Rescued from the Life I Always Wanted
The season of Advent is upon us, and as I settle into this season of waiting and pondering, I quickly find myself living in the tension of believing Jesus’ words and walking through the aisles of Target.
I find myself wanting another scarf more than I want to give to someone else. Is it really better to give than to receive?
Every time I push my red cart to my empty trunk, feeling the thrill of new things, I struggle to accept Jesus’ words. Does not our quality of life consist in our abundance of possessions?
And if I were to dig really deep, I sometimes wonder if those who knock the American Dream are simply people who haven’t experienced the success of a capitalist society. Does the abundant life really come through Jesus? Don’t we mean abundant life = Jesus + security? Or Jesus + a big house to entertain people? Or Jesus + a fulfilling, rising career?
Enter Shannan Martin’s book, Falling Free: Rescued from the Life I Always Wanted.
Shannan’s post-college dream was to buy a farmhouse in the country, settle in with her husband and kids, plant a garden, and live a simple life. And when that actually started to happen? Rainbows and unicorns! The world was right!
Except that it wasn’t.
A couple years into the farmhouse scene, the questions started coming. Is this what it’s all about? Why doesn’t God feel near to us? Why do we sense that we’ve missed it?
Shannan takes us on her family’s journey from the farmhouse in the country to an ordinary (smaller) house in the city. We learn about why she and her husband traded a career in the halls of the most powerful building in the country for sitting around a kitchen table and in prison cells with new friends who live on the edge of society.
When reflecting about this reorientation, she writes:
“It meant trading more for less and leaping off the ladder of upward mobility only to hit the dirt and discover we’d had a taste for it all along. It meant making our home among gang members, addicts, and honest families doing their best. More than anything, it meant discovering the golden thread that connects all of us, the glimmering kinship of being fully known in the eyes of another and believing we share a humanity that transcends race, DNA, habits, opportunities, failures and socioeconomic strata….we were on a new road to unlearning what we thought we knew about God in order to really see him at work in and around us” (17-18).
They discovered that life doesn’t consist in the abundance of their stuff or in their jobs or in good public schools or in biological family. Abundant life consists in a life that is dependent on God.
The upside-down way of God’s kingdom can feel both straightforward and elusive. When reading through the pages of the New Testament, one finds that Jesus doesn’t mince words. But so often we find ourselves doing linguistic gymnastics to make his words mean something other than the crazy thing that it sounds like he’s saying. No, we don’t literally have to feed the poor or take care of widows or visit those in prison. We just have to be willing to do these things if the poor, widowed, or imprisoned happen to waltz into our suburban neighborhoods. We don’t really have to sell our possessions and give our money to the poor. That would be absurd! God just wants us to be willing to give up our jobs or stuff if he asked. But generally He doesn’t ask. The temptation is to tame Jesus’ words to fit our lives.
This idea of hearing what the Bible says but not really being interested in taking it to heart was a big part of Shannan’s story. She writes:
“Christians like to say God can use us wherever we are, and it’s true. But sometimes we hide in that truth. We wiggle our shoulders down into wherever it is we happen to be- the place we prefer to remain, thank you very much- until all we can see are the things we want to see and ‘being used by God’ becomes little more than waving to the neighbor across the way or teaching our children that lying is always a sin, no matter what. Noble feats, yes, and not necessarily even small. But they’re starting points, not destinations.” (xx)
Instead, Shannan encourages Christ-followers to listen carefully to Scripture and to the prompting of God. And while there’s much wisdom in listening to those in our communities, it’s just as important to make sure to that the communities we are listening to are showing evidence of a Kingdom-oriented life. Shannan describes two sets of reactions to their decision to give up their farmhouse dream. One was that of strained worry. These friends assured Shannan that the test was the willingness—but to actually up and move would be CRAZY. The other set of friends. These were the so-called rebel-thinkers. I love what she says about them:
“These were the people who not only accepted the sharp veering of our lives, but understood it….they were the cheerleaders to all our misunderstood unconvention. When necessary, they ran out to the field, scooped us up, and hauled us off. They tended our wounds, gave us cool water, then swatted us on the rear and sent us back out where we belonged. We did the same for them” (116).
It should be mentioned at this point that this book was fun to read. To describe the tone and style of Falling Free, I would say it’s a cross between Jen Hatmaker’s Seven, Ron Sider’s Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, and Shane Claiborne’s The Irresistible Revolution. Shannan is a refreshing combination of funny, humble, provocative, and inspiring. She’s not afraid to call it like it is, but does so in such a way that makes readers open to her message.
However, the struggle is real. Shannan and her family haven’t lived this chapter of their life very long. How does a well-known blogger live a quiet, ordinary, gritty life one minute and then hit publish on a blog post that will be read by thousands of women the next? How does one honor the privacy of neighbors and friends when living out loud for the whole world to read? How does one navigate the power and prestige of being an author and speaker whose rise to fame is based on choosing a life that rejected that kind of life in the first place?
Shannan hints to these struggles in her book. And while it could be easy for some to dismiss her for some of these very struggles, I would say that it’s foolish to do so. Shannan and her family are bravely working, being transparent in their journey towards Kingdom-living. She is encouraging others to take the leap of faith into a life that may not make sense to family or friends, but somehow make perfect sense in the Kingdom of God.
This book will unapologetically leave readers examining their way of life. Many will be asking themselves important questions:
- What would it mean if my hope wasn’t in my job, my home, my kids, my social status?
- What would it look like for me to move out of my suburban fort and into the city?
- What would it mean to rearrange my life so I have more time and energy to love my neighbors well?
This prophetic book is a gift to the Church. Shannan does a fantastic job of both telling her story and exhorting Christ-followers to consider what it would mean to trade in our comfortable lives for Kingdom-oriented ones.