LEAN ON ME by Anne Marie Miller
In her newly released book, Lean on Me: Finding Intentional, Vulnerable, and Consistent Community (Thomas Nelson, 2014), Anne Marie Miller picks up where she left off in her 2010 spiritual memoir, Permission to Speak Freely: Essays and Art on Fear, Confession and Grace penned under the name Anne Jackson. In that volume the author grappled with the hypocrisy and sin of the Christian church as she processed the ousting of her family from the congregation her father had pastored. During that vulnerable time, Miller suffered sexual abuse and abandonment at the hands of a youth pastor 10 years her senior, and she turned to internet pornography as a way to cope. Fortunately, she connected with trustworthy Christians and began her healing process through confessing her story—a story she continues to share with others seeking freedom from their bondage to pornography.
Now, in Lean on Me, Miller tells the story of her continued healing from an unexpected and painful divorce, as well as from her previous trauma. Here she focuses on the value of a healthy Christian community. She starts by presenting four categories of relationships with others: not vulnerable and not committed, vulnerable and not committed, committed but not vulnerable, and committed and vulnerable. The categories range from the least to the most healthy—"where you want to be"—committed and vulnerable. Rather than convince us with informational chapters, however, Miller illustrates with chapters of her own story how to consult with a chosen circle of genuine Christian friends.
"In order to have healthy relationships with God and others, we must surrender. To God, we surrender our desire to live our lives for ourselves. . . .In order to embrace the person we are meant to be, we must let go of the person, the ego, we created," she writes. "With others, we surrender our need to be right. We surrender our need to be heard. We trust in the paradox of finding peace in serving instead of demanding to be served and complaining about it when we aren't. . . .When we look at the bottom line of surrender, it boils down to a decision to love others and to allow yourself to be loved. Surrender requires risk. . . .[R]ewarding relationships are often prevented because of our inability to surrender."
As Miller makes clear in her narrative, healing isn't linear. "Healing is disorganized and chaotic and unpredictable," she asserts. As we follow her geographical and spiritual trek to live interdependently, we see how her path backtracks and takes the long way home to God's grace and restoration. As she discovered, we find no shortcut to an honest relationship with God and community.
At the end of her story, Miller includes a selection of resources for anyone wishing to delve deeper into Christian formation and community. In this section, she voices a clear statement of purpose: "In writing Lean on Me, it's my desire to show you that whatever course you find yourself on, you are not alone, you need God, and you need others." She has also included a reader's guide, which provides reflection, practical application ("Next Right Step"), and a prayer to accompany each of the 14 chapters. Although readers will benefit from a private reading of Miller's work, a group study would allow an excellent opportunity for participants to practice living in Christian community.
Miller's book is about courage and grace. If not for her dying grandfather's last words to her, "Never give up on the church," she may have never believed it possible to find authentic Christian community. By the grace of God, his dying request stuck with her. By the grace of God, the Word illuminated the path to her redemption. And her courage in sticking to that path—and in sharing it with others, offering her companionship and light to others along the way—is a gift her readers take away with them.
Pamela Robinson lives with her family and three dogs in Mount Vernon, Indiana, where she seeks to be a blessing to others through her writing.