Stay, by Anjuli Paschall
[Note: This book was provided free of charge by Bethany House in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.]
Like many of the books I read and review, this book is written by a woman, largely about herself, and directed at other women. It is to be regretted that this book is likely not to be seen by a great many men, nor does it appear to have been aimed at men, because the discourse within this book is certainly applicable to a great many men as well. The author portrays herself consistently in this small book as a nervous and continually anxious and awkward person who struggles to feel competent and who adopts various techniques and who strives to belong. There are a great many people, and not only the overstressed moms who are the target audience of this book, who can well relate to the author and her anxieties and concerns. And the openness and vulnerability of this book suggest that the author hopes for and expects that other people will be able to relate to this book. I happen to agree with her that it is a relatable approach to be vulnerable and that this book is likely to find a sympathetic audience, even if I was not familiar with her at all before reading it.
Adulting is hard, and this book provides a case study of why that is the case in twenty-one chapters that cover just over 200 pages of material. The book begins with a foreword and an invitation to stay in uncomfortable moments, a promise the author keeps in the rest of the book’s material. The author talks about her experience as an outsider in college (1), her driving mishaps (2), her addiction to appreciation (3), her struggles in vulnerability (4), and her embracing of mangoes and loneliness, one of which I am familiar with and the other of which I am deathly allergic to (5). The author discusses feeling pain (6), listening rather than just hearing others (7), and surrendering dreams and being honest about brokenness (8) as well as sitting in the weeds (9) and longing for a home that one has never seen (10). The author discusses seeing (11), being honest about one’s fears (12), dealing with embarrassment (13), recognizing scarcity (14), and waiting (15). There are discussions about being exposed (16), holding on (17), growing old (18), dealing with life’s traumas (19), bleeding (20), and feeling and being loved by God and others (21). The book ends with some discussion questions and thoughts to consider as well as acknowledgements and notes.
In many ways, this book shares a lot in common with a great many books that set out to discuss the workings of God and largely end up talking about the life of the person writing the book in particular. Whether or not this is intentional because the author knows far more about themselves and their own life than about the Bible and how to explain and interpret it, or because they believe that talking about themselves as an example is more appealing to their intended audience than seeking to provide firm scriptural exegesis, it is not a trend I wholeheartedly enjoy. The author is certainly appealing in her struggles and awkwardness, and as an awkward and anxious person I can certainly relate to at least some of those struggles. But the limitation of such works is that they only show how the writer has interpreted the way that God has worked with them personally, and anecdotal evidence from one life is not nearly sufficient a basis for making general conclusions that are applicable across all of humanity. There is plenty of insight that can be drawn here, but this is a book whose focus is on the life of the author and if that is compelling then this book will be compelling, which should be the case for the vast majority of its readers.