Every Christmas when I was growing up (still living at home), my mom would give me a new devotional book. As much as I appreciated the gesture, each year I faced the same discouragement.
I just didn’t get it: the flowery language, the long impersonal prayers, and the façade of perfection. And, as much as I appreciated the supposed draw of “5 minutes and done,” I was never being fed, challenged, or inspired. For a long time, I felt that something was simply wrong with me—that I just wasn’t the “right” kind of Christian or not mature enough in my faith to get what I was supposed to from a single verse, a speech, and a prayer. But, I did them, dutifully reading the devotion for that specific day and marking it off my to-do list. As a result, my faith much too often felt like nothing more than routine.
I’m not the kind of person that settles. I wasn’t satisfied. I couldn’t accept that all devotionals were the same, and that not one of the gazillion out there could speak to me. Something I gradually came to understand is that, just like not all people serve and love in the same way, not all people grow in their faith in the same way. So in my years of being unsatisfied with devotionals, I would supplement my Bible reading with writings on spirituality by people like Don Miller and Francis Chan, among others. I felt that these writers understood me. They were honest and bold and relational. And this is how I came across Shauna Niequist, a contributor to Don Miller’s Storyline blog.
My husband bought me Niequist’s devotional Savor: Living Abundantly Where You Are, As You Are for Christmas this year, and I am beyond thrilled to review a work that has renewed my hope in the devotional book. The book itself is arranged like a traditional devotional book. It is in a 365, a devotional a day format, and each entry has a scripture verse, exposition by Niequist, and a few questions for reflection.
So, what makes Savor unique?
First, Niequist radiates an incredible humanness. She always writes from a personal place, sharing the pain and joy and growth from her own life with her readers like we are all close friends. Sitting at my table with my morning coffee and Savor doesn’t feel like an obligation. It feels like Niequist and I are meeting as a fellowship group, accountability partners, confidants, and friends.
One of the devotionals (or a series of devotionals) that really spoke to me recently began with an April devotional titled “What You’re Willing To Give Up.” Niequist writes, “…it’s not hard to decide what you want your life to be about. What’s hard…is figuring out what you’re willing to give up in order to do the things you really care about” (113). This devotional was followed with two others that grew from this premise. In the first, titled “Things I Do,” Niequist shares a list of things that she feels called and committed to do at this time in her life: keeping her faith at the center of everything, devoting time to her family, growing as a writer, and living in “daily, honest, intimate community with a small group of people” (114). The second follow-up devotional, titled “Things I Don’t Do,” involves, what Niequist rightly observes, to be “the more important list” (115). She poses the question: “What am I willing to not do in order to do the things I believe in” (115). Niequist’s list includes no gardening, no perfect home décor or housekeeping, and no scrapbooking. These are simply not what Niequist enjoys or feels called to do, and she is not in any way saying that they don’t have value—just not for her, and that is perfectly okay.
This is a really important concept. I’m a type-A personality to the extreme. I live in this illusion that I can and should do it all, perfectly. This is not a healthy illusion to entertain. As Niequist writes, “This list [of “Things I Don’t Do”] sets me free. Time is finite, as is energy. One day I’ll stand before God and account for what I did with my life. There is work that is only mine to do: children that are ours to raise, stories that are mine to tell, friends that are mine to walk with” (115). And, thanks to Niequist, creating my own lists of “Things I Do” and “Things I Don’t Do” is one of the most valuable things I have done this year. These lists have helped to me to focus more on what I feel God created me to be and do at this time in my life.
Second, the recipes! Glancing at the titles of Niequist’s other books (or even just the title of this devotional), one can gather that she values fellowship that occurs around the table. Over twenty recipes are sprinkled throughout the devotional—everything from muffins to pasta salad to sundaes. Having tried numerous recipes thus far, I can avow that Niequist has a gift for sharing healthy and hearty dishes that are manageable for cooks of any skill level. As summer will soon be upon us, I thought I’d share a great recipe from Savor to try as you begin making those early trips to your local farmer’s market!
This is a recipe for “Summer Salad” (170):
- 6 ears of corn, cut from ears, raw
- 2 cucumbers, diced
- 4 peppers, red, yellow, or orange, diced
- 1 pint grape tomatoes, halved*
- 1 bunch of fresh dill, chopped
- 1 bunch of fresh basil, chopped
- 8 ounces of feta, crumbled
- salt & pepper to taste
*I didn’t have any grape tomatoes on hand, so I used plum tomatoes
Combine all ingredients together, and adjust the seasoning as you like!
My absolute favorite part of this recipe is that it can be either prepared right before a meal or made-ahead! Personally, I’m all for make-ahead dishes. Assembling the salad earlier in the day, and leaving it in the refrigerator until mealtime, allows the flavors to fully blend and sharpen.
Also, as I am a vegetarian, and my husband is not, I am constantly looking for recipes that will suit us both—as this one does. I’d pair this salad with the option of grilled chicken (or grilled tofu, for myself!) and freshly-baked bread. Simple and nutritious.
Finally, what is also wonderful about this devotional is that it’s not geared to one specific woman or age group. I, in my late-twenties, a student, and childless, am enjoying it as much as my mother who is in her fifties, a homeschooling mom, and the mother of six kids. This alone makes it a unique find!
Please let me know your thoughts if you pick up Niequist’s book (or other writings by her), try this recipe, or have recommendations about other inspiring devotionals.
Photo Credit: All images by Anelise Farris.