“Sweet is nice enough, but bittersweet is beautiful, nuanced, full of depth and complexity. Bittersweet is courageous, gutsy, earthy….This collection is an ode to all things bittersweet, to life at the edges, a love letter to what change can do in us. This is what I’ve come to believe about change: it’s good, in the way that childbirth is good, and heartbreak is good, and failure is good. By that I mean that it’s incredibly painful, exponentially more so if you fight it, and also that it has the potential to open you up, to open life up, to deliver you right into the palm of God’s hand, which is where you wanted to be all along, except that you were too busy pushing and pulling your life into exactly what you thought it should be.”
[Shauna Niequist, Bittersweet prologue]
Bam. If that doesn’t make you want to read this book then you need to go out and get your heart broken immediately so you can start LIVING. And while you’re at it, go listen to Alanis Morissette’s “You Learn.” She has sage wisdom to impart, and she’s certainly got the bitter thing down pat.
Shauna is, thankfully, much softer and more full of grace than Alanis (which is great because while bitter makes for excellent songs, it doesn’t lend itself as well to books). And grace is exactly what I want to talk about.
There a dozens of quotes in this book, gems, to which I could have related so many stories: heartbreaking stories and beautiful, hopeful stories. And on even more snipets I could offer commentary, because let’s face it, I don’t write because I’m short on opinions. But the more I thought about it (and perused the underlined/highlighted passages of my book), the more one particular passage stood out.
Here is one of my favorite excerpts from Bittersweet. (It made me cry. SHOCKING.) This is from the chapter titled, “grace is new math.”
“I don’t like the idea that someone can judge me and that I have to depend on their grace…I hate to think about the fact that the people who love me show me grace for all my faults. I prefer to believe instead that the math works: that there are good things about me and hard things about me, but that they’ve checked the math and because I’m funny enough, they can let go of how terrible I look most days, or that if I’m interesting enough, the fact that my house is dirty isn’t such a big deal. But that kind of math is specifically anti-grace. Grace isn’t about netting out on the right side of things.
If arithmetic is numbers, and if algebra is numbers and letters, then grace is numbers, letters, sounds, and tears, and feelings and dreams. Grace is smashing the calculator, and using all the broken buttons and pieces to make a mosaic.
Grace isn’t about having a second chance; grace is having so many chances that you could use them through all eternity and never come up empty. It’s when you finally realize that the other shoe isn’t going to drop, ever. It’s the moment you feel as precious and handmade as every star, when you feel, finally, at home for the very first time…
…So these days , I’m on the lookout for grace, and I’m especially on the lookout for ways that I withhold grace from myself and from other people. At first, showing people grace makes you feel powerful, like scattering candy from a float in a parade – grace for you, grace for you. You become almost giddy, thinking of people in generous ways, allowing for their faults, absorbing minor irritations. You feel great, and then you start to feel just ever so slightly superior, because you’re so incredibly evolved and gracious.
But then inevitably something happens, and it usually involves you confronting one of your worst selves, often in public, and you realize that you’re not throwing candy off a float to a nameless, dirty public, but rather that you are that nameless, dirty public, and that you are starving and on your knees, praying for a little piece of sweetness, just one mouthful of grace.”
I don’t know if you’ve ever been covered in all the dirt that you made for yourself, starving and begging for grace, but I have, more than once. And I will remember forever the faces of the people who gave it to me. In this passage Shauna writes two of my now-favorite statements about grace.
-Grace isn’t about netting out on the right side of things.
-It’s when you finally realize the other shoe isn’t going to drop, ever.
(And the calculator metaphor is beautiful too, and the parade one is spot on, and, and and…)
Perhaps the thing I love most about Shauna’s writing (besides that it is honest, and relatable) is her diction. Wordsmithery at its happiest and most creative.
When she described bittersweet as “nuanced” and “gutsy” something inside me cried, “Yes, exactly!” She describes her son’s laughter as “round,” and a busy day feeling like “Tarzan swinging on vines, feet never touching the ground.” She even describes choosing her diction, with great diction.
“Lots of days I feel like I can’t grab on to anything concrete, like writing is imaginary and difficult, a mental universe I can’t locate. I could cook, unpack, fix, fold, anything tactile and touchable. I’d rather do sit-ups for an hour than try to locate a string of words in my mind. I want to believe that our brains are machines you turn on and off like cars, but when it comes down to it, I think they’re a lot more like cats or toddlers: you sometimes have to trick them or turn your back for just a second, allowing them to believe you’re not watching.”
I loved the theme of this book, the content, the style, and of course, all the craving-inducing descriptions of food. Oh, the food! Bittersweet is a collection of beautiful, well-crafted, easy-to-read essays on a topic so poignant and personal and real that it took my breath away in more than a few places. I recommend it without reservation!
To be entered into the giveaway for an autographed copy of Bittersweet, just comment on this post! You can say anything you want, the world is your oyster! What “bittersweet” means to you, thoughts on grace, a song you’re reminded of, a verse, or “pick me, pick me!” And of course paying me compliments is always appropriate. Just kidding… maybe.
The winner will be selected randomly, and I’ll announce the results in a post first thing tomorrow morning. It could be you!
Just to be safe, you can click here to order a copy of Bittersweet for yourself. You won’t regret it.
You can read and listen to six full chapters on Shauna’s website here.
(You can also take a peek into Shauna’s first book, Cold Tangerines, which is one of my favorite books – ever.)