I picked up this book based on the review of another blogger. When I ordered the book I was impatiently and anxiously awaiting my dissertation results – waiting isn’t something I’m very good at. Although by the time I started the book I had received my results, I still found myself in a sort of limbo. I had spent the last three years of my life working towards this big goal of getting my Masters, and when it was all over I felt a little bit lost. I’m still figuring out what I want to do next – I kind of have an idea but I’m not really sure how to get there – so I am still waiting on God, His timing and his answers to my questions. All of which to say, this book came at exactly the right time for me.
I started reading in the middle of November, and was soon overtaken by the season of Advent, which was perfect as Advent is all about waiting. Although you can read this book at any time of year, it is set out for daily reading through the Advent season, and has an appendix at the end for group study.
The book retells the stories of four Bible characters from their own perspective. These are based around the four Advent candles (one version of this) – the first section is Sarah (wife of Abraham) representing the Patriarchs; the second is Isaiah, for the prophets; the third is John the Baptist and the fourth Mary. Each section is broken down into five chapters, and at the end of each the biblical reference is given to provide the context for the story. There are also questions for reflection. The final (sixth) chapter of each section gives more questions and also a couple of creative reflection activities. There are also prayers and Benedictions, and suggestions for music to listen to, to help you reflect further on the story. Some of these activities are included in the Group Study guide in the final appendix. The first appendix also gives theological and historical context in which Marlow explains some of the narrative choices she has made.
I really needed and loved this book. Marlow’s prose is beautiful, and really brought the characters to life in a new way for me. I loved Sarah’s story, mainly because I spent a good part of the summer reflecting on her story from Hagar’s perspective and it was helpful for me to be reminded of how much of a victim Sarah is as well (Abraham was not a great husband, really. It’s also good to be reminded of just how flawed our biblical heroes really were, and how greatly God used them in spite of their serious flaws. Gives me hope!) But I think my favourite section was Isaiah’s story, as I have rarely thought of Isaiah the person. There are so many memorable and powerful prophecies in the book of Isaiah that I have never really thought about how it would have felt for Isaiah as an ordinary man, to speak these amazing words from God but yet not see their fulfilment. I found the prayers and creative reflections to be useful tools for working through some of my own issues. I only flicked through the group study section, but will be recommending the book to my homegroup for next Advent.
I said at the start that I am not very good at waiting. This book highlights that waiting is not easy and it is often painful, but that it is worth it and that God is in it – He is working even when we can’t see it. I highly recommend it to anyone who is waiting on God to fulfil His promises, whether large or small. I certainly will reread it many times as I think it is a lesson I will need to keep learning.
One song was going through my head much of the time I was reading this book, as it ties in so closely with the theme. It has become one of my favourites of the last year. I hope it speaks to you too.