Thoughts on "Bittersweet"

I remember reading somewhere that a good, thought-provoking book can change you. That it can make you into a new, different person who carries the lessons and thoughts from the author the rest of your life. I never really understood this concept until I read two books by Shauna Niequist. First, Cold Tangerines and then, because I couldn't get enough of her rawness, honesty, and thought-churning brilliance, Bittersweet. I just finished the latter and I already want to drive straight to the bookstore to purchase her newly released book, Savor.

Very few thing in this day and age connect with me and spur me to truly think- to sit with my thoughts and consider ideas and feelings both new and old. Ever since I graduated college (with an English degree- hello) I've, embarrassingly, read very few books. For those few years reading took on the persona of obligation, achievement, and something that kept me from what I really wanted to be doing (aka hanging out with my friends, vegging out watching ABC Family, eating frozen yogurt until my stomach hurt- totally things that would help me grow as a person #lol). These days, since I work in social media, I look at a screen more than anything else. I thought I would be so happy to be rid of reading lists full of books that literally made my brain hurt to try and comprehend, but I'm now realizing what a luxury that was and how much I miss it. To be told to read books that creep into your consciousness and change the way you view the world- what a gift. If you're in college, please appreciate this phase of your life!

These days I (shamefully) spend time that I could (should) be reading, looking at a screen. I work, exercise, come home and pretty much turn off my brain until I go to sleep. Rise, repeat, over and over. But that's not the way I want to live my life. I don't want it to be a fog of emails and social media and sitting in front of the tv. I want it to be full of thought and growth and change. In the past month I've read more than I have in a year, and I think I have summer to thank for that. I've always seen summer as the time of reading "for fun" as cliché as that sounds. In the last 10 years, laying on the beach or by the pool, I've read thousands of pages of light, fluffy, generally unchallenging prose. But in two books, less than 800 pages between them, I've learned more about the world, God, life, love, pain, beauty, and myself than all of those other books put together. And I'm so, so thankful.

Shauna is phenomenal in a completely different way than one would expect of a brilliant writer. She isn't reaching for the most glamorous, dramatic, page-turning stories or ideas. She's taking life- real, meaty, messed up human life- and explaining it in a way that's more poignant than anything I've ever read by an obscure scholar, prize-winning author, or celebrated professor. During/after reading her books my brain is a flurry of activity and thought and my heart is full and swirling with newly inspired/tilled up emotion. It brings me back to who I am and challenges me to think about how I'm living and who I'm becoming. We're kindred spirits, Shauna and I. We're both former English majors who love to read and write. We love celebrations, holidays, and traditions; being the one to create situations that make other people happy. We like to be the entertainers, leaders, problem-solvers, and smile generators. We love community and gathering everyone around one another in genuine fellowship.

Yet her books also taught me that even though our personalities are hardwired to cultivate/celebrate the happy things of life- we have to realize that everything can't and won't always be sunshine and smiles. I have a hard time settling into unpleasant feeling and less than ideal situations. I like to gloss over the hard stuff, push it to the back of my mind, and focus on things that make me happy, things I can "control". I like to be the one who changes the subject when things get tense/sad/emotional. I like to think I can help steer the ship and avoid pain, both for myself and others, by shutting down topics that I know will generate less than positive feelings. I don't like to sit in uncomfortable feelings and have difficult conversations- but then again who does? On some level I'd rather put a peppy pink bandaid over the situation than do the work to actually bind up the wound. I thought this was a fine way to go about life until reading her books- Bittersweet in particular. Her words and thoughts completely moved me and I'm forever changed and better for it. I'm more real and honest with myself. More in touch with my actual feelings rather than ignoring the hard stuff in favor of the happy/easy. I feel more like myself and nothing like myself at the same time. That's what brilliant writing does.

This year out of college has made me realize that life is a journey that's not straight or simple. It's completely different than the way you exist for the first 22 years of your life, moving from grade to grade, working toward the next goal. You don't always move from one expected milestone to the next; you don't get to continually check off the next item on your life "to-do" list. But I'm also realizing and appreciating that, even though it would be easier that way, I don't want to/expect to live a perfect, perpetually unchallenging life at all. I fully realize that the journey will be great and hard, soul-filling and soul-crushing, light and dark. I've lived through some of the dark times already- I've experienced the sting of failures and pain and loss. But I've also experienced the joy and fun and lightness that can spring up in the next moment. Of course it would be wonderful for everyone to never be sad or uncomfortable or in pain, but that isn't why we're on earth. Without pain we wouldn't be able to recognize joy. And I'm thankful for that. I know that life isn't perfect or free from pain and sorrow, but it isn't supposed to be- that's what Heaven is for.

I'm grateful in the deepest level of my soul to know that God is with us, holding us, comforting us in each and every dark time. He is most present and real in the lowest and hardest of times. When the family member is lost, when a murderer harms innocent people, when an unexpected diagnosis occurs- God shines brightest. It's when the merry train of life, that usually chugs along without any major problem, comes to a sudden halt that He is most present.

Shauna put words to my feelings and opened my eyes to an entirely new way of thinking and living and I'm so, so grateful to her for being brave enough to share her stories in a raw way. Reading her books isn't easy. Her challenging words churn up the hard stuff that I usually ignore; her truths about life force me to lay it all out on the table and work through the things I've pushed away. What a gift. I pray that I have the courage to do the same- to openly share my stories in a way that makes people think and draw closer to God. Shauna- you're great. Please never stop writing and sharing your voice with the world!

-Lanie W.


  1. YES YES YES loooooove this post Lanie! I 100% agree! I used to love reading for fun, and still do, but now I've realized the books I've been reading aren't really full of substance. They're light and fun and entertaining, but I don't necessarily think I've grown from reading them. Will definitely put Bittersweet on my list!

    1. Thank babes, love love you! Can't wait to see you (+ your presh apartment) tomorrow for JT! xoxoxo


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