It’s Not Supposed to Be This Way by Lysa TerKeurst was on my TBR because I pulled it from some pandemic book club suggestions I had compiled at the beginning of the year. I started a pandemic book club in January, and It’s Not Supposed to Be This Way was our second Christian reading, our last Christian selection for the year. I have heard TerKeurst before on the radio and read her brief encouragements in my email inbox, as a voice of Proverbs 31 Ministries. I enjoy her short and sweet, thoughtful and simple words. Not only did I think that I would like her as a long-form-writer, but I also thought that the book—about how to respond when your world is topsy-turvy (say, in a pandemic)—would be just right for me and for my book club members at this time.
It’s Not Supposed to Be This Way is a type of devotional book, a modern Christian self-help book of faith-builders and encouragement. It centers around TerKeurt’s struggles over the couple years when her husband of many years cheated on her and she was diagnosed with cancer. It was a tough time. How did she respond? What did she learn from it? Where was God when it really, really hurt? That is the book we have here.
There was an article this morning in the New York Times. It said that we have entered a new phase of the pandemic, at more-than-a-year. Personally, it seems like it’s been a long slide in this direction, but anyhow, the article said whereas we were hyper-productive in some of the earlier stages, we are now in behavioral anhedonia, “a reduced ability to take pleasure in activities.” And we’re not motivated to do anything, anymore, even the normal things like get out of bed or wash the dishes, let alone make sourdough bread or repaint the house. We’re lethargic, lacking interest, and we’re coping by meditating, drinking alcohol, eating too much, walking, practicing our religion, writing letters, giving gifts, and adopting pets. (For me, eating and adopting pets rings most true.) My point being that I and billions of other people currently feel that “it’s not supposed to be this way!”
While the subject matter may be relevant (though it’s dealing more with major catastrophe and not long, drawn-out seasons of stress, fear/denial, information wars, and decision fatigue), it didn’t totally hit home for the season. For me. I have been through seasons like TerKeurst is writing about—blinding, life-altering, personal catastrophe. Perhaps this book would have been a friend, then. It has some things to say and there is no doubt that TerKeurst’s story, book, and voice have helped a lot of mostly women through tough times and crises of faith. But I was distracted by the lack of theological rigor (Is that true?, I would wonder), a strain of cheesiness, and also the broken cadence. This cadence is a style, but it’s not one that I tolerate well, even in writing for middle grades and children. You’ve seen it: paragraphs are broken into several, sentences in halves, etc. Why is each sentence its own paragraph? Someone must like it that way. Not me. I did like the cover and the layout of the printed page. Maybe a litle gimmicky, but modern and effective.
I think TerKeurst’s writing is at its best when she is telling a story. Most of the time, though, she’s simply giving encouragement and she often lost my attention. I wasn’t underlining on every page, starring and double-starring, and wondering how I could choose quotes for the review. In fact, I would often go a page and then wonder what the heck I had just read. It felt vaguely like I had heard it before and then zoned out. Plus, I wasn’t tethered anywhere and the writing wasn’t flowing in an organic way. I found truths here and there, but the experience wasn’t a cohesively amazing one.
There are notes, scriptures, and a prayer after each chapter, which one would appreciate, especially if they wanted to go deeper with this book. In the end, some of the platitudes I needed to hear and TerKeurst is plenty friendly and vulnerable, but the book itself was scattered. As is often the case, the majority of reviews are by fans who have been touched by this book and who totally disagree with me. If you are more of a reader of the Christian classics and a student of theology, maybe this isn’t the tough times read for you. I’m sure there’s something else out there more along the lines of life-currently-sucks for the likes of us. As for the legions of women who attend her conferences and read her books, this is another one to check off the list and glean from.
“Together we will find a way to tie our hope not to specific outcomes we thought were the only way back to normal, but rather to the very heart of God” (pxiv).
“But disappointment isn’t proof God is withholding good things from us. Sometimes its His way of leading us home” (p4).
“If we weren’t ever disappointed, we’d settle for the shallow pleasures of this world rather than addressing the spiritual desperation of our souls” (p17).
“If [Satan] can distract us with the negative narrative of ‘not good enough,’ we will miss the metanarrative, the grand overarching story of redemption in which God intends for us all to play a crucial role” (p79).