[easyazon-image align=”left” asin=”1400203988″ locale=”us” height=”333″ src=”http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/31C6lz9wl2L.jpg” width=”218″ alt=”Mary DeMuth” ]The Appealing Prospect of Giving Everything to Christ
A Brief Review of
Everything: What You Give and What You Gain to Become Like Jesus
Paperback: Thomas Nelson, 2012.
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Reviewed By Gina Dalfonzo
Many of Mary DeMuth’s books have been easy to categorize: novel, young adult fiction, memoir, self-help. Her newest book, Everything: What You Give and What You Gain to Become Like Jesus, is not quite so easily pigeonholed.
As its title suggests, Everything’s themes are wide-ranging and comprehensive. Is it a guide to Christian growth? Another self-help book? A spiritual autobiography in the vein of C. S. Lewis’s Surprised by Joy or Karen Swallow Prior’s more recent Booked?
In truth, it’s all of the above, and more.
DeMuth (who happens to be a friend of mine) was inspired to write Everything by this simple but profound realization: “Some folks grow while others stagnate.” She wanted to find out what makes certain people “everything Christians—those who learned the secret of giving Him every part of their lives.”
The question has deep personal meaning for Mary DeMuth. As she explains briefly here—and describes more fully in a previous book, Thin Places—her childhood was filled with the pain of neglect and abuse. She spent years searching vainly for someone, anyone, to be her “everything”—the one who would love her unconditionally, whose compassion and understanding would make up for her painful past.
But, as she writes starkly, “Often those who I needed to be my everything ended up taking chunks of my soul with them, leaving me less-than.” The statement will resonate with anyone who has ever tried to find real and complete fulfillment in a fellow human being, even with those whose experiences have not been as traumatic as DeMuth’s.
All of this changed when, at the age of 15, she was led to Christ, “the only One who qualified to be my everything.” But even after a life-altering moment like that, she goes on to say, spiritual growth doesn’t just happen. Keeping Christ as one’s “everything” is a lifelong process, one in which we continually fall and get up again, get distracted and then come back. It’s not the romantic, all-consuming kind of relationship that DeMuth daydreamed about as a young girl; and yet, when fully engaged in, it is something infinitely richer and more rewarding.
The book therefore offers a wealth of practical steps to help Christians reach and sustain that level of engagement. Yet it is anything but a “to do” list, for as DeMuth observes, “The gospel isn’t a progressive list of improvement tactics.” What she seeks to do instead is remind us that, in order to gain everything from Christ, we have to give Him everything—and keep doing so, every day of our lives.
DeMuth’s transparency and warmth are well suited to her subject. She has the gift of writing, not like a preacher or even a teacher, but like a friend talking to you across a lunch table. As I said, I know her personally, but I believe I would feel this way about her writing even if I didn’t. Her words have a way of hitting a reader where he or she lives.
For me, it was the chapter “Let Go of the Giants,” with its gentle cautions about relating to other people without trying to control them. For instance: “Heartbroken, God watches his prodigals walk away, yet He lets us wander, not violating free will. Why must we cling to those who walk away instead of granting freedom? We must give the same liberty God gives to prodigals—an ability to let them go—or we’ll be perennially bound to others for our happiness and effective serve. We partner with God (and grow) when we understand the heartbeat of heartbreak—the more we love, the more it hurts, and the more we have to let go.”
That, as I said, was the chapter that struck me hardest, but I suspect there will be something similarly striking in this book for nearly every reader. The wisdom, insight, and compassion in Mary DeMuth’s Everything will linger long after the book is put down. And they help make the prospect of giving everything to Christ a deeply appealing one.
C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com