This isn’t a book review. Reviewing someone’s memoir doesn’t seem quite right. They just shared their life with you. It’s a brave act. I think it has been Beth Moore’s superpower in her ministry. She is beloved because of how she gives herself to others. And she is a great storyteller. This time, Beth (it seems more appropriate to use her first name given the nature of her communication) tells some of the secrets of her knotted-up life.
In reflecting on the conversation she had with her husband, Keith, about what to share of his own story intermingled with hers, she says,
Vulnerability, in and of itself, is sacred because it mirrors, if even in a glass darkly, the image of Christ.All My Knotted Up Life
That’s a powerful word. And sharing our stories with the secrets we are still trying to dig out of our own guts is incredibly vulnerable and powerful. I think about how this act images Christ in a way that teaches us to be human.
Frederick Buechner, in his memoir, says, “I am my secrets. And you are your secrets. Our secrets are human secrets, and our trusting each other enough to share them with each other has much to do with the secret of what it is to be human.”
They are often knotted up inside of us and we need the help of others to untangle them, gaze, hold, and make sense of them. Do they define us? Why are they there? All the while, we are trying to answer the questions, Am I known, am I loved, am I okay?
We need others to be able to tell our stories and to even learn about our own selves. Isn’t this a big part of what church is to be? We are storied people. Recognizing this will help us to learn better, to love better, and to heal better. Every person comes to church with their story. Is there not something inside of us that hopes that is the safe place where our stories are drawn out of us and given new light in the reality and beauty of the gospel? We find that we are part of a much bigger, overarching story that has us on a dynamic trajectory together. The story is that God is preparing our souls for Love. He is inviting us to share in the Father’s great love for the Son by the Spirit.
In this way, vulnerability is sacred. It is an unveiling. An emptying. A giving. A trusting. An invitation.
As I was reading Beth’s memoir, I thought about how I have critiqued her writing before when I’ve written on the quality of theology and Bible teaching in bestselling Christian books for women. Despite that, Beth has given me personal encouragement when church officers and influencers crossed way over the line of critique into harassment and abuse against me. She knows better than me what that does to a person. Another superpower of Beth’s is her humility. I received that in personal engagement with her, and in her memoir. Doctrine and bible teaching are important. Beth does not downplay that. She shares her story in her process of learning, unlearning, repenting, and growing in not merely knowledge, but in beauty, goodness, truth…love. What’s real. I have my own unlearning to do. And I’ve learned in agony that it doesn’t matter how precise your doctrine is if it has no skin. No flesh. No love.
Christianity is a confessional faith. But that isn’t all we pass down to one another and the next generations. It’s not only in the words anyway. They are symbols and containers. As necessary and beneficial as our creeds and confessions are, they can’t give you love. They were never meant to be alone like this. And as I read Beth’s memoir, I thought about how I hope to have some of her humility and love in how I hold my confession of who Christ is. That it has substance, not just words. The substance of faith is Christ himself, where our affections are and our trust rests. It is all about what we love. We learn this when it is challenged. I’ve seen the evil of doctrine hollowed of the substance of Christ himself and his love. Of merely confessing and acting upon the appearance of truth and sanctification, while lacking in the presence of it.
And like every good story, Beth’s asks these big life questions. Have we been holding onto appearances? Having the “right” doctrine, living the “Christian” life? Do we really believe, down in our bones, what we say? Or is it an illusion? Do we crumble when we are deprived of what we are seeking? What are we toiling for? Are we good? Does God show up for us? For you? For me? For our loved ones?
These are questions I’ve been asking in my own writing as I weave some of my story in The Hope In Our Scars. And Beth works through this beautifully in sharing hers. She doesn’t untie all the knots. She holds them, inviting us to as well, before God. That’s sacred. We see Christ in it. In her, in you, in me.
It reignited my conviction that church is to be a place for this. The Bible sure is.
Sharing our stories does something quite incredible. It’s generative. This is how we come to know not only one another more, but even ourselves. Even God. When we share our stories, we are sharing our very selves with one another. And when we can do that with trusted people, things come out of us that we didn’t realize we’ve been holding in. We need partners in affliction. People who will bear witness to where we are and what we’ve experienced and still stay in the room with us. In this, we also become partners in kingdom and endurance. We need to hear others speak into our version of events, as we’ve been silently self-narrating. We can’t see even our own selves and our own stories all by ourselves—we weren’t meant to. We are part of a body. Christ’s body.
As our personal stories unfold and weave with the stories of our brothers and sisters in the faith under this metanarrative, we hold them together as a testimony to where we’ve come from, what we’ve been through, and the beauty Christ is inviting us into through them together. In this, we find freedom in belonging to Christ. Freedom to be known, to love, to give, and to sacrifice for one another on our way. Freedom to promote one another’s holiness and goodness. Freedom even to share our struggles and pain. Freedom to confess our sin. And freedom to seek beauty together, which helps us to truly see and reminds us of our trajectory—communion with the triune God and one another.
Beth concludes her memoir with this vulnerability. It’s on the back cover of the book, so I don’t think I’m dropping any spoilers in quoting from the end:
I saw this life of mine going differently than it has. I saw myself turning out better than I have. Surer about how things go. I expected to have more riddles solved. More people sorted out. More grays dissolved to black-and-white.
I never was able to divide up the room into the good and the bad that way I’d wanted. I couldn’t even unmix my own feelings, let alone those of others. I needed neatness from God. What I got was a tangled-up knot.All My Knotted Up Life
She talks about how our knots are all a part of what God has tied together. As we look at them, he is telling his secrets:
All My Knotted Up Life
Tied in such a way that all the human tugging, doubting, and fretting in the world can’t loose them. Tied in such a way that no mortal mind can calculate. What God is this who can keep a secret so long? What God is this so unhurried to prove himself? So confident of his own spotless character that he is unpressured by all the second-guessing of his own children?
Maybe she took John MacArthur’s advice after all. Just not in the way he intended it.