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A Feature Review of
Lean on Me: Finding Intentional, Vulnerable and Consistent Community
Anne Marie Miller
Paperback: Thomas Nelson, 2014
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Reviewed by Sarah Winfrey
At its most basic, Anne Marie Miller’s Lean On Me is a book about friendship. It’s about making friends and keeping them, about accepting the places in ourselves that need to be friended and learning to make connections that go beyond passing the time of day. On a deeper level, though, Lean On Me is about the significant ways other people can help us, hold us, lead us, and change us, and its about learning to let them do that.
Our culture focuses on independence, where being strong looks most like taking care of yourself and handling yourself without needing to rely on other people. Even in the Church, people who request a lot of support are considered “needy” and we are trained to be wary of how much energy we offer them. And heaven forbid we become one of them, seemingly unable to function normally without the help of others.
Lean On Me works to turn this culture of independence on its head. While the book does not advocate becoming highly dependent on other people, at least not for extended and undefined periods of time, it does set forth a view of Christian community where lives are interconnected, and where we can, when we need to, surround ourselves with people who help us function.
Miller had not thought much about community until her marriage dissolved. She had always considered herself good at relationships and authenticity, especially because part of her work as a writer called for her to travel the country talking about some hard things that had been the topic of one of her books. However, her marriage did not have the deep roots she thought it did and, as it turned out, neither did her engagement with other people.
When she divorced, it wasn’t only her heart that broke, but the rest of her life splintered, too. She tried to move across the country to get away from it all, hoping that time and distance would heal what had fallen apart. Instead, the move unmoored her even further. Knowing that she was not functioning well, she began to ask for help. First one friend, then a whole team of people, surrounded her.
She took a bold step when she emailed several people, asking them to meet her in wounded places she now knew to be deep. Her simple request asked a lot of them: to invest 18 months in offering her guidance and intentional relationship. In return, she promised to open her entire life to them and to heed their counsel in all areas: spiritual, emotional, physical, and even financial.
Miller calls this her surrender and, indeed, she surrendered her ability to be independent to this group of people. But she also surrendered her desire for independence and her pride in her ability to care for herself, by herself. She realized that many of us need to “rewire our thinking to recognize that needing another person . . . only strengthens us.” (50) This surrender proved particularly difficult for Miller: she moved back home because that was what her team decided she should do and, later, she did not leave to pursue further education until they agreed on the timing.
With her email, Miller hurled herself into the intentional and vulnerable community that many of us crave but few of us actually know how to find. Because this kind of community and dependence were foreign to Miller, the transition was hard. She embraced her commitment, though, and she continued to allow herself to lose control and move into vulnerability when she would have preferred to remain isolated.
Living in this particular type of intentional and vulnerable community changed Miller’s life. She experienced deep healing not only in the issues related to her marriage and divorce, but in places where she had thought healing might never come. As the healing did come, Miller realized over and over again just how much she needed the people who had chosen to surround her. She could not have come to a healthy place on her own.