The New York Times bestselling author has done it again – created a book that is bound to sell hundreds of thousands of copies. The strapline reads 'Guiding your family with God's strength and wisdom', and what Christian parent doesn't want to learn how to do that more?
I have to be honest, I've never been read Joyce Meyer's books in the past. I don't know what it was that initially put me off, but I don't find titles such as '100 Ways to Simplify Your Life', 'The Secret to True Happiness' and 'Look Great, Feel Great' appealing. They seem far too 'self-help' to me. So when I was asked to read and review this book I wasn't sure that I was going to like it.
There are elements that I found didn't sit too well with me – such as the pithy statements about "living victoriously" (too similar to the "name it, claim it" approach for my liking). The illustration about not speaking to anyone about the problems your kids may be having in school, as you are making it harder for your kids to succeed, smacked of the same message.
Joyce says that you should be declaring 'truths' like she did, such as "He gets As and Bs" when her son was in actual fact getting Fs. (This section did make me wince more than once.) I know that Joyce uses this as an example of hearing directly from God. I don't dispute that – and she said her son's grades began to improve as a result. I also know that she encourages the power of positive words (and I could probably learn a lot more about that) but it was these elements in the book that I found hard to digest.
However, overall, I was actually pleasantly surprised. I found myself eager to read on and was challenged by quite a lot of it. What was refreshing was the honesty with which Joyce shared – about the abuse in her past but also her parenting failures. She also acknowledges the world in which we live, and the fact that mothers are usually working – and how much single parenthood is on the rise.
In this book she is keen to debunk the myths surrounding motherhood – indeed the second chapter is entitled "Perfect Women Need Not Apply". She acknowledges the difficulties and mistakes we all make, but encourages us with simple biblical truths and examples from her own life about what she's learned.
In that second chapter she speaks great positive truths over the reader, such as: "God... wants us to give up the habit of judging and criticizing ourselves. He wants us to say, 'I'm determined to do my best each day, but even if I miss it, I'm not going to be filled with worry over it. I'm going to trust God that if I'm doing something that's really displeasing to Him, He'll speak to me and show me how to change it."
She goes on to acknowledge that, while we are definitely role models for our kids, she wants to release readers from the fear that every mistake will be negatively affecting our children. "If you willingly acknowledge your mistakes and are quick to repent, if you keep trusting God and refuse to feel condemned, your shortcomings can be a great help to your kids. They can help them learn how real people deal with a real world."
I also enjoyed the "Take a Break and Believe" chapter in which she talked about the need to learn to soar with God in the midst of a manic schedule. While we often accept the myth that worry comes hand in hand with motherhood, Joyce reminds us that there is another way to live. Of course we will all face difficult circumstances and challenges, but the way we approach them is so important:
"I spent years asking, 'Why, God, why?' or 'When, God, when?' I wasted enormous amounts of mental and emotional energy struggling to fix people and situations that were totally beyond my control. It was exhausting! But I eventually realized it wasn't really the people and circumstances that were draining me, it was the negative attitude with which I approached them. I often like to ask, 'Are your circumstances your problem, or is your attitude your problem?'"
Ouch. That hurts. But Joyce has faced enough trials in her life and struggled with this very issue herself – and that gives her authenticity and, in my book, earns her the right to be so direct. She explains that, "I've found that God rarely shares with me exactly how He's going to work things out. He wants me to simply trust Him." Possibly not the words those 'fixers' out there want to hear – but isn't it refreshing to know that even Joyce Meyer doesn't get all the answers?!
I found the section looking at how each child is totally different and needs a different parenting approach really interesting. She acknowledges that there can be no 'how to' manual because of this and that things that worked with one of her children did not necessarily work for others. That is why it is so important to learn each child's giftings and go to God for His wisdom on how to bring up each individual.
I also thought her words about not controlling your children too much gave me much to think about. She says that you need to learn to give your children more authority over their lives little by little, so that they don't suddenly reach the age of 20 without being allowed to make any of their own decisions as they simply won't make it in the world like that.
I know that a child is a precious gift, and that when we first have that little bundle at home we are filled with awe and are usually determined to fight to protect our kids but also teach them the ways of God. But Joyce reminds us: "One key is to remember that you aren't the only one involved in shaping your child's life. God is also involved, and so is your child.
"As a parent, your part is to pray for your kids and teach them what the Bible says about how to live, set up guidelines for them to follow, determine what the consequences will be if they disobey, and follow through with those consequences when necessary. God's part is to work with your children's hearts and help them change their inward attitudes. The children's part is to choose what they are going to do. Parents get out of balance when they try to manage all three parts of this process themselves."
The book is very simplistic in its approach – some may find that frustrating. But, actually, if you put the simple suggestions Joyce provides into practise I'm sure the results would be extremely positive and worth the effort. But therein lies the challenge too – she makes it sound so simple, but so do all the other 'advice' books out there and yet it is only as we make changes to our habits and schedules that such advice can have make a difference to our everyday lives.
Joyce's main point is that to be a confident 'mom' you need to put your confidence in your identity in God, never comparing yourself – or your kids – with others, put Him above all others in your life and recognise you are parenting in partnership with Him. It is all very encouraging. While it didn't tell me anything particularly new, it did make me stop and think a bit and focus on the areas I had previously been feeling needed some work.
As I hadn't read Joyce's books before, I asked for comments from someone who I knew had just received the book too. Reassuringly, for me at least, the response was similar to my own – mixed but overall positive:
"I probably found it less inspirational than it was meant to be; finding it reassuring and irrelevant in equal parts.
"There are plenty of helpful biblical references, and also refers to relevant characters from the Bible.
"Parenting is not a popular preaching topic, so it's great to have an easy to read book dedicated to the subject.
"Joyce's tone comes across perfectly. Once I have read it I want to pass it on to someone else. I think it can work for lots of different people at their own particular point in parenthood."
I think the book is pretty overpriced (£14.99) – okay it is 200+ pages long, but it is a small gift book format and a very easy and quick read (as I'm told is Joyce Meyer's usual style). However, for a first-time mum (or any mum lacking in confidence) this could make a worthwhile gift.