Friday, April 13, 2012


By Shauna Niequist

Not in the mood for instructions on Christian living, I found ‘Bittersweet’ among piles of books on the bare cement floor of the bookstore, looking more like a misplaced cookbook! Like the cover, this book is as delectable a read as sipping latte on a quiet afternoon with a good friend telling you her story. It's so precious it never left my bedside - just one of those books that make me look forward to curling up in bed at night when the girls are in their rooms. Incidently, the word ‘bittersweet’ came to my mind the night before, so it was a natural pick.

Never heard of Shauna Niequist before, but two paragraphs into the proloque tells me that she is a rare contemporary wordsmith. Bittersweet is the practice of believing that we really do need both the bitter and the sweet, and that a life of nothing but sweetness rots both your teeth and your soul. Bitter is what makes us strong, what forces us to push through, what helps us earn the lines on our faces and the calluses on our hands. Sweet is nice enough, but bitter sweet is beautiful, nuanced, full of depth and complexity. Bittersweet is courageous, gutsy, earthy.’

Don't you already love this?

A collection of non-pretentious, non-cynical ramblings about day-to-day happenings written at a time of the author’s life that was fraught with uncertainties and unknown outcomes. In the process, she writes about the food that mark each experience, the friends and parties that provide comfort and normalcy, and her bare emotions not couched in Christian jargon or politesse. She has a security in Jesus that’s not contingent on good outcomes. I see vibrancy in her soul that eludes many people who have it far better than her in their circumstances. Through her memoirs, you connect with her tears, her anguish, her exasperation, and still see that hurtful reality is not something you can just slam the door on. Chapter closed. Life goes on. [Such delusional thinking about life only leads people to seek escape through transcendental meditations, positive thinking, and even using pseudo-faith in God to hope for better outcomes.]

Talking about unhappiness makes people uncomfortable but it’s a lop-sided life and friendship that only dwells on the happy days and shows the happy face. The author had a miscarriage when she started writing, but she suffered an even sadder loss of a double miscarriage in the concluding chapters. In the chapter 'your story must be told', she wrote, “When we tell the truth about our lives – the broken parts, the secret parts, the beautiful parts – then the gospel comes to life, an actual story about redemption ...”

About sweet endings, this is her conclusion in the epilogue, “I wanted, of course, for this bittersweet season to be over. I felt so strongly that when I finished the book, I’d be free to move into another season, one of life and celebration. But this is what I know now: they’re the same thing, and that’s all there is. The most bittersweet season of my life so far is still life, still beautiful, still sparkling with celebration. This season wasn’t bittersweet. Life itself is bittersweet. There’s always life and death, always beauty and blood.’

I couldn’t agree more. Those who think they are doing their loved ones a favour by staying away during bad times, or avoiding any talk about hard issues are truly missing out on precious opportunities to see God in their lives that will help them immeasurably when their time comes.

Where you can get it: SKS Books S$26.50
Level of impact: Immediately comforting, putting down is like hanging up on a friend.
Timing of book: Sad is the life without a book as a guidepost; glad God sent me this for the journey.