I’m kinda digging memoirs right now. Especially the kind of memoirs that deal with the “consuming faith, tangled love, starting over” — which happens to be the tagline of a most excellent book I finished in a 48 hour period.
When We Were on Fire is Addie Zierman’s story of growing up “on fire for Jesus” in the 90s (WWJD bracelets, SYATP, True Love Waits, kissing dating good-bye), her slow burn-out and loss of identity, and eventually a rekindling of her faith, but in a more “whole” way.
Addie gets caught up in loving a boy who is very much all in to living his life for Jesus, and unknowingly allows his faith and passion to unhealthfully lead her to places that were damaging to her heart. While on the outside it may have looked like innocent teenage love, inside it was doing some serious damage to Addie’s faith and understanding of who God created her to be and what it looked like for her to love God and love others authentically.
As I was reading this book, I was cracking up at some of Addie’s stories of being a “Jesus freak” because I could totally relate. About halfway through, I realized that we are the same age, so that explains why I felt like she was describing the youth culture I remember from not-too-far but actually kinda-far ago. In a conversation at the back of the book, Addie is asked why she wrote her story. She replies:
When I share bits of my story and others connected with it, it made me feel seen. It made me feel less alone. And that’s what I hope that this book does for readers. Memoir, at its best, is never about just one person. It’s about all of us- the collective story we’re all living.
And I think this is exactly why I loved this book. I did connect, because although our situations were very different, the elements of overzealousness and fundamentalism were there in living color and was shaping the way that I looked at life and faith… and are one part of the lens through which I view God, the church, and my purpose on earth.
What was particularly interesting to me about Addie’s story is that it centered a lot around her peers, as opposed to her parents, siblings, or older church people. It reminds me that middle school and high school are a crucial time for faith development and who teens hang out with really do matter. Addie was hanging out with people who were steeped in church culture- what parent doesn’t want your kid to hang out with good kids who are committed to advancing the kingdom of God? Addie reveals the sometimes dark side to that, and in a way, opens parents eyes to the importance of helping to nurture an honest, authentic faith journey throughout the teen years.
I love that Addie doesn’t do the blame game. She honestly shares about her life and her relationships that have contributed to the spiral, but she is generous in grace as she speaks about those in her life who at the time were not being very helpful to her faith journey.
This book is very complex. Because people are complex. Our faith is complex. Addie gets that at a core level. She shares, “There were people whose words and actions hurt me, but also, there were people who loved me in incredible ways. Often, these extremes existed in the same people…because that’s what it is to be human, isn’t it? We love each other. We hurt each other. We forgive and learn and move on.”
I’ve added Addie’s blog to my feedly, and I hear that she’s working on book #2! Perhaps you’ll want to check it out for yourself.
Thanks to Addie for sharing her story with us, and thanks to Convergence Publishing for providing a review copy — I only give honest reviews!