Grumpy Mom Takes A Holiday - A Review



Are you all ready for a really long review? (I'm sorry in advance, but I couldn't make it shorter.)

I saw Grumpy Mom Takes A Holiday by Valerie Woerner when a blog friend shared a few really good lines from one of the chapters.  I've developed an aversion to books written for Christian women in general, but I thought the points from the book that my friend shared were really interesting, so I decided to give it a go.  And I do have thoughts.  A lot of thoughts.

Before I start, I just want to say up front that I really agonized over this review for one main reason - I'm really hoping the author will read this review.

I'm hoping she will read it because I think she is actually really talented.  It's no small thing to write a book, and her voice is relatable and fun.   I can tell that she really has a heart for the Lord and wants to serve the Lord well, and that goes a long way in my book.  She also mentions a few times in the book the value of having a teachable spirit and being able to listen to a critique.  I do have some critiques to give that I think are really important.  I'm hoping the author reads this because I have no doubt that she will write another book in the future, and I hope she can consider these points when she does.

First, let's talk about what she did well!



Positives

This is such a great topic for a book in today's culture.  I fully agree with the author's assessment of the problems with being a grumpy mom, and how the different aspects of modern mom culture (like wearing "hot mess" like a badge and one-upping each other on how little sleep we got, for example)  are only contributing to our general grumpiness about motherhood.  Her chapter on not being constantly offended is right on the money, while also being really self-aware of her own areas of weakness when it comes to being offended.  She hit on alot of great points throughout this book, and really did a great job in pointing out some of the problems in our collective attitudes about motherhood.

As I said, her voice is also really relatable, and the writing was overall fun to read.  Alot of her personal stories reminded me of the days when my kids were a little younger, and also of some of my own struggles as a mom right now!  This book does an excellent job of letting mothers know they are not alone in their struggles, and that I think is definitely valuable.

Negatives

This is the not-so-fun part for me.  I feel like I need to preface this section with saying that to me, this book actually felt like two separate books.  I felt like the underlying focus of the advice in the first 40% of the book, and the last 3 or 4 chapters was completely different than the middle. The first part and the last few chapters were mostly focused on more secular concepts with a Christian twist (by secular concepts, I mean concepts that would apply to anyone, secular or Christian, or that you could read in many psychology or self-help books), while the middle was packed with many more Bible references and a more biblical approach to the problems.

I don't know that much about the book writing/editing process, but it felt like the first part and the last part were written at the same time, and then the section in the middle was written later during a period when she grew in her faith and biblical knowledge.  If I'm right, it's a great thing that her outlook grew to focus more on Scripture.  For the sake of the book, it was not a great thing that the book couldn't all have been written after she decided which type of advice she wanted to focus on, because like I said, it felt like two completely different books.  All that to say, some of the critiques I give below are more prominent in the first half and last few chapters.


1.The gospel is poorly presented (and even misrepresented) in this book.

I am bringing this up as someone who has made the same mistakes in my writing in the past, so I hope it can be read with that in mind.

It was clear that the author was addressing her book to an audience that are already believers in Christ. The problem is that in the current culture, you can’t assume that everyone who picks up a Christian “self-help” type book will actually be a Christian. Especially with a title like “Grumpy Mom Takes A Holiday” - all kinds of moms who struggle with grumpiness will be picking this up. As a Christian author, you have to keep this in mind.  If any nonbelievers pick this book up, it will do them absolutely no eternal good if they learn how to be less grumpy at their kids, but they still don’t know what it means to be saved.

In the first few paragraphs the author assured the reader that the Holy Spirit will help her on this journey.  She can make no such assurance though, because unbelievers do not have the Holy Spirit. 

There are two things that need to happen to explain the gospel - you need to tell WHY we need to be saved, and tell HOW we can be saved. Unfortunately, the book missed the mark on both counts.  

Just to be clear, the gospel is NOT that God will help us to be better, less grumpy people. The gospel is not about doing our best for God.  The gospel is not about God helping us live our lives more abundantly. The gospel is not about self improvement.  Some of those things can RESULT from the gospel, but it’s not how we are saved.

Unfortunately alot of this book gives the impression that this is all there is to being a Christian, because the actual gospel is never explained in full, though in some of the middle chapters it is touched on.

The author makes an attempt to explain the gospel in Chapter 9 after admitting that until fairly recently, she was relying on works to save her, until she realized she could never do enough. But I was disappointed when the only thing she described being freed from was her “guilt” (not her sin and it’s consequences). She prays “Only you can save me from my own requirements for righteousness that I put on myself.” 

The problem is not that we are guilty of not living up to our own standards. We are guilty of not living up to GOD’S standard (Romans 3:23), and His standard is perfection, because He is perfectly holy. We have earned nothing for ourselves but eternal punishment in Hell, because we have sinned against an eternal God and broken His laws (Romans 6:23Matthew 25:46).  Even our supposed good deeds are like filthy rags to God (Isaiah 64:6).  We cannot pay this sin-debt, we cannot make ourselves righteous.  Which is why we need Jesus, because HE is the only one who meets God’s standard (Corinthians 5:21), and He took our punishment for us. 

God loves us, and because He loves us, He didn’t leave us in our sins, but provided a way for us to be saved. God became a man, Jesus who was fully man and fully God. He lived the sinless life that we couldn’t, and then died in our place, paying the penalty for our sin. Then He rose again, defeating sin and death, proving He was God! And now all we must do to be saved is repent, meaning to be sorry for our sin and turn to Jesus, putting our faith in Him to save us and not in any work of our own (Ephesians 2:8-9). When we do that, He takes our sin and gives us His righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21), so we can stand blameless before God. He also gives us the Holy Spirit, who then empowers us to live no longer for ourselves but for Christ.

I’m not saying the author doesn’t understand the gospel, I think she does because of different things she writes. But no one could read this book and put the gospel together unless they already knew the gospel themselves.  Elements of the full gospel are scattered in various phrases throughout the book, but it’s like a super-confusing Easter egg hunt, one that starts with the results of the gospel and works backward. But even the reason Jesus died for us is never explained, His resurrection never mentioned. 

The whole gospel is awfully hard to find in this book amidst all these disjointed and missing puzzle pieces, and perhaps an opportunity to reach unbelieving moms who pick up this book is missed. Worse, I’m afraid that because our sin problem isn’t addressed and the gospel isn’t fully explained, some may leave with a confusion about what it really even means to be a Christian. This is so important to get right in any Christian nonfiction book, in my opinion, and the lack of a clear explanation of how to be saved was my biggest problem with the book.



2. There was more of a focus on self-help than biblical advice.

A lot of the advice in this book is repackaged self-help, with a few Bible passages sprinkled in to support her points. I thought this was a shame. The Bible actually has a ton to say about complaining, selfishness, worry, grumbling, unthankfulness...all the things that make us act like grumpy moms. This book could have been so Biblically rooted if the author had started with the Bible and worked out from there, but she often starts with her own thoughts (many of which are not that different from other self-help books) and her own experiences with Christian living, and then the biblical references felt tacked on in order to support her points.

In all fairness, this critique applies more toward the beginning and last few chapters of the book. She hit a better note in the middle. 


3. She seemed afraid to address the actual root cause of being a grumpy mom. 

The truth is, we are not grumpy just because we aren’t flexible enough. We’re not grumpy because we don’t take enough time for self-care, or because we rely too much on chocolate. At the root, being grumpy at our kids is really a lingering sin struggle.

We don’t like our kids interrupting whatever we’re doing because we’ve put our interests ahead of theirs (Phil. 2:4).  We complain about all the work kids involve and how we never have time to brush our hair because we are viewing a gift from God as a burden, harboring ungratefulness.  

These are just examples from the book, but hopefully you can see my point.  These things won’t be fixed by bandaids like more flexibility and self-care. Selfishness, complaining, and ingratitude are all sins, and ones the Bible has plenty to say about, but she didn’t include any of the really relevant verses, or address them as sins at all. She didn’t explain how Jesus has freed those of us who believe in Him from the power of these sins in our lives BECAUSE He died in our place to pay the penalty for our sins. This book would have been so much more powerful and useful if she had spent more time on these things. Christians still need to be reminded of the true gospel too.  I think that’s the most effective way to overcome these struggles -when we are focused on what Christ did to save us from sins like these, they automatically lose some appeal.

I got the feeling through some of the book that the author just wanted to be positive and not address the hard truths. She seemed mostly hesitant to use the word “sin” through most of the book, mainly using euphemisms like “mess” and “brokenness”.  

There is such a thing as being too nice - and it’s when it causes us to avoid speaking the truth in love because we are worried speaking the truth clearly might cause hurt feelings. Avoiding saying hard things might be “nice”, but it’s not kind.

4. Questionable use of Bible translations.

Warning: This is just a pet peeve of mine.

I almost hate to bring this up, because a lot of you may just tune me out here, but can we all just be a little more careful with our use of the Message? This is not an actual Bible translation, and it’s not God’s Word. It’s a paraphrase. If I paraphrase something you say, I’m not spreading your words, I’m taking what you said and putting it in my own words. A paraphrase of the Bible is man’s word, not God’s Word.  There is nothing wrong with referencing it occasionally, but please, let’s not quote the Message as if it’s God’s Word. Because it’s not. 

The author did okay with qualifying that it was a paraphrase at the beginning, but she used the Message heavily throughout this book and then eventually dropped the qualification. 

Whether you like the Message or not (can you tell what I think about it? ha!), the Message should not be referenced or read as your main “Bible translation”. Because it’s not an actual translation. 

Okay, I’m off my soapbox now.

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To sum it up, who would I recommend this book to?

Because of the problems with presenting the gospel clearly and the confusion that might result, I would absolutely not recommend this to anyone that I was not already sure was a strong Christian who really understands the gospel.  

Because of the weak beginning and end, I am hesitant to recommend the book to my Christian friends too.  There are some gems in this book, but they are buried beneath too much soft or confusing language, and a hesitancy to address these issues as sin.  I just think there are alot of other books that are more rooted in the Bible and the gospel (Respectable Sins by Jerry Bridges is one).

Again, I'm sharing all this not just for people who want to know what to expect, but also because I hope the author sees this.  Valerie, if you are reading, please know that I tried my best to approach this review in love, as a sister in Christ.  I've been praying over this review, and hope you can see my heart and give some thought to these issues.

Note: I received a digital copy of this book from NetGalley for free, in exchange for an honest review.

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Felicia said...

This is such a gracious review, Callie! You presented your thoughts very well.

I'm with you, I'm starting to shy away from books for Christian women because so often these days they have poor spiritual merit. And also, totally agree on the Message, it's also a pet peeve of mine.

Sarah said...

I haven't read the book nor am I trying to start a big disagreement, but is it possible that the author's goal wasn't to present the plan of salvation? Perhaps she didn't include it because, like you said, she was assuming Christian readers would be the main audience.

It reminds me in a way of the differences in christian weddings. Some have sermons that presents salvation and may have communion, but some (like my own) have hymns, Bible readings and a sermon that focused on marriage using passages in Ruth, and did not spend lengthy amounts of time on the church being the bride of Christ, etc. People have very different opinions on what needs to be included in christian weddings and whether or not it needs to be a call of salvation to the unsaved that attend. I can't say if one is better than the other, but your review made me think about discussions with my friends about this topic.

Callie said...

Hey Sarah, I do think you bring up a valid point. I know people may have different opinions on this topic of whether every Christian nonfiction book should include the gospel. I've given a lot of thought to this.

My biggest argument FOR including the gospel clearly in Christian nonfiction is that the author has no control over who picks up a book after it's out there in the world. I think it's fine for books to be written to a primarily Christian audience, but my concern is that when the gospel is not clearly presented in a nonfiction book, if a nonbeliever does pick it up (and this happens more than you might think) and the gospel is only referenced or not presented, the overall picture for an unbeliever can lead to alot of confusion about what they actually need to do to be saved. Books written to Christians often have alot of practical advice toward sanctification or greater holiness, for example, but if a nonbeliever picked up a book like this that didn't also clearly present the gospel, they would likely get the idea that to be a Christian you just have to be a good person.

Does that make sense? I think it's a little different with weddings because in a wedding there usually wouldn't be messages that could lead someone to a misunderstanding of what it means to be a Christian (I don't think). But this happens in books all the time when the gospel isn't clearly stated. I personally try not to recommend Christian nonfiction books, on social media or in person, that aren't written in a way that an unbeliever could read it and come away knowing how to be saved. That was my issue with this book, because when an incomplete gospel message is presented, it could actually lead to confusion in unbelievers or even false conversions if they get the wrong idea of how to be saved. That's my personal thoughts on it. Hopefully that makes sense.

Elizabeth said...

I hope the author does read your review! That happened my blog once, kind of gave me a heart attack, but still kind of satisfying. I almost didn't read your post because I'm also not a huge fan of Christian women authors. I guess nowadays there is so much online content that I don't feel like I need a book to read yet another person's personal opinion, yet personal testimonies still fit a certain niche that is needed. Is this author a blogger? Not all blogging thoughts translate well into book-format. I appreciate your calling Christians to a higher standards theologically. I don't know if I agree that the Gospel always has to be presented, but if I read the book maybe I would get that same feeling. I will say that living abroad and speaking English with non-native speakers (who sometimes prefer reading the Bible in English to their native language), I am more aware of the shortcuts that Americans take to explain things, including in church. Inside jokes and really specific contexts. For example, if we grew up on hymns, we love to quote them, use them in decor, etc. But unless they're quoting the Bible, they would mean nothing if you didn't have that hymn-filled childhood. I mean, they might seem poetic to someone else, but the context would be kind of ambiguous.

Callie said...

Hi Elizabeth! I understand not everyone will necessarily agree about including the gospel in Christian non-fiction books. But I personally do think if the gospel is going to be referenced so heavily, as it often is in Christian non-fiction, then it should be explained clearly, at the very least for some context. You bring up a good point about the shorthand, inside jokes, etc - I think that can contribute to confusion, not just in a foreign context but in America too. In America I think we have the added problem of a lot of "false converts" - people who would loosely call themselves Christians because they believe in God, but who don't actually understand or believe the gospel. It's something of a problem here (in our church search, I've definitely seen this). If the gospel is not explained in clear terms within a Christian non-fiction book that *references* the gospel so much (like this one), I just think that could contribute to the confusion of someone like that. I don't see how clarity of the gospel in Christian nonfiction could ever really be a bad thing, I think it's always a good thing, and it's something I like to see if I'm going to recommend a Christian non-fiction book. That's just my thoughts on it. :-)

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