BOOK REVIEW: SEARCHING FOR SUNDAY by Rachel Held Evans
“When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives means the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand.” -Henri Nouwen
This quote introduced chapter thirty, titled Healing, in Rachel’s book, & it felt fitting for describing her writing’s impact on me.
I’ve had a lot of questions over the last few years, & instead of crossing them off with an answer one by one, I only seem to be more invested in each one– each question opening my eyes a little more every time I approach it or it approaches me. And the more my eyes are opened, it’s as if questions feel like I’m a safe haven for them to rest, & new ones just tend to find me.
I’ve always been a safe thinker. Conservative. People Pleaser. I never ventured to discuss hard things in high school because the only big topic in my world was defending your faith in Jesus. As far as I was concerned, I would never be an apologetics master, but I loved Jesus, & that would be enough to take with me into the world.
Even in college, which held conservative views while hosting a liberal theology department, I steered clear of academic discussion centering on Biblical interpretation. Our college minister (who also taught seminary courses) would pose as devil’s advocate to make us think outside the box (Is Satan a real being or imagery for evil?), & I would squirm with silence in my seat until time was up. And then I would journal about it & tuck it away until the next week.
I knew there were hard things in the world– but I only knew specifics to a small extent. I was confident in Jesus being the root answer to anything & everything– but I didn’t understand how that relationship alone didn’t qualify me as an advocate to the world.
It wasn’t until I started looking for how to advocate for people that I busted out of my pristine bubble.
I wasn’t searching for Jesus. I was already close to Him. I wasn’t searching to change who I was or how I thought about the world & God. There was an itch to grow– a curiosity to become the person I was created to be, whoever she was, & I took the first step like I always do.
I picked up a book.
I started reading authors who led the sorts of lives I wanted a close up look into– Jen Hatmaker & Sarah Bessey & Timothy Keller. Shauna Niequist & Bob Goff & Brene Brown.
And Rachel Held Evans.
I had listened to Rachel on Jen Hatmaker’s podcast maybe two years ago & immediately put her books on my amazon wish list. I liked her a lot. But I never got around to ordering or reading her books. And then she passed away, suddenly, last spring. It hit me like I knew her, like I was mourning a friend. I’m thinking it was because she had two babies, & I was grieving the loss of their mother for them, along with Dan’s loss for his young wife. Watching her funeral on livestream is what sparked me to unplug from social media over the summer & hone in on how I was attributing my minutes, my priorities, my life. It was a super light summer in my brain. Basically a beach read.
I decided to read all of her books as a way to honor her hard work on this earth & to learn everything I can from her, which it turns out is a lot. I just finished reading Searching for Sunday, & I laughed out loud multiple times while reading because the timing could not have been more accurate.
Rachel loved Jesus. She grew up safe. Conservative. People Pleaser. When she began advocating for people, she found questions & questions found her. Her husband, Dan, was often the recipient of Rachel’s Sunday afternoon monologue about all the ways she was struggling with church & religion. Just like Blake is often the recipient of mine. Although he’d probably prefer it to be on Sundays as opposed to date night. The poor guy just wants to eat his steak in peace, & I word vomit every hot button issue out there because it’s the first time I’ve talked to an adult all day, & I don’t know what to do with my hands.
If God is omnipotent (all powerful) & omniscient (all knowing)– but we have free will– what is the point of God being omnipotent & omniscient?
Why do we pray when people are sick if God isn’t actually healing bodies?
How angry would I be at God if after a lifetime of trusting him as my savior, he didn’t step in if something happened to one of my kids?
If God really loves us & is omnipotent, how can He bear to watch that four year old little girl go through chemo while her mother dies inside?
After so much heartbreak & brokenness in the world, what is God actually waiting for to stop it all?
Oh, hey, babe, do you want to get dessert so we can talk about poverty?
*Blake asks for check immediately.*
Rachel’s book was a breathe of permission to ask questions & feeling angry without having to defend that I still love Jesus.
Rachel breaks the book up into seven parts, each one representing the seven sacraments of the church– baptism, confession, holy orders, communion, confirmation, anointing of the sick, & marriage. And honestly, when I first saw that that’s how she broke up her book, I was a bit intimidated because the only way things are broken up in my church are three point sermons– but this book taught me reverence for holy practices in the church.
If you love God but have been hurt by church, I think this book would do your heart a solid favor.
If you have doubts & fears & feel completely alone in your faith, I think this book will show you belonging.
If you love God & church & want to expand your perspective, I think this book will be a kind introduction for you.
A few of my favorite lines from Rachel:
I’m a Christian, I said, because Christianity names and addresses sin. It acknowledges the reality that the evil we observe in the world is also present within ourselves. It tells the truth about the human condition– that we’re not okay. (67)
Imagine if every church became a place where everyone is safe, but no one is comfortable. Imagine if every church became a place where we told one another the truth. We might just create sanctuary. (73)
They were the people the religious loved to hate, for they provided a convenient sorting mechanism for externalizing sin as something that exists out there, among other people, with other problems making other mistakes. It’s the oldest religious shortcut in the book: the easiest way to make oneself righteous is the make someone else a sinner. (91)
In my struggle to find church, I’ve often felt that if I could just find the right denomination or the right congregation, if I could just become the right person or believe the right things, then my search would be over at last. But right’s got nothing to do with it. Waiting around for right will leave you waiting around forever. The church is God saying: “I’m throwing a banquet, and all these mismatched, messed-up people are invited. Here, have some wine. (153)
The thing about healing, as opposed to curing, is that it is relational. It takes time. It is inefficient, like a meandering river. Rarely does healing follow a straight or well-lit path. Rarely does it conform to our expectations or resolve in a timely manner. Walking with someone through grief, or through the process of reconciliation, requires patience, presence, and a willingness to wander, to take the scenic route. But the modern-day church doesn’t like to wander and wait. The modern-day church likes results. Convinced the gospel is a product we’ve got to sell to an increasingly shrinking market, we like our people to function as walking advertisements: happy, put-together, finished– proof that this Jesus stuff WORKS! At its best, such a culture generates pews of Stepford Wife-style robots with painted smiles and programmed moves. At its worst, it creates environments where abuse and corruption get covered up to protect reputations and preserve image. “The world is watching,” Christians like to say, “so let’s be on our best behavior and quickly hide the mess. Let’s throw up some before-and-after shots and roll that flashy footage of our miracle product blanching out every sign or dirt, hiding every sign of disease. But if the world is watching, we might as well tell the truth. And the truth is, the church doesn’t offer a cure. It doesn’t offer a quick fix. The church offers death and resurrection. The church offers the messy, inconvenient, gut-wrenching, never-ending work of healing and reconciliation. The church offers grace. (208-209)
The purpose of the church, and of the sacraments, is to give the world a glimpse of the kingdom. (255)
It is an honor to learn from you, Rachel Held Evans. Eshet Chayil. Woman of Valor.