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Thursday, March 16, 2017

Book Review: Faith Sommers' Prayers for a Simpler Life


It's difficult to have an honest discussion about books like this because the author depicts herself in such a sweet and innocent way even when talking about her shortcomings of sin. The way verses were strung together, and the book didn't fully address what the summary says left it underwhelming.   Most importantly does the devotional draw the reader closer to God with the simpler Mennonite life?

The Summary: "Do your quiet times with God feel disconnected from the rest of your overflowing days? Shouldn't our devotions affect how we live our lives? In this 90-day devotional for women, plain Mennonite mother and wife Faith Sommers helps connect your moments with the Lord to the rest of your life. Steeped in the faith of Amish and Mennonites, who maintain that how we live is as important as what we say, Sommers' words hold gentle warmth and wise nudging for readers tired of disjointed living. Offering daily devotions, prayers, journal prompts, and ideas for how to simplify your life and strengthen your faith, Prayers for a Simpler Life guides readers toward a deeper commitment to the way of Jesus."

In the summary, it reads, "Steeped in the faith of Amish and Mennonites, who maintain that how we live is as important as what we say..." In the introduction titled "A Day in the Life", Sommers breaks down their routine as Mennonites. This is where we get most our insight on how Mennonites lead simpler lives. They drive their kids to a private Church school, they bake, sew, write, attend Church on Wednesday, clean, and even maintain a garden. The way the author depicts their routine in the book sounds not too unlike what someone who is not Mennonite might do. Maybe I only have this perception because I grew up on a farm in rural Georgia. The author says at the end of the introduction,"The quote that I put at the heading of this "day in the life" reminds me of a young lady who spent a weekend with us. She needed to study a religion for a college course and chose to interview the Mennonites. After she had been with us for a day, she said, "I had planned to ask you what your religion means to you, but now I realize it's not just a religion - it's your way of life." Praise God. That's what Christianity should be and do!" So what can we learn from Mennonites about leading simpler lives? That particular question never seems to be answered in depth. She describes in detail the things many of us already know about Mennonites, such as their dress or routine or that their children don't attend public schools. She told stories of Paul and Moses as other denominations do. Her devotional seemed to relate those same people to everyday life, but she never showed us how they were to make our lives simple, as the title suggested.

The book also claims the devotional is for women. Does this book provide new, insightful ways to be a woman of God? I can't say the information was new to me despite the author implying it should be newish information since the biblical command of submission is ignored nowadays. I can't remember the last time I read a non-fiction Christian book for women that didn't mention submission, so even if the assumption is Christian women are commonly ignoring it the writers aren't. Sommers writes in week 1 of the devotion, "Our children are born into a world that grows increasingly wicked" (P.20). Sommers writes later on submitting, "Submission does not mean following a husband into sin" (P.75). Perhaps there are fewer men seeking holiness to submit to, which is why it appears women are ignoring submission? Onward, though. There are weeks in the devotional that focus on various women from the Bible and their strengths provided by God, such as Phebe and Priscilla. She also devotes a week on what we can learn from focusing on serving. There wasn't anything that particularly tied to women Mennonites though outside of how they dress. The author talks about herself and her friends' relationships with children, parents, and neighbors that portray women annoyed with intrusions, misbehavior, envy, and beauty. Through these examples, women sound petty and rarely does it challenge the reader with depth to question those negative traits about themselves. Sommers writes, "God helps me to act lovingly even when I don't feel like it" (P. 74). We hear "God give me strength," when instead "God, what's wrong with me?" seems more adequate.

When reading the Bible passages for the devotions it should be recommended to read the whole chapter the verse lies in. For week 3 on day Acts 9: 1-9 is the devotion reading, but the devotion also includes verses from Isaiah 59 verse 12 and 13. The verses Sommers includes read as is, "Our sins testify against us:.. In transgressing and lying against the Lord, and departing away from our God. And in verse 16: "There was no man... no intercessor." (P.50) I wanted to share the verses as is, but there is so much edited out it becomes a shadow of what the context reads as. Here is a link if you want to read Isaiah 59 in its entirety. The gist is the people of Israel had challenged God after not returning from exile to their home. The prophet accuses them of what they have done that made God "turn a blind eye to them" (Isaiah 2-8). The people begin expressing guilt in Isaiah 9, but Sommers picks up half a sentence in verse 12 to merge with some of verse 13 to provide her own thought without mention of the particular story. Sommers picks up again in Isaiah verse 16, which begins the passages of God's disappointment yet his mercy for his people. Sommers tells us the verses provide a glimpse without God, but the story of Moses is just as adequate for that and you don't have to mesh partial sentences of verses together. This occurs many more times in the devotional. Why paste together so many verses if another example would suffice? 

Most of all this book leads one to believe you can discover a simpler life from the summary.  The strongest devotional week in this book is Growing toward God, and that is mostly a bias toward plant analogies.  The simpler life seems less about Mennonite women's lifestyles regarding their faith and more about a woman's frustration with her guard over her time, possessions, beauty, and doubt. God is asked a lot for guidance and strength, but never posing the question "why are those things important to me?" 

This book was provided by Herald Press in exchange for a review. All opinions are my own. 

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