Daddy’s Words – {guest post by Natalie Eastman}

Natalie and her family - 1976

Natalie and her family – 1976

The daddy-daughter relationship carries with it intricacies and particularities no other relationship does. Whether the dad is present or absent, the relationship holds serious gravity for the daughter’s personal development on all fronts: emotional, social, mental, relational, and spiritual.

In short, my dad was both present and absent on a number of different levels. A quiet man—very quiet—very slow to speak and quick not to judge, he shared precious few stories of his childhood. He shared no negative stories at all and preferred not to talk about his time in the army in France during WWII. I heard only positive stories of his upbringing. He preferred, in no uncertain terms, not to be “psychoanalyzed.” So, my attempts at simply learning more about him often came to naught. I could find no evidence that explained his quietude that extended beyond quietude—his emotional walls were a mile high.

In his admirable equanimity toward my brother and myself, he showed no preference for one over the other. A man of few words, he praised our accomplishments with supremely understated encouragement.

As a hard working engineer, and the son of a school principal who was the first of his farming family of ten children to attend college, Dad had an incredible work ethic, despite many career setbacks. He also prodded and pressed my brother and me to think.

One phrase, which he used repeatedly with us, because our whining provoked it, certainly rises to the fore, when considering words that have shaped who I am today:

“I’m not going to give you the answer. I want you to work it out for yourself.”

Ugh! How that phrase exasperated us!

Yet, I now find myself echoing it with some degree of regularity to my own kids, particularly my oldest who’s entering second grade and doing “actual” homework for the first time—homework he really has to think about to complete correctly.

“Just tell me the answer, Mommy!” he implores with the deadliest of gazes and the most frustrated of tones. I know that I know that I said the same thing to my dad in much the same manner, and probably worse.

Still, I persist, as did Dad, in figuring out new and different ways to help my son understand a concept or find a resource that will help him find the answer for himself.

My first book, Women, Leadership, and the Bible: How Do I Know What to Think? A Practical Guide to Biblical Interpretation came out two months ago. Well before Bronwyn ever asked me to write this article—years before I ever met Bronwyn through our writers guild—I wrote an acknowledgement to Dad in my book’s front matter:

“First thanks go to…Dad, who,
much to my childish dismay,
never merely ‘gave me the answer.’”

When Dad, for all those years, insisted that I work out an answer for myself, little did either he or I know that one day I would write a book to help women work out biblical answers for themselves. Never woulda thunk it. Now that very book is published and others are on their way. How timely is it that that Bronwyn should ask me to participate in this blog topic, words that formed us?

I’m blessed to have an opportunity to consider afresh the formative nature of those words spoken to me in helpfulness and love.

Dr Natalie Eastman, pictured here with her parents on the day she graduated with her PhD. Her father passed away the fall after seeing his daughter graduate.

Dr Natalie Eastman, pictured here with her parents on the day she graduated with her PhD. Her father passed away the fall after seeing his daughter graduate.

Dr. Natalie Wilson Eastman teaches and coaches women learning to discern answers to their biggest life questions, biblically and theologically. She received her Master of Divinity (’02) and Doctor of Ministry (’05) from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.

In 2001, she sensed the Lord’s leading to write in order to make her seminary education and training beneficial to and for women who may never go to seminary themselves, but who would love to if they could. Her first book, Women, Leadership, and the Bible: How Do I Know What to Believe? A Practical Guide to Biblical Interpretation, was published May 2014 by Wipf & Stock Publishers. She lives in Delaware, OH, with her professor-husband, David, and three young children, whom she not only loves, but she also really likes, even though she won’t just give them the answers.

To find our more about Natalie’s book and teaching ministry, visit natalieeastman.com or email her at info@NatalieEastman.c0m. You can also connect with her on Facebook or at www.womenleadershipbible.com. 

{p.s. note from Bronwyn: I have a copy of Natalie’s book awaiting my return to the US at the end of July which I am eager to dig into and find out for myself :-) You can expect a review from it on this blog in the next few months :-)}

 

She Dared Me – a guest post by Tifani Oaks

Friends: I am excited to introduce you to Tifani Oaks, who sent me this post as part of the Words That Changed my World series. I am so grateful she chose to share her story of daring greatly with us.

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Toward the end of my senior year of college, a very wise woman uttered something that turned my world upside-down. She charged me with a task of sorts: to some, it may have seemed simple; to others, it may have seemed almost second nature; but to me, it seemed impossible.

It was crazy. It was far outside my comfort zone. And it was risky.

There’s no way on earth I would actually consider it, I reasoned. She’s out of her mind if she really thinks I’m going to do something like that.

She doesn’t know me: she doesn’t know my story; she doesn’t know what I’ve been through.

And I was right. She didn’t. She didn’t know me at all.

In fact, I had met her just days before: she had humbly offered up her driving services to those of us college students who were interested in attending a book signing event in Palo Alto. And I, somewhat on a whim, had decided to join.

As we pulled out of the parking lot, I felt anxious—uncertain about whether my sudden burst of spontaneity was such a good idea after all.

But after spending no more than a couple of hours with her, squashed between children’s car seats and several mounds of Cheerio’s stashed strategically beneath the crevices of the back seat of her minivan, I found myself utterly drawn to her.

It wasn’t because of anything she said, really; it was just her: her passion, her wisdom, her demeanor.

So I shot her a rather lengthy message after the event, hoping my honest [albeit somewhat forward] words would elicit a favorable response.

The following evening, I found myself seated comfortably on her couch, surrounded by a trove of children’s toys, an expansive collection of coffee mugs, and an inexplicable feeling of warmth and acceptance.

There was a genuineness about her: a transparency that I longed to understand.

There in her living room, I began to share a piece of my story with her.

I told her about the breakup, about last summer, and about my honest desire to have and maintain spiritual friendships.

She sat quietly for a moment, as if she were taking everything in.

“I dare you…” she began.

My heart began to race. Never one to shy away from a challenge, I was eager to hear what she had to say.

“I dare you…to be vulnerable with them.”

My heart sank. I hadn’t anticipated that one.

Instead of the usual feelings of eagerness and zeal that would typically accompany the almost-immediate acceptance of such a challenge, her call to action was met only with silence and timidity.

With them? I thought. She was referring to the women in my Growth Group, or small-group Bible Study: the women I admired; the women I wanted to impress; the women with whom I longed to develop lasting relationships.

Impossible, I thought. I could never do that.

Sure, I could be vulnerable with her.

But that was in the safety of her home. She was an adult, a mother, a mentor.

She wasn’t a college student, a rival, a peer.

She had been through all of these things once before: she could provide me with insight and guidance, not judgment or rejection.

That was what they would offer me, I was certain—like the others before them.

It was easier to hide.

Easier to hide behind my walls of insecurity and self-doubt: behind perfect makeup and plastic smiles; behind red lipstick and inside jokes; behind sparkling shoes and busy schedules.

“I—I don’t know if I can do that,” I managed to stammer after several moments.

“I’m not forcing you to,” she responded. “Just mull it over—give it some thought.”

And “give it some thought” I did.

For the next 24 hours, doubts about what might await me if I accepted her challenge consumed me.

A million what ifs penetrated my thoughts: What if they hate me? What if they think I’m crazy? What if they don’t understand? What if… What if… What if…

So I prayed. And prayed. And prayed.

It took time and discipline. It took faith and hope. Most of all, it took trust—lots and lots of trust.

Every time a doubt entered my mind, I resolved to give it over, give it up, and trust [and beg and hope and plead] that God would know what to do with it.

And each time I relinquished these doubts, these fears, these anxieties, they were exchanged for peace: peace about my task, peace about my fears, peace about the outcome.

Because no matter how terrifying it seemed and no matter how insecure I felt, God was showing me that He was trustworthy and that He would be there every step of the way.

I wouldn’t be alone: I had a partner, a friend, a Savior.

It’s only been a few months since I accepted her challenge; but the benefits of accepting that challenge have been impressively, surprisingly, astonishingly rewarding.

I have never felt more free, more at peace, more at ease with who I am in Christ.

And I have never been more excited to begin so many new relationships.

Her challenge has truly sparked a desire within me to be real with people: to be open, honest, genuine.

Because my shortcomings, my failures, my misgivings do not define me; my identity is found in Him who is immutable, Him who is immovable. And he will be there through it all.

**********

photo-18As a recent graduate of UC Davis, Tifani spent the majority of her academic career in exploration: her interests are vast and diverse, making her decision to finally settle down in the philosophy department a difficult one. In her spare time, she enjoys spontaneous trips to the countryside and practicing yoga. She has a profound appreciation for hazelnut iced coffee, C.S. Lewis, and driving with the windows down. She will also never pass up an opportunity to dance or to talk about her Jesus of the Gospels.

My Love-Hate Relationship with the Word of God

Lesa Engelthaler is a fellow member of the Redbud Writers Guild, and her warmth and wisdom were apparent from the very first time we interacted on Facebook. When I got to meet her and her wonderful sister Beth in person earlier this year, I realized afresh – it really is possible to get a true impression of people online sometimes – for her warmth and wisdom overwhelmed me once again. I’m thrilled she’s sharing this today. Thanks, Lesa. And enjoy, friends!

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In junior high school I learned how to have a “quiet time” with God. I brought pen and paper with me to meet with Him. An English geek, in high school I diagramed the bible in my quiet time. I’d copy down a word I found intriguing then madly draw lines to other beautiful words discovered. I felt a kinship with the author of Psalm 119 who declared his love for the word of God, over and over again.

 “I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word.”

“I rejoice at your word like one who finds great spoil.”

“My tongue will sing of your word, for all your commandments are right.”

Into adulthood, my relationship with God continued through the written word. His words recorded in the Bible – it seemed just for me. Stories of misfits and screw-ups gave me hope. God’s sarcastic wit cracked me up. His blunt questions stripped my soul naked. A lovely turn of phrase or line of poetry took my breath away. In response, I wrote words, a lot of them, to God.

For years, my grown-up version of a quiet time was to plop down in the old chair in front of the window that looks out on to our backyard. After a few sips of coffee I’d open the bible and drink in its words of life to me.

Things Changed

“’Is not my word like fire,’ declares the Lord, ‘and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?’” – the Prophet Jeremiah

Not too long ago, things changed. I could hardly read the bible much less enjoy it. No words circled, mostly sighing.

For three years I went through an experience some describe as a “Dark Night of the Soul.” For me it meant that God said no to most of my requests and then went silent (not the quiet time one hopes for from the Almighty). During that horrific time I became uncomfortable reading God’s words.

At the beginning I continued to read the Bible. It was as much a part of my morning routine as looking at my face in the mirror. Unfortunately, rather than being life giving, the words were deadly. It added new meaning to the bible’s own description of itself, “the word of God is…sharper that any two-edged sword.” It pierced my already wounded soul. The New Testament’s Apostle Paul felt unbearably accusing and I could not stomach God’s harshness in the Old Testament. Eventually I read it less. I remember wondering if I would be okay with never reading it again. I knew people who were.

Things Got Better

 After a few years of darkness, my relationship with God got better. And yet, one of the side effects was a lingering fear of the Bible. My friend Sharon gave me the little book, Jesus Calling by Sarah Young. I started there. It seemed safer to read God, filtered.

No bright lights, and yet with time instead of avoiding it I noticed that I was restless when I stayed away from the Bible. For me, that was a miracle.

This summer, I started reading the book of Acts. Around the third morning I looked down at my scribbled word “chosen” then at the many lines drawn to words like “gift” and “restore.” It was as if I had never before seen such gorgeous words. And I began to cry.

Smack dab in the middle of Acts the desire to want to read the Bible, even more so, to delight in it’s words, was a grace. I told my sister Beth about the experience and she said, “Do you remember that old hymn Wonderful Words of Life?” I said I did.

PS

If you are in a dark place spiritually right now I am so sorry. You are not alone. I wrote about my experience for Leadership Journal, “Growing in the Dark.” I hope it helps.

 I’ve been asked if there were any Scriptures that comforted in the Dark Night. Here are two:

1.) King David’s psalms were safe. One whole summer I camped out in the Psalms of Ascent with the companionship of Eugene Peterson and his grace-filled classic A Long Obedience in the Same Direction.

2.) I stayed awhile when I discovered expressions of honest disappointment with God. I found a home in Lamentations: “You have made me to walk in darkness. Even when I call out for help, he shuts out my prayers. You have covered yourself with a cloud so that no prayer can get through” (Lam. 3:8)

 

Lesa Engelthaler is a Senior Associate for Victory Search Group, assisting nonprofits to recruit executive leaders. Lesa is also a writer for such publications as The Dallas Morning News, Christianity Today, Gifted for Leadership, Relevant, Today’s Christian Woman and Prism. Recently, Lesa started blogging at Faith Village.  Her friends would say that Lesa is passionate about empowering women. For the past several years, she has lead a trip to partner with the House of Hope a nonprofit in Nicaragua helping women escape prostitution. Today, Lesa finds herself completely taken by one small girl — her first grandchild Lucy. You can connect with Lesa (and I heartily recommend that you do!) on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (@lesaengelthaler).

Thick of the Clicks

Coffee Mug Icon Computer Key As Symbol For Taking A Break

I would like this blog to feel like an extension of my living room: a space in which you are welcome to make yourself comfy and talk about any and everything. I like the thought that we can talk about silly or very serious things, that both the holy and the hilarious are welcome. And so, of all the places I like to write, I like to write here on my blog – because it feels like home.

That being said – I’ve been traveling quite a lot lately. A frantic writing spell a few weeks ago resulted in a handful of pieces of mine being published around the web in the last week. I don’t like to inundate you all with everything, but in case you were curious – here are the clicks to those pieces. Think of it as us sitting together on my couch, and me showing you pictures of our travels as we sip a refreshing beverage together  :-) Enjoy!

 

For The Love of Liturgy: in SheLoves magazine, about a few beautiful things I learned from my years in a liturgical church.

The liturgy taught me to participate in a way I hadn’t before. Reading prayers and scripture responsively during a worship service forced me to see myself as part of a congregation, rather than as part of an audience. Communal prayers expressed the priesthood of all believers in a beautiful and practical way. Prayer was no longer something I did at home, while others prayed on my behalf at church. No, now we prayed together. I was grateful and aware that I was learning about corporate worship.

 

The Sexiest Habit of All at Start Marriage Right:

At this age, and in this stage of life – the barriers to intimacy are deep. The warmest fireplace, the skimpiest clothes, the “let’s get it on” music will do nothing to get me “in the mood” if I feel unseen, unloved, unnoticed. It is hard for a lonely wife to be an enthusiastic lover. I need to be called by name, I need a few minutes to take off the other aprons and hats of responsibility I wear and feel known before any knowing-in-the-biblical sense is going to happen.

And so, he put the kids to bed. He does it for our children, and he does it for himself as a Dad. But he does it for me too, and of all the things he does that make me treasure him, want him – this one habit stands out.

 

RELEVANT magazine published The Case Against Love at First Sight:

As it turns out, there are different ways to start a fire. The lithium-in-water type of explosion is one way to get things going with a bang. Romeo and Juliet. Cinderella and Prince Charming. Orpheus and Eurydice. Other fires require a bit more time. Hardwood is slower to catch aflame, but it burns longer.

 

Red Letter Christians published my blog post from earlier: Teaching My Children To Drink

Alcohol was created to help commemorate the significant moments of life. My theology is simple: God gave us wine to remember, not to forget.

 

I had a guest post over at Sarah Quezeda’s blog ‘A Life With Subtitles’ on Why We Sent Our Kids To Spanish Immersion School

Ten years later, we are parents to three first-generation American children. They are white. They are English speaking. They have well-educated parents and live in a well-resourced school district. They are poised for a life in which they can succeed in a way which few others are privileged enough to do.

And while I gratefully acknowledge that blessing, that opportunity, that privilege – I am reminded of how hard it is to learn the lesson of the ‘other’ when life’s cards are dealt in your favor.

 

And finally, this week I was FaithVillage’s Spotlight Contributor, with a fun Q&A on beginning blogging, being kind on the internet, and the differences between church in South Africa and America…

On advice to new bloggers: “Be generous in your writing and your online interactions. Be supportive of other writers, be kind to your readers, and do what you can to make the internet a better quality place with whatever it is you are writing about. There is so much trash online, and there are also so many people with honest questions and real hurts who are looking for truth through google searches. Let them find a trustworthy and honest person if they find you.”

 

Phew! Exhausting! Time to curl up on my couch and take a breath. But just for a few minutes… because I need to get our family of 5 on a plane early tomorrow morning. Happy clicking, friends. Have a latte for me, won’t you?

 

When loving there is easier than loving here

I’m thrilled to have Katie Cook as a guest today! I wrote about Katie long, long ago when she and her husband Kevin were working in Nepal – and her blog Hope Engaged is so full of beautiful words, beautiful grace AND beautiful pictures. But, don’t take my word for it – you can get a sneak peak of her loveliness here….

katie cookHi friends! My name is Katie, and I am so grateful to be posting on Bronwyn’s blog today :-) I look further to getting to know you all more!

When Bronwyn first prompted me to think about “words that changed my world”, it only took a hot minute to realize the pinnacle of the sacred words that transformed the trajectory of my journey. And believe me, these words were transformational. Scary, actually, because they challenged the very mindset and behaviors I had lived with for many, many years. And this particular challenge came from the good Lord.

Let’s back up a bit….

You see, my husband and I grew up in sunny California, in a cozy suburb, spending massive amounts of time at the beach, going to Disneyland, eating Mexican food, attending church activities, etc. {ie: a wee bit insulated.}

By the time I had graduated college, I had traveled extensively abroad, and had done quite a bit of service and mission projects with the poor in other countries. But after each trip I returned “home” to the USA and comfortably slipped right back into my cozy suburb.

It was after a stint teaching English in Thailand that I moved down to Orange County. And soon life began to revolve around me, not necessarily consciously, but most definitely by default. And that’s when I hard God’s voice loud and clear. He said to me,

“Katie, how can you love the poor in other countries, but fail to do so in your own country?”

I was rocked. Loud and clear, like a zinger to the heart. It was true. If my “love for the poor” was really love, a zipcode should have nothing to do with my action and lifestyle.

I was wrecked. I began to pray that God would displace me. That he would show me how I could tangibly love the poor in my own community. The problem was, as you can imagine from my upbringing, I didn’t know anyone who really fit that description. And really, you can’t google these things people! I was at an impasse, and I didn’t know which road to take. And thus began 5 months of crying out to Abba in desperation, asking for him to show me how to truly care for his people in my own backyard. {which included lots of ugly cries and confusion, but also great anticipation for God to truly overwhelm me with His divine plan!}

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And then one day I heard of an organization working in an immigrant community a few miles from my house. I filled out an application to volunteer at the after school program. In the back of my mind I was thinking, “maybe if I volunteer for a year or so, they’ll let me possibly move into the neighborhood?” What happened next blew me away…

After my 20-minute interview was finished, a girl on staff with the organization (who I hadn’t even met yet) walked right up to me and asked if I’d like to move into the neighborhood. They had a spot in the girl’s house, and needed another roommate. I was dumbfounded. Literally, I think my tongue fell out of my mouth. I may have drooled. But it was epic.

And so with knees knocking, and all sorts of fear and stereotypes hanging in my mind of what my new home might be like, I moved into the barrio.

And it was wonderful, and hard, but mostly life changing.

My apartment was filled with cockroaches, mold, cracking cabinets, and, OH, did I mention a colony of cockroaches? There was graffiti on our garage door, and a gang that walked the streets.

But more importantly, my heart was filled with community, as I began to know my neighbors and their stories filled me with so much hope and courage. Little by little trust was formed, and histories shared, and laugher was heard, and soon tears on shoulders were had. And soon, best friends were made.

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Allowing God to displace me in this neighborhood was one of the very best things that could have ever happened to me. In the five years we lived in the neighborhood, Kevin and I have opened our home to anyone who needed love. We’ve led workshops at the teen center, hosted Bible Studies, baptized high school students who were once lost in the darkness of drugs and abuse, and are now walking with Christ as their guide.

The bottom line is that the words God spoke to me changed everything. Kevin and I have realized that no matter where we live, or what we do for a living, the mandate to love, befriend, care and build relationship with the poor is Kingdom work that fulfills the deepest part of our souls. And we are so grateful for this lesson.

 

katiekevin

Katie hails from the sunny state of California, however has lived and traveled all around the world. Most recently Katie and her husband have returned from living in Nepal, where they worked with girls rescued out of sex-trafficking. Now back in Orange County, she is pursuing her masters in marriage and family therapy, with the hope of going into cross-cultural counseling in the future. Katie is an avid reader and map collector, loves making new friends, and gets excited about how God is moving all around the world. Katie blogs about her life and travels at Hope Engaged.

 

To the Beautiful, Smart Girl Dropping F-bombs

cussing girl

To the beautiful, smart young woman I saw today,

I was one of the passers by at the restaurant you were at this afternoon: a nameless face walking past while you sat on the patio with your friends. I heard you before I saw you, telling a story about pillows. You called them f*!#ing pillows. It got my attention. By the time I got near to where you were at I’d heard a little more about how f#*@ing frustrated you were about having to change them, and you asked your friends beseechingly: “how was I supposed to f@#*ing know?”

By then, I was near my car and nearly out of earshot, so I looked back quickly one more time. Yes, you are beautiful. And you had everyone’s attention. And I could tell by your collegiate sweater that you are smart too: it takes a 4.0 to get into the school whose name you wore today. And I wondered if you knew how very beautiful and smart and captivating you are – and how the constant use of F@*# in your dialog detracted, rather than added, to your attractiveness?

I wasn’t with my kids today, so it wasn’t that I was worried they’d hear and do their repeat-the-new-word playbook all the way home. It also wasn’t that I was offended. I have said similar things in times of extreme stress (it is a tough ask to find a woman who has given birth and didn’t reserve some choice words for the process). But the story you were telling was about pillows. And housemates. And chores. And I think you wasted the big words on such very not-big things.

Which is a pity.

I can remember a time when I swore a lot more. At the time, the words tasted like independence and free speech and power. They said “I’m an adult – I can say what I want. The teachers and my parents can’t hear me or stop me.”  But a few years down the road I realized they left an empty taste in my mouth – and my words were powerful, more independent, and actually freer without them. There were so many other, marvelous, descriptive adjectives I had been missing while relying on the cheap-thrill of the F-bomb. Like pusillanimous. And geriatric. And wretched. And bombastic. Even once I’d realized that swearing wasn’t doing me any favors, it took a while to break the habit… but it was a habit worth breaking.

Really, adulthood means not just saying what you want – but saying what is needed, what is true, what is right. Even if you’re telling a story about pillows.

Just a thought, from a stranger who thought you were lovely, and could have been lovelier yet with a few less words.

 

 

Ennui (guest post by Karen Swallow Prior)

Regular readers of the Pick of the Clicks will know that I am a huge fan of Karen Swallow Prior. I have to restrain myself from including her every single week. I love reading her reflections on literature, ethics, history, and even her love of dogs. I read her first book and it persuaded me to give myself a second chance at the classics. I am thrilled to have her as a guest here today for the Words That Changed My World series. Welcome, Karen!

Chillin' - photo by Karen Swallow Prior

Chillin’ – photo by Karen Swallow Prior

Yearning is the state of all adolescents–and a good many grown-ups, too. A certain kind of longing is simply part of the fallen human condition. But endless pining for the wrong thing—for anything that cannot fill the hunger only God can fill—only catapults us further down that rabbit hole into which our first parents fell and into which have all been born ever after.

My pining goes back to an early age. Although lucky enough to spend an idyllic childhood in rural Maine, running through woods and fields, swimming in lakes, and counting countless animals as my friends, my wanton eye wandered. I daydreamed of galloping horses bareback across the hilltops, of running away in order to follow adventure wherever it might lead, and of finding love like that told of in fairy tales. Such childish dreams were shed in my teenage years, replaced with longings fueled by romantic movies, trashy novels, and silly talk among girls. I longed for adulthood and independence—as all adolescents do and should. But I also mistook these—adulthood and independence—for excitement, thinking they were, or should be, one and the same—as many adolescents do and many adults do but should not.

It wasn’t until I read Madame Bovary in my World Literature class in college that I learned there is a word for this kind of yearning. The word is ennui, a French word that denotes “a feeling of listlessness and dissatisfaction arising from a lack of occupation or excitement.” The word is similar to boredom but suggests an existential condition more than merely a passing state. The word ennui captures the central problem for the novel’s main character, Emma Bovary, a young woman whose imagination has been fired by romance novels, only to find disappointment in the real life she leads.

At the root of Emma’s ennui is her romantic outlook. Romanticism has a number of meanings, but all are connected to a kind of idealism that generally opposes realism. After all, what makes a candlelit dinner for two “romantic” is that it’s so much dreamier than mac-and-cheese gulped down at the kitchen counter before shuttling all the kids to soccer practice. There’s nothing wrong with a candlelit dinner, but there is something wrong with allowing the yearning for such things to blind us to the beauty and simple joy of the everyday. Such blindness can—and often does—lead to ennui. Experiencing vicariously through Emma’s character the devastating and ultimately fatal effects of her ennui transformed my thinking and changed my life forever.

In my book, Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me, I focus particularly on the way the novel saved my view of marriage and therefore my actual marriage. Here’s an excerpt of that story:

Throughout the novel, Emma is often depicted as standing at a window, forehead pressed against the glass, looking out at the world. This characteristic stance expresses Emma’s attitude toward life, boredom and distance, which reinforce one another inevitably, something she cannot see. Her boredom with life causes her to withdraw, but in withdrawing from life in search of an illusory dream, she is destined for the ennui, or weariness with the world, that propels her onto her self-destructive path. Frequently, her eyes are described as “half-closed,” the posture of willful blindness and denial—and usually, in both literature and life, the precursor to tragedy.

Emma is disenchanted with everything. She hates provincial life. She dreams of the glamorous lives she encounters at a ball she and Charles [her husband] are invited to attend. As the ordinariness of their lives continues, Emma sinks deeper into a monotony-wrought despair. She keeps “waiting in her heart for something to happen,” something of excitement to fulfill her longing, her unbearable heaviness of being. Most torturous is dinnertime with her husband. Emma’s anorexic soul recoils at the common pleasure of fellowship around a meal. The very things that make us human are too mundane for Emma.

The rest of the novel depicts Emma’s continued attempts at escaping ennui—that consuming boredom—of a life that cannot match the world as she fantasizes it to be. Erroneously thinking her boredom comes from outside herself, she takes another lover, establishes a secret life with him in the city, only to become bored with her second lover, then runs herself and Charles into debt in buying needless luxuries that she hopes will make her life extraordinary.

Yet, she still fails to learn to take pleasure in the real world. Emma prefers the idea to the reality.

Such a romantic worldview can infiltrate all of life, not just notions of love.

The words of Madame Bovary—particularly that incriminating word, ennui—showed me that if I spent my life waiting for excitement, pining for a fantasy world—fantasies about the worlds of love, work, family, church or friends (for we all have ideal versions of how these things should look)—I would miss out on the gifts of ordinary life. For the truth is that in its very ordinariness is life most beautiful and rich. The lovely breakfasts I’ve had on hotel terraces in Africa cannot compare to the peace and contentment of drinking my morning coffee on my own front porch. Although I have eaten around a campfire under a tent in the Sahara Desert, I treasure much more laughter and conversations shared with friends and family at the local pizza place.  I slept in a 19th century hotel in Paris one night, but nowhere am I happier than falling asleep and waking up in my own bed with unstarched sheets and a rumpled comforter laden with familiar dog hair.

In Madame Bovary, however, Emma Bovary’s ennui feeds upon itself, growing from dissatisfaction to despair and finally to death. Even apart from such dramatic outcomes, ennui siphons away the great pleasure to be found in the everyday life and the everyday things that are all around us: the gentle rhythms of routine, the undulating music of household chores, the luxurious feel of the dog at my feet, the artistry expressed in the melding of lives, the taste of quiet steady love in an afternoon kiss.

There really is nothing more exciting or satisfying than taking joy in the world as it is—and finding and making good from it.

Karen-Swallow-Prior-on-Red-CouchKaren Swallow Prior, Ph. D., is an award-winning Professor of English at Liberty University. She is the author of Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me (T. S. Poetry Press, 2012) and Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More—Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist (Thomas Nelson, Nov. 2014). Prior is a contributing writer for Christianity Today, Think Christian, and The Atlantic. Her writing has also appeared at Books and Culture, Comment, Fieldnotes, Relevant, and Salvo. She is a member of INK: A Creative Collective and the Faith Advisory Council of the Humane Society of the United States. She and her husband live in rural Virginia with sundry dogs, horses, and chickens.