Earlier this year, an author I admire and have been reading for ages sent out a tweet that said, “I think @SarahBessey is doing some of the most important writing right now.” As someone who is obsessed with all things related to words and stories, this tweet was like sending out a bat signal: Important writing? Where? Who? I must find it. . .
And so I did. In the form of an advanced digital copy of Sarah Bessey’s latest book, which I assure you would be dog-eared at this point were it not housed within the confines of my beloved ipad. It’s called Out of Sorts: Making Peace With an Evolving Faith. After plowing through one chapter after the next, I couldn’t agree more. This book is important because it meets readers at their most crucial point -- the point where doubts, fears, uncertainties, and discomfort with their faith is growing difficult to bear.
If you have ever found yourself in that place, then you know there are any number of paths to travel down:
a) You can bury your fears in denial and pretend they don’t, or shouldn’t matter so much.
b) You can listen to other people’s interpretations and answers, even if they are simplistic and don’t feel right in your gut.
c) You can grow cynical and disillusioned by the church/God/religion.
d) You can dive straight in, admit every single feeling and frustration you’ve ever had, and trust the Holy Spirit might lead you on a journey -- maybe not towards every answer, but at least towards Him. And in the end, He may just be enough.
Option (d) is the one Bessey offers, and she does so with a voice that is both warm and gracious. “Really, it’s a book about not being afraid,” she explains in chapter 1. “This book is my way of leaving the light on for the ones who are wandering.” Wandering metaphorically, that is. Wandering in our minds and hearts in search of a faith we can actually live with. Not a faith that was forced on us, or that feels tired, murky, performance-based, or antiquated.
As a fellow wanderer, Sarah leads the way by telling her story first. She speaks openly about being a pastor’s wife who refused to go to church for many years. Who felt disillusioned and duped by the hypocrisy she’d experienced in certain religious gatherings, and who ultimately came to a place where she was aching “to be called again, to hear the voice of God again” because “the God [she] once knew was disappearing like steam on a mirror.”
Instead of being cast into the fiery pits of hell, as some of us might fear, and instead of walking farther away from the Christian church, her earnest seeking actually leads her back to it. Not only that, it leads her to know and recognize Jesus in a deeper and truer way. With every chapter she extends an invitation for readers to join her in the wandering. Between the lines, she calls out, See, if I can do it then so can you! You have permission.
Permission to trust your instincts if some dogmatic use of scripture feels a bit off. Permission to ask questions and redefine the concept of having “faith like a child” because the real “childlike quality” we are to embody “isn’t unthinking acquiescence: it’s curiosity.” Bessey continues, “the true wonder of childlike faith [is that children] truly want to know. They’re not asking to be cool or to push back on the establishment or to prove anyone wrong or to grind an ax or make a point without making a change.”
Much of the book is structured on the idea that our first task is to do a little spring cleaning. She invites readers to sort through their religious “basements” filled with experiences and beliefs and decide which ones to keep, and which to let go.
Indeed, a lot of her advice is about letting go. Letting go of our need for control, for answers, for black and white theology, and for needing to understanding and explain everything. Bessey writes, “I had to learn that taking the Bible seriously doesn’t mean taking everything literally. I had to learn to read the whole Bible through the lens of Jesus, and I had to learn to stop making it something it wasn’t -- a glorified answer book or rule book or magic spell. I had to stop trying to reduce the Bible to something I could tame or wield as a tool.”
At this point you may be wondering: Whos is this Sarah Bessey to be granting everyone permission to partake of such liberties?
Answer: She is just an average woman.
Yes, she has written previous best-selling books, like Jesus Feminist, yes her husband was a pastor for many years, and yes, she is more read and researched than I believe she gives herself credit for. But in the end, she is simply a woman sharing her story and speaking her truth in the most honest way she knows how. And when I read her words, the Spirit inside of me smiles in agreement and feels challenged, empowered and free.
Maybe that’s what this book is really about: the permission to be free. God gives us that permission any time we want, but sometimes we just need someone like Sarah Bessey to point it out and to guide us to a place where we can dwell in and live out of that freedom each and every day.
Sarah Bessey is the author of Jesus Feminist, an award-winning blogger at SarahBessey.com, and a passionate advocate for global women’s issues. She partners with the Help One Now ministry in Haiti and lives in Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada, with her husband, Brian, and their three children.