Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Missing Pieces

The other day I was discussing a book with my mom and explaining to her my concern about how "blame" is cast upon the child in the story.  My mom commented about how deeply I read and consider what is written. Sometimes I wonder if I go overboard.  Am I questioning too much?  Am I overreacting? Why am I reacting this way?

I come back to knowing that God wired me this way.  But, I also reflect on how God has guided my path through the maze of books I've read over the past few years and what I've learned from the books themselves and from reading them.  

Recently, I read a book that troubled me.  The book I finished reading was Guiltless Living by Ginger Hubbard.  When I began reading it, I found myself puzzled and then disconcerted. And in the end, I cried. But, I cried for a different reason than one might suspect. I'd like to explain.

I did not read Ms. Hubbard's previous book “Don't Make Me Count to Three”, but I knew from friends that reviews of the book have been very polarized over the years. Whenever I know that about a book, I try to walk in with an open mind seeking to understand why people love the book, or author, and why some people have very strong reactions to it.

I had a strong reaction to Guiltless Living. I read Ms. Hubbard's introduction and her story about how people have criticized her in the past for being so open and honest about her thoughts. This admission grieved me. It grieved me that strangers would say the cruel things she recounted. I understood how this could happen to her, though, because the same thing has happened to me. One of my dear friends once told me that she was shocked at some of the things people had said to me over the years. I am very honest and up front with people and many people have shared with their stories with me. Stories I've been blessed to listen to. But, people have also said many unkind things to me and I've experienced a lot of rejection in my life.  God has used that to shape me and I have often seen him use it in my life.

I have been blogging and reviewing books for five years and the Lord has brought many books across my path that I don't think I would have chosen to read or have known about otherwise. I've been challenged to consider what life situation an author is speaking from, where they now live and where they have lived, what their family life is like, how old they are, where they work, and what other experiences have shaped them.  I tried to learn more about Ms. Hubbard as a way to understand her writing and ministry, but I found myself with more questions than answers.  

In this book, Ms. Hubbard addresses seven sins that keep us from living under grace. She begins each chapter with a story from her own life that will shock you and get your attention.  It is a story of how that sin has played out in her life.  Then the story is done and dropped like a hot potato, but not resolved... She moves on then to teaching from the Word and through stories from other people's lives about that sin.  But, there is a big piece missing:  heart change.  How does that change happen?  What does it look like?  Ms. Hubbard's answer is that we are to turn to God and accept his grace, knowing that we sin.  That's it.  As I read the first few chapters, I kept waiting.  Waiting for more.  Where was she going?  The introduction did not give me a clear picture of where the book was going to be going and what the author was going to set out and prove or show in the subsequent chapters.  The conclusion of the book was stronger and she almost, almost gets there.  She almost gets to addressing heart change, but she never does.  The gospel is about our hope in Christ--our hope that involves heart change.  

God calls us to repentance by his grace and He changes us.  He transforms us through the Word and through the Holy Spirit working in our hearts and lives. God doesn't call us to him, point out our sin, and just leave us that way for the rest of our lives.  Jerry Bridges does a great job in The Discipline of Grace of explaining how Grace and Repentance intertwine--and necessarily must intertwine.  I'm reading Instruments in the Redeemer's Hands by Paul Tripp and this is the central message--that God changes us.  Loving Him involves change. So, this is my first concern about this book.  Ms. Hubbard teaches about what God says about these sins (ie. pride, control, selfishness, and others) and encourages people to live under grace.  But, she doesn't explain how that change happens or ever explain how her own life has been changed by God in these different areas.    

My second concern is the tone of the book.  I think many people will be fine with it, but many others may be rubbed the wrong way by it... The tone of this book is one of a teacher speaking to her pupils.  She takes on a "teacher" voice--that of one being above her students.  I know this voice because early in my marriage, my husband made me aware of when it came out in me. Since then, I try to guard against it and be careful about how I come across. I've heard this "teacher voice" in several books over the years and they always seem to be the ones that have polarized reviews.  Instead of conveying grace, they convey disconcerting expectations and rules.  Ms. Hubbard doesn't convey a set of rules in this book, but she does something else that I've seen before.

Let me explain.  I did search out Ms. Hubbard's name online and found some missing pieces.  There is one article that she wrote about an incident with her former husband (I couldn't find out if he died or if she divorced and remarried a year later to another man.) In her writing, she had a decidedly different tone than she did in this book.  The article was written very humbly, acknowledging how God is continually changing her.  She doesn't talk of such change, though in her book.  I didn't know what to make of this.  I am not going to judge her.  But, I do want to acknowledge the tone of her book--a tone that I have recognized in myself before and other writers.  We have to guard against it!  "Do as I say, not as I do" is a message that falls on deaf ears.  People listen if they know you understand and that you are working to change too.  I listen if I know that someone else understands and isn't just telling me what I need to do.  I have felt my heart harden in conversations before when I have perceived this going on.  

Last year, when I read Dangerous Calling, my heart was encouraged by Paul Tripp's words.  I understood that pastors (and teachers) can fall into many traps.  One trap is that they can teach, but not sit under their own teaching.  Reading this book felt as if Ms. Hubbard has fallen into this trap, because she opened each chapter with an example of a sin.  She never explains how God has changed her in the area that she is talking about.  She gives an example of the sin.  In one case, she talks about how controlling she was in college and then with her own children in their youth and later in their teenage years.  But, she never apologizes or acknowledges that anything was wrong in what she did.  She talks about how her children coped with her controlling behavior, but never that she wishes or that she did change in this area of her life.  This seemed very odd to me.  

I have been extremely hesitant to comment on this book.  I do not want to come across as if I am criticizing Ms. Hubbard's faith or her life.  I want to give her the benefit of the doubt.  I want to believe that she accidentally ommitted how her life has changed.  I am acknowledging that she is not alone in stepping into a "teacher voice" and not realizing it.  I want to hope that she sees herself in what she is writing and that how she controlled others in her life was not what God would desire of her (as she exhorts others towards in her own chapter on the subject).  I want to hope that she sees a level playing field, rather than one with a pyramid that people are standing on at different levels.  Even after having an unsettling first impression of the book, I pressed on and read the whole book.  In this review, I wanted to state how her book comes across--the impression the book gave me and my concerns.  

Why?  Because I don't want someone to miss that important message that God changes us.  He works in mighty ways in our lives and hearts.  If we love God, we are necessarily not going to stay the same!  We are new creations in Christ.  There are other books on the same topic that I would recommend instead.  

Here are a few of them...
The Silent Seduction of Self-Talk by Shelly Beach (one of my favorites!)
Growing Grateful Kids (for moms)
Dangerous Calling (for anyone who wants to understand the challenges pastors face or who has been hurt by a pastor's sin against them.  I think it is easier to forgive sometimes if we step inside someone else's shoes.)
The Discipline of Grace, Respectable Sins, and Trusting God, all by Jerry Bridges
Becoming a Woman of Grace by Cynthia Heald (awesome Bible study for women!!) 

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this book from Shepherd Press for review.

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