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Shauna Niequist (@sniequist) on Learning to Swim in the Surrender of Faith

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I wanted Shauna Niequist’s book, Cold Tangerines: Celebrating the Extraordinary Nature of Everyday Life (because I loved the cover), but Bittersweet: Thoughts on Change, Grace, and Learning the Hard Way was the one on sale so I picked it up instead. I’m glad I did because my life is going through a bittersweet phase right now. I had never read (or heard of) Shauna Niequist but if I had any doubts about her or her book, they disappeared when I opened to the first essay and discovered to my delight she used my favorite metaphor for faith. Faith is like floating on water. Unfortunately, I tend to flail around like a drowning person. But if you relax and trust the water to hold you, you will float effortlessly.

Here’s an excerpt from “Learning to Swim.”

Book Excerpt

I learned about waves when I was little, swimming in Lake Michigan in navy blue water under a clear sky, and the most important thing I learned was this: if you try to stand and face the wave, it will smash you to bits, but if you trust the water and let it carry you, there’s nothing sweeter. And a couple decades later, that’s what I’m learning to be true about life, too. If you dig in and fight the change you’re facing, it will indeed smash you to bits. It will hold you under, drag you across the rough sand, scare and confuse you.

This last season in my life has been characterized, more than anything else, by change. Hard, swirling, one-after-another changes, so many that I can’t quite regain my footing before the next one comes, very much like being tumbled by waves. . . .

I’m able to see now that what made that season feel so terrible to me were not the changes. What made the season feel so terrible is that I lost track of some of the crucial beliefs and practices that every Christian must carry with them. Possibly a greater tragedy is that I didn’t even know it until much later.

Looking back now I can see that it was more than anything a failure to believe in the story of who God is and what he is doing in this world. Instead of living that story—one of sacrifice and purpose and character—I began to live a much smaller story, and that story was only about me. I wanted an answer, a timeline, and a map. I didn’t want to have to trust God or anything I couldn’t see. I didn’t want to wait or follow. I wanted my old life back, and even while I read the mystics and the prophets, even while I prayed fervently, even while I sat in church and begged for God to direct my life, those things didn’t have a chance to transform me, because under those actions and intentions was a rocky layer of faithlessness, fear, and selfishness.

. . .

Every wave presents us with a choice to make, and quite often, unfortunately, I have stood, both resolute and terrified, staring down a wave. I have been smacked straight on with the force of the water, tumbled, disoriented, gasping for breath and for my swimsuit bottoms, and spit onto shore, embarrassed and sand-burned, standing up only to get knocked down again. Refusing to float on the surface and surrender to the sea.

–Shauna Niequist, Bittersweet, excerpt from “Learning to Swim.”


Does any of that sound familiar to you? Have you fought against the waves? Have you tried to bravely stand your ground, only to be thrashed and beaten by the waves of life with which God intended to carry you?

I’ve recently discovered that I think I’m acting in faith when I brace myself for impact. But that leads to spiritual injury, disappointment, and sometimes embarrassment. God doesn’t want to beat us up; He wants to direct the course of our lives, but we’re digging in, braced to face off. What we need is to discover the grace of sweet surrender. Life may be bitter, but surrender is sweet.

Let’s talk about faith, fear, and flailing around. How does this analogy help you understand how you tend to face change? Do you fight the bitterness of life or have you discovered sweet surrender?


You can connect with Shauna Niequist on Twitter (@sniequist) or visit her website:

Here’s a quick glimpse of Shauna talking about her book, Bittersweet. I know it’s fun to put a face to some of these authors so I wanted to include this. Bittersweet is available from Amazon in paperback or Kindle versions. It is also available from in paperback or ePub.



Order from the link below and you'll help me earn a few cents. I like the jingle of coins in my cup.

335283: Bittersweet: Thoughts on Change, Grace, and Learning the Hard Way Bittersweet: Thoughts on Change, Grace, and Learning the Hard Way

By Shauna Niequist / Zondervan

Change can be frightening or exhilarating, but it’s always challenging—and educational. Drawing on her own recent experience of pain and chaos, Niequist explores nuggets of wisdom and growth she learned the hard way—through loss and transition. Her warm, lyrical reflections will help you perceive the blessings of change in your own life.

3488EB: Bittersweet: Thoughts on Change, Grace, and Learning the Hard Way - eBook Bittersweet: Thoughts on Change, Grace, and Learning the Hard Way – eBook

By Shauna Niequist / Zondervan


This post is part of the Virtual Book Fair: Christian Authors A to Z. See the list of other authors featured in the Virtual Book Fair.



1 Comment

  1. Pearl

    June 10, 2018

    Post a Reply

    I feel every ounce of this. Why is it so
    difficult to let go and surrender to love?

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