A couple of months ago a beautiful friend from Australia surprised me by sending over a book for me to read. It was a book that her bookclub read, and she loved it so much that she wanted to share it with me. It sat on my shelf because I was swamped with writing papers for school, but once I met all my deadlines this December I was finally able to pick it up and pored over the beautiful stories of Bread and Wine by Shauna Niequist.
The pages of this book are filled with Shauna’s memories and life experiences, all brought together by her love of food and passion to sharing beautiful meals with family and friends. With each chapter she weaves in a special dish that reminds her of that time in her life, a dish that leaves your mouth watering and your stomach grumbling with hunger because it just sounds so delicious. What makes this book so special is that at the end of the story Shauna shares the recipe with her readers, so we can experience the fabulous flavours of the food she has written about. Two nights ago I made her risotto. It was superb (if I do say so myself!)
Bread and Wine is beautiful, but at the end of each chapter I find myself wanting to crawl up into the foetal position and cry. Maybe it’s because of the time and situation of life in which I find myself right now, but her book leaves my heart heavy. Firstly, as she talks about the beautiful friendships she shares with people I feel an ache of loneliness and desire to sit around the big eight person dining room table that we used to own in Australia. I want to sit and share meals with all our closest family and friends whom we left behind when we moved to San Diego. While I have beautiful friendships here, I don’t have nearly as many, and whats more it takes hours and hours to develop those really deep and special relationships with people that can last the distance. Secondly, as Shauna talks about the pain of struggling to have a baby for years, of miscarriages, and then the hard and exhaustive pregnancy that she endured to bring her second son into the world, her stories open up deep longings and I am left desperately wanting to hold the baby we have desired to have for the past six years. The despair caused by infertility makes you do crazy things like go on diets to try and make your body more “fertile”, or have silly routines to get your menstrual cycle on the same pattern as the Luna calendar (apparently it helps), in addition to the thousands of dollars you’re spending on acupuncture, alternative medicine, and many different fertility treatments. These days I have learnt not to try to force our baby into existence by doing these things, but reading Niequist’s book opens old wounds.
Don’t get me wrong the book is beautiful, but Shauna writes with such openness and vulnerability that it leaves me terribly raw. It brings me face-to-face again with some of the pain that I have done so well to withdraw from… But I think being confronted with your pain is a good thing, and having it be brought out into the open to deal with is much healthier than pretending it doesn’t exist. When we learn to face our own hurts, discovering God’s presence in the midst of it all, we become much better prepared to meet others in their pain. I think this is one of the privileges of being human. It also reminds me of another book — The Wounded Healer by Henri Nouwen. In a nutshell, Nouwen shows how we are living in a hurting world, and that wounded people who can work through their pain are equipped and ready to offer authentic empathy and compassion for other wounded and lonely people.
This is what I want to offer to those around me: a safe place to be vulnerable and hurt. I want to be a person who will not shy away from another’s pain, but is ready to offer hospitality to those who need to cry and talk and work through their own wounds. I pray that you can be one of these people too — that special friend who can enter into another’s pain and be with them in it. The world desperately needs more people like this, and when we can offer this then we are truly the best friends hurting people can have. The reality is that pain exists, it’s very real for all people at some stage or another, and the effects of it can run so deep, but if we cannot offer genuine love and life to those people who are in despair then what’s the point of life? Life is about more than success, having the best car, having this nicest house, or having a fabulous Instagram account. Life is about relationships. Relationships are the reason we were created, and developing strong relationships with God and people is our purpose here on earth. Relationships ask us to be there for each other in the good times, and more importantly the bad. Relationships require intentional vulnerability and hospitality towards others in their pain. But to do so requires us to face our own pain, and be ok with the wounds of our own lives.
So I am grateful that my dear friend introduced me to Shauna Niequist, and I am grateful that Shauna’s writing has opened me up to myself in a real way. Bread and Wine is a beautiful book, and one that I am going to cherish always… as well as one that I am going to enjoy splashing food and wine all over as I cook every recipe in the book!