On Getting Out of Bed: The Burden and Gift of Living Alan Noble (IVP) $20.00 – OUR SALE PRICE = $16.00
Life is what you make it. I used to despise that sort of self-help bromide, as if we are all Horatio Algers, able to Make Things Happen, especially for ourselves.
We do not, actually, in God’s good but broken world, make something of ourselves but are in a web of formative relationships, families, schools, jobs, neighborhoods. I do not have to tell most readers of BookNotes how all this plays out. (Just think of, as random examples, the book How Neighborhoods Make Us Sick or The Color of Law or any number of riveting memoirs, from Charles Marsh’s spectacularly written and deeply insightful Evangelical Anxiety or the lovely, important recent release of the long-awaited memoir by Beth Moore, All My Knotted-Up Life.) Most of us are pretty knotted up and it isn’t always easy to carpe diem your way through a hard and complicated life.
Americana singer-songwriter Bill Mallonee sings on “Shake Down,” “Everyone I know carries a heavy heart.” And you know he’s not wrong.
And yet, for the record, there are authors and teachers who are well aware of hurt and obstacles, pain and injustices, who nonetheless offer good hope about making the most of what God gives us to do. Justin McRoberts, for instance, a poet and visionary, raw and honest and caring, writes in the hilarious book It Is What You Make of It that it isn’t true that, as we say, “it is what it is.” Things hardly ever just are; they are what they are when we make something of them as stewards of our days. As what nowadays we call a creative, Justin is a masterful guide (and a fun one) to help us make something of the stuff we are given with some personal grit and creativity and verve.
More foundationally, Andy Crouch explains with eloquent diligence and care in Culture Making that, again, we are made in God’s image, reflecting God’s own care for His world, with capacities for creativity and the ability to work and craft things out of what we. So many authors these days are reminding us of the very essence of being human, our embodied ways in the world and our glorious calling to reflect God’s image in the world.
Sometimes it is hard, for many of us or for somebody we love, to even get out of bed.
We joke about those who are morning people or those who hit the ground running (because we are wired that way or out of sheer duty and the dizzying amount of work to be done.) But not everyone can hit the ground at all, some days. Whether used somewhat metaphorically or quite literally, some days it is hard to get out of bed.
You have heard me speak of Alan Noble in these BookNotes pages before. He is a young scholar (with a PhD in literature from Baylor) and college professor who we have admired since he founded the web ‘zine God and Pop Culture and eventually wrote his first highly acclaimed paperback book Disruptive Witness: Speaking the Truth in an Age of Distraction and his second award-winning You Are Not Your Own: Belonging to God in an Inhuman World. It is a marvelous book riffing on the famous line from 1 Corinthians 6:19 and that phrase from the Heidelberg Catechism. It is one of the best books of last year and serves as a fabulous framework for this brand new one, On Getting Out of Bed: The Burden and Gift of Living.
This new compact-sized hardback book is short, plainspoken, direct, offering wise council about those who cannot make much of things as they are too struck by depression, anxiety, inner turmoil, or what he calls (quoting a wise ancient) “mental turmoil.” Whether one is diagnosed with some sort of named mental illness or struggling with hard times, the book offers advice and encouragement and non-sensational care. It is, in an odd way, one of the best books I’ve read lately, having devoured in it a couple of sittings. Every page had me sighing or underlining or calling out to Beth to read a sentence or two. It was a beautiful, if sobering, reading experience.
A handful of things stand out about this great little book that I want to note so you can determine who you might buy it for.
First, you should buy it for yourself. You may not struggle to get out of bed; you may even hit the ground running, but as Noble predicts, almost everyone in this fallen world hits seasons of something akin to depression, perhaps a “dark night of the soul”, or more likely just a debilitating sadness. It is important to know a bit of what to expect and his no-nonsense, matter-of-fact theology of how the world really works is reassuring.
Of course, God loves us and that is a major subtext of the book and is proclaimed throughout. Also, most likely, many others do, too. But hard times are going to hit and our mental anguish is going to weigh us down; there will be understandably sorrow and there may be inexplicable sadness. Even the most chipper among us and those most grounded in a spirituality of belovedness should not be caught off guard. Do consider reading this, if only to be prepared. If Alan is right, you will need it, sooner rather than later.
Secondly, you should know that this wise and practical book offers encouragement about seeing professional counselors and doctors and mental health caregivers. He affirms medication and talk therapy. But he also knows that most of us (in those networks of families and friends and congregations and neighborhoods that I mentioned above) need to allow ourselves to be cared for. There is no shame in needing others – it is how we are built and a Biblical truth – and depending upon the assistance of others is a sign of wisdom and theological maturity. To lean on others, though, we must be honest about our hurts and foibles and needs.
Alan is a very funny guy. His wit is dry and subversive, and his cleverness does show up here a bit. But this is mostly a no-nonsense book, direct and to the point. He exhorts us about the need for honesty, for vulnerability, about being communities of care for one another, belonging to each other as we do. It is pretty profound, actually, simple sentences carrying tons of valuable theological freight. He tells us over and over to be honest about our limits and fears and needs and to not be ashamed to rely on the graces of others. As he said in his early book, we are not, after all, our own. We belong.
Thirdly, there is intense guidance for those who are plagued with suicidal ideation. Again, this tragic tendency is more common that we may realize and there are those who are near the edge. This book can help you be alert to how you can help (and how not to help.) It isn’t exactly a book about suicide prevention, but we will put one in that section of our store. It literally could save lives, and we commend it. His honest realization about how hard it is to hear good news when hurting is palpable, but he says it anyway: life is a gift and it is worth living.
Fourthly, I will tell you (without spoilers) that he incorporates interesting citations from pop culture, from movies, rock songs, but mostly, from literature. He does not overdo this (and some quotes are merely used as an epigraph at the start of a chapter) but it is cool. He does tell you about the powerful will to live seen in the father in Cormac McCarthy’s devastating novel, The Road. Like that dreary novel or not, he uses it very well (and may make you want to read it. Or not.) Personally, I loved that he quoted an old song by the indie rock group Pedro the Lion about this very existential question about suicide and the reason to live.
Next, you may find it interesting that Alan knows a bit about these heavy things. He writes with significant, hard-earned insight, but he doesn’t make much of that. More than once he says that the book is not about him, and it matters not if he has faced such darkness or not. He notes that those who know him well know about his struggles and those that do not, don’t need to. Again, this models a non-sensational, principled approach that many will find reliable. There are memoirs that give a passionate inner look at a person’s pain or depression, and they have their place. This is not one of them.
Lastly, I want to circle back to where we began, our human calling to make something of what comes to us, to use our gifts, to steward our capacities, to be culture makers. Alan knows that literature well and he proclaims those Biblical teachings. In this book he mostly summarizes this grand Kingdom vision the way Jesus does, namely that our primary calling is to love God and love others. Nobody gets a pass on this, although in God’s grace, we do not have to worry about how well we accomplish such a huge mandate. But attempt it we must. All of us, or nearly all of us, must, most of the time.
Alan is very good at this point, so very sensitive and aware, and believes that most who struggle with anxiety or depression or other kinds of mental anguish are still able to have what the scholars call (and he calls, a bit annoyingly) agency. That is, we can make choices, do stuff, have a say, take advantage of the opportunities to show up and care for others the best we can. He is careful – not at all shaming or demanding – but firm. It is our vocation to love others and, in most cases, there are those who depend on us whom we must love the best we can. He has some stories of a depressed father who simply couldn’t come out of his room until he was struck by how badly his little ones needed to see him. They knew that “daddy was sick” but of course didn’t know the debilitating state of mental illness. The stories he shares are inspiring in a quiet way, naming how those who can hardly lift a leg can somehow find a way to fulfill their duties to their family, colleagues, friends, neighbors, and fellow church members. Even when it is hard there is something healing about loving others the best we can.
Sure, there are times when those plagued with mental health disorders simply cannot rise to the occasion. Justin’s fine, upbeat, stories or Andy’s formative teaching and Alan’s previous books notwithstanding, there are times when people are just too sick to do much. However, most of us, most of the time, no matter how anguished we may be, can show some sort of care to others, use our Spirit-given capacities to rise to some occasions. Maybe not at our best, maybe not doing all we wish, but we can show up, be present, do something. I found this theme of the book nearly startling and frankly a rousing gift. It is a bit risky of him to say all this, but I hope many will find it motivating.
This is not to say we must man up or put on our big girl pants or do any of that self-helpy sort of push-through-things on our own willpower, but it does remind us that as humans we have callings and vocations and duties; and we all have assets at our disposal. We have the help and gifts of others and we have our God-given abilities, such as they may be, and we have the incomparable power of God available to us somehow. I like his sober, Biblical reminders of this, something many of us might learn a bit about from our charismatic friends. Alan isn’t given over to cheap optimism but I liked his sensibly faithful reminders of Biblical promises about the power of God in our lives.
So, the short On Getting Out of Bed is for everyone, anywhere, no matter how self-confident or how broken you may feel. There is something here for nearly everyone within this needy human family of ours and I suspect more people will find it immediately helpful and reassuring that most of us may realize. I hope you order one from us today and read it soon.
Further, it is for everyone who wants to understand those who are currently going through depression or mental hardships, understandable grief, or inexplicable sadness. There are people you know who are right now bearing heavy loads (some of which you may not even realize.) Everybody has to know a bit about how to care for the hurting, and this is an intelligent guide that is inspiring, theologically rooted, clear-headed, and helpful. It is mostly written to those who find it hard to get out of bed, but we still recommend it for capable pastors, teachers, youth workers, campus ministers, parents, and anyone who wants to befriend and gently encourage those who are hurting. You might need it for yourself someday, but even if you are happy and strong, you, especially, need to understand what it is like for those who are not.
Asking “What gets you up in the morning?” is a rhetorical question we sometimes use to invite folks to ponder their passion, what they find motivating, what they are driven to or by. It’s not a bad question but I think I will never again use it glibly, having read Professor Noble’s reminder of how very hard it actually is for many people to literally get out of bed or to literally go out the door. I love and believe in books that help people dream big dreams and (as with the incredible Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good by Steve Garber) navigate with fidelity a broken world full of hurts and sorrows. (Garber is known well in the culture-shaping, made-to-flourish, faith at work circles, but I think admits to the personal hardships and social brokenness in this fallen world as honestly as anyone writing about making a difference in our vocations in the world.)
Alan Noble, too, is one of those visionaries who sees deep truths and invites us to live robust lives for the Kingdom reign of Christ, glorifying God in all things. But, as he knows, for many, this call can be nearly debilitating and must be ramped down a bit. Maybe just getting out of bed, putting one foot in front of the next, doing the next thing is really the best thing. On Getting Out of Bed will help, I’m sure. Thanks be to God.
AND THIS JUST IN.
Oooh, sometimes a book shows up just in the nick of time and we are eager to give a shout out about it. I haven’t had time to look through it, really, but I’m thrilled to add on this quick announcement about the brand new book by Aundi Kolber. It fits nicely with the theme of this BookNotes and Alan Noble’s book.: Strong like Water: Finding the Freedom, Safety, and Compassion to Move through Hard Things–and Experience True Flourishing (Tyndale Refresh; $17.99 – OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39.)
Strong Like Water officially releases near the end of the month but we just got our shipment and we are allowed to sell them early. It is a rumination and guide to new ways to think about strength. Kolber wrote the 2020 best-seller Try Softer: A Fresh Approach to Move Us out of Anxiety, Stress, and Survival Mode–and Into a Life of Connection and Joy. Because so many of our customers (perhaps more younger woman than anyone) had asked about it, we read it and agreed that it’s really, really good. I’m told this new one will be even better. Looks good, eh? Order it today at our discounted price.
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