Still Life: Lauren Winner and the “Mid-Life Faith Crisis”

Mixed Media
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A few summers ago, I had no wind in my sails. Literally. I was taking sailing lessons, and suddenly the wind died off. I moved the tiller left and right, changed the position of the sail, but it was no use. I was stuck in the middle of the still lake and I felt despairingly powerless.

In her recent book Still: Notes on a Mid-Life Faith Crisis (HarperOne), Lauren Winner describes a much deeper sense of powerlessness. She explains how after her mother died and her marriage ended in divorce, the “enthusiasms” and “the confidence of conversion” disappeared.

Such an admission may surprise some, given that Winner already chronicled her conversion in a successful memoir (Girl Meets God; Algonquin), then expounded on marriage in another book (Real Sex), and became a well-known Christian speaker and divinity school professor—all before reaching age 40. Even more surprisingly, Winner admits that she suffered from a lack of spiritual rootedness. She did not know the Bible well and generally chose busyness over calm reflection.

Winner’s sparse prose, however, will appeal to many readers who find that their own faith has dried up—or, as Winner writes more poetically: “My faith bristled, it brittled, it snapped, like a bone, like a pot too long in the kiln.” She notes how she could not pray anymore, and, to protect herself from being judged, she became “bored” by Christianity and turned away from it.

If Winner finally rediscovered hope and God’s presence, it’s mainly thanks to community and a sense of spiritual discipline. Friends told her not to be so self-absorbed and that she needed to control her anxiety. She found her way back to church, to daily prayer, to the value of “rote, unshowy behavior.”

At the end of her book, Winner summarizes her current self in this way: “I am not a saint. I am, however, beginning to learn that I am a small character in a story that is always fundamentally about God.” Her book is really about making slow steps toward wisdom, to becoming still and knowing God is here, even if we feel stuck or set adrift.

About the Author

Otto Selles teaches French at Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Mich., and attends Neland Avenue Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids.

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