how she grew up, like me, as a high achiever willing to sacrifice everything for the gospel. Like me, she thought she was on her way to Africa to become a single missionary (which, as every good evangelical knows, is the ‘highest’ calling). But it didn’t work out like that – instead, she found herself happily married, in the noisy and cramped centre of San Francisco, at home, looking after a baby. She confesses that in this time “I lost prayer”, and so she visited a Benedictine monastery to learn from them.
She observed that a monk’s life is actually very similar to a stay-at-home mother’s life, and explores what it means to live contemplatively, not frantically, with the monasterial values of ‘humility, stability and conversion’.
Here were the three things I loved about it:
There is always a danger in Christian books that the author comes across as the Superior Christian, the person who has discovered holiness, or prayerfulness, or whatever. But Micha is honest about her insecurities, her daily struggles and frustrations, even her desire to be great rather than humble:
“I long to rescue the crushed of this world. I want to do something great, not just live the same life as every homemaker in America”.
Like me, Micha was formerly in full-time Christian ministry (as a youth pastor), but now she is at home as a Mum. This is a mind-battle I face on a regular basis: do I love what I can do for Jesus more than I love Jesus? Do I make an idol of ministry (even when I can no longer do the ministry I used to?) Micha acknowledges this:
“I used to pray things like “Wherever you send me, I’ll go!” And then God sent me to Syracuse instead of Africa, to the city instead of the suburbs, into humility instead of impressiveness.”
Adapting to this new life is a huge change of identity, like a shedding of skin:
“I was shedding myself. I was shedding a grand idea of myself. I was being humbled, made smaller…I was like a snake: its eyes always peel off first.”
For the past three years, this has been my experience, too. I have been shedding that old identity that I was so fond of: Bible teacher, pastor. I have also had to shed the new identity I was ashamed of: disabled, housebound, weak.
It is a scary and wonderful thing to stand before God, naked, just as you are, with no labels, whether they’re positive or negative. This book helped me to stand again in front of God, naked, without labels. And it was both scary and wonderful.
- Making the ordinary beautiful
“Can I believe that God loves the ordinary? That God loves the ordinary in me? I’ve spent so much of my life valuing the radical above the ordinary. The most important jobs were the ones with eternal significance…”
This is the question underlying the whole book – does God love the ordinary?
I want to take a moment to talk about Micha’s writing style. Her writing isn’t the dazzling-fireworks kind, or flowery and convoluted; it flows gently and naturally, and every so often there’s an unexpected nugget of poetry (e.g. “the onionskin pages of scripture”).
It is not the kind of memoir where dramatic things happen, but it is utterly engaging and beautiful to read, and we experience her gradual inner transformation.
That’s when it struck me: her writing reflects her content. She is writing a book about how God values even the mundane parts of our lives, and makes the ordinary beautiful. Her writing does the same: it makes the ordinary beautiful.
- Kindness, gentleness, Jesus-ness
There are books that tell you how to do or be, but this isn’t one of those. Micha tells the truth so that it comes in sideways, as though a good friend is beside you holding your hand. This book is subtle and gentle, and Micha’s kindness shines though. There is space for weakness, doubt, insecurity. This book is balm for the spiritually weary:
“…there is room for both at the same time: the doubt and the belief, the disappointment and the acceptance.”
There was one part particularly (look out for ‘you are not the horse’) where it hit me in the solar plexus and I just had to stop and pray. (It is rare that a book makes me stop and pray). Jesus – and especially the kindness and gentleness of Jesus – came through these pages to me. I found myself weeping at the unexpected goodness and sweetness of God.
This quote is pretty much what happened to me when I read it:
“And there, between my ribs, in the empty God-scooped place, I invite Jesus, the champion of the weak-willed and beaten-down, to make me whole.”
This is a book about the battle of perfectionism, a book about prayer, and a book about searching for God and discovering He has already found you. Above all, I felt the gentle touch of Jesus through her words: I can think of no better way to commend this book to you.
“All I wanted was to find prayer. In reality, God was finding me, here, in my everyday. I was being found.”
(Disclosure: I was given an advanced review copy in exchange for my honest review, which this is. I have also now preordered two copies for friends…)
Micha Boyett writes wise things at Michaboyett.com. USA – get your copy of Found from Amazon.com now. UK – preorder (releases next week, 1 April) from Amazon.co.uk.
**NB contains Amazon affiliate links – this means if you click through to Amazon from any of the links on my site, and buy anything at all from Amazon, Amazon reward me with some pennies, at no extra cost to you! How good is that?? **
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I keep coming back to this post ant the thought of shedding our identities. I have shed some of my identities and some have been knocked off me pretty hard. Sometimes I wonder what is left and should I be shedding more. What do people see when they look at me? I don’t know. What should they see? I would think I should endeavor that in some way they would see Jesus by my actions.
‘Some have been knocked off me’ – yes, I know that one!
‘What do people see when they look at me?’ – I see kindness, compassion, gentleness. Those hints sound pretty Jesus-y to me 🙂
Oh, Tanya. This is just gloriously spot on. Thank you so much.
Thank you so much! – and for making sure that Micha saw it. That was kind of you. 🙂
I just wonder if you would have had (or taken!) the time to write soooo beautifully if you had lived the life you expected to. I, too, thought I might go to Africa, had some unexpected and challenging detours, and instead (in my 50s!) see my life unfolded as I think it was meant to–in diabetes education in small city, urban (ok, Flint, Michigan the so-called murder capital of the US) America, where I have been ministered to as much as I have ministered to my patients. I guess we have taught each other about living the everyday. People who have suffered, yet hang on to God for dear life, are the dearest!
You have a gift, and bless you for sharing it with us. (I think Micha’s book is probably excellent, by the way, but what always stands out to me is Christ in you, the hope of glory.
Thank you so much for these lovely encouraging words. I’m treasuring them. And so cool to hear how your life panned out. (I wonder how many other wannabe missionaries there are!)
This sounds like something I need to read.
Good, good! 🙂
As always Tanya, beautifully honest and strikingly similar to my situation in relation to where I am at with God. I too have worshipped and served a God through ‘activity and achievement’ but now I do not have the energy too. So how do I serve and show God love now?! A question which focuses and fades within the spectrum of my thoughts on a regular basis, especially when one is training to be a vicar.
Benedictine spirituality is one which has struck me with keen interest and following your review I may well, at some point, pick this book up and prayerfully work through the wisdom of it’s pages. Thank you.
It’s really interesting how parallel our situations are! Although it’s tough working these things through while you’re in training, in some ways it’s probably also the best place to do it. I hope you are able to find new ways to connect with God.
Thanks, and yes indeed God has an intestersting way of drawing parallels, sometimes in the most unlikely of places and ways.
There are a few of us at college who think God is raising up more and more leaders who have a new perspective on what it means to be truly vulnerable. In culture which dictates time in money rather than emphasising other key aspects of being the church has also bought into this. I think it’s time for a culture change, don’t you?
That’s really interesting. I am a big fan of vulnerability and integrity in leadership (as I hope you can tell from my writing…) Have you read any of Brene Brown? Everyone is talking about her. She has done studies on vulnerability and being authentic and she has written two books and done a TED talk. I have one of her books. It is on my bookshelf. I am hoping it will enter my head by osmosis.
Ah, I have many books like that. Yes, she is amazing, I have seen her TED talk and plan on quoting it in my essay… I haven’t read any of her books though. Which one do you have?
And indeed I observe your vulnerability and integrity in leadership in and through your blog. It is one of the things which attracts me to reading it. I think in being vulnerable and integral we enable other to do the same, at least I find I am prompted to be more vulnerable and integral after reading your blog and it has inspired me to start being more open and actually allowing people access to my thoughts.
I have Daring Greatly.
And thank you SO SO much for saying you observe my vulnerability and integrity in leadership through my blog. This is something I always long for: it is humbling and precious that you see it in me. Thank you.
this sounds up my street,sounds very good and refreshing
Yay! I’m glad.