Top critical review
Seems to Overlook Ordinary Faithfulness
Reviewed in the United States on May 9, 2017
This is not a bad book. Nor is it particularly poorly written. I just think it is a bit misguided.
This is my first Jennie Allen book and, after reading many glowing reviews (and a couple of not so glowing ones), I was ready to jump right in. I am no stranger to journaling (I understood from a review or two that this would be necessary) so I was poised to dig, journal and discover what it means to dream again -- all with Jennie Allen cheering me along the way.
And that’s exactly what she does. Early on in the book, I felt understood -- after all, she too was a wife and mom who struggled with a sense of purpose and that restless feeling we all seem to get in our lives at some point or another. Jennie felt like a friend who understood (who would love to be discussing your hopes and dreams over coffee right this instant, but simply couldn’t), and the conversational tone of this book makes it both engaging and easy to read. Jennie is nothing if not sincere. She sincerely wants you to realize that God has uniquely equipped you with gifts, and she sincerely wants you to passionately pursue God’s call and purpose for your life.
And these are very good things. The journaling activities are meant to help you discern what your giftings and calling might be. You were asked to write about your own story, highlighting unique instances when you felt joy and delight in what you were doing, and she also directs you to see how God might use suffering in your life to fuel your passions or to enable you to help others who suffer. She encourages you to write about the places you encounter regularly and how you might live more meaningfully and purposefully as you engage with those places. In short, she helps you to connect the dots of your life: your gifts, the people in your life who need you (and whom you need), the suffering you have endured, the places you regularly encounter and the passions you have all to help you pinpoint what your purpose might be.
And she cheers you, she is behind you, and she shares countless stories about countless, amazing friends who have died, come back to life or almost died and who now are living lives on mission, and she wants to help you to do the same -- to not miss it, or to bury the gifts God has given you because of fear. She lived that way for a while, but now she is “running hard toward God” and, incidentally, so is her husband, Zac, who wasn’t always on board with her pursuing her dreams. But now says he is.
Chapter 21, “When Women Dream”, is where my former enthusiasm began to unravel. Framed a certain way, it seems possible to justify almost anything. Being away from your four children for extended periods of traveling and working is perfectly acceptable so long as you are doing it for the kingdom. Why should we have any less access to pursuing our dreams than our husbands do? After all, God gave us dreams and giftings too. This sounds eerily like a Christianized version of a worldly ideology. It made me feel like Jennie was using a very old, yet cleverly disguised strategy: “God didn’t really say…” Why else would she basically say it was okay for her to charge full speed ahead in her career (with what she feels is God’s approval, of course), candidly admit that sometimes her husband feels “eclipsed” and that she often absent in the home (to the extent that she gets help from sitters, cleaners and administrative assistance) with absolutely no reference to Titus 2:5 whatsoever?
I am also concerned that what is being further eclipsed here is the matter of daily, ordinary, unsung faithfulness. Attention to the common, boring, monotonous, unremarkable with remarkable regularity, devotion, a daily (often moment-by-moment) dying to self for the sake of others -- not for praise we may receive presently, nor the thrill or sudden “rush” of knowing we are walking in our “purpose”, but out of sincere devotion to Christ and out of our love for Him. I am concerned that women reading this book will think their purpose “out there” somewhere -- something they must leave to do or look for somewhere else. Often what is required of us is right beneath our noses, but fails to look appealing, because we are fickle mortals and our ‘restless’ feelings are often still just feelings, and we should be wise in how we respond to them, interpret them, and where we allow them to lead us.
I also believe that simple discontentment is a far greater issue that people in general, and women in particular, grapple with. We Christians are not exempt from the inner tuggings that tell us we deserve more, were meant for more (than this) and that it's our God-given "right" to pursue more. We needn't even leave the church to find support for this sort of belief system. It is a far greater challenge, indeed, to embrace contentment with what God has apportioned us, and to do so will always be swimming against the current in today's culture.
I realize it is often difficult to be discerning with so many well-meaning Christian books coming at us, with a thousand different voices about what is right or what is advisable. The Holy Spirit and God’s immutable Word must ultimately lead us in the right direction. It seems to me that the vast majority of women live ordinary lives where they can and should use the gifts God has given them. But how and when they use those gifts is a matter of great discernment that should be made with much prayer, counsel and adherence to God’s Word.