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Holiness Here: Searching for God in the Ordinary Events of Everyday Life

19 April 2024 By Carolyn van der Heide

An extended review of a 2024 book by Karen Stiller

Note: Our print issue contains a shorter version of this review. Faith Today welcomes your thoughts on any of our reviews. We also welcome suggestions of other Canadian Christian books to review: Contact us.

Book by Karen Stiller. NavPress, 2024. 192 pages. $23 (e-book $10, audio $25)

When was the last time you thought about holiness? Have you ever tried to guess how holy you might be? When we think about what it means to be holy, we often bring to mind someone who looks very different from us. We may even think that, on some level, God likes those people best.

In this new book by Ottawa writer (and Faith Today editor) Karen Stiller, she observes, “Holiness has a public relations problem, even within the church. Being holy is deeply associated in our culture with being a pain in the butt rather than a balm to the soul. Attach the word holy to a person, and even in our very best moments we are more likely to imagine them being insufferable or so different from us.”

Part of the confusion, she tells us, is that we have been made holy yet often do not live into this reality. We may even think it is scandalous to declare ourselves holy when so much of what we say and do does not seem to reflect this. 

What we experience on the inside does not always feel very holy. And yet, Stiller writes, this does not absolve us from considering our actions – even when we are interacting with people who are bothersome or inconveniencing us. Often it’s in these interactions that opportunities present themselves. And so awareness of our shortcomings, she writes, is a perfect place to start when seeking to live a more holy life.

Grounded in solid biblical study and insightful human observation, this book clearly comes from someone who has been listening to God, listening to her inner self and watching others. Stiller offers us a picture of what holiness looks like in day-to-day events for the everyday person. She asks us to consider what holiness means for our finances, our creativity and who we invite for dinner? What does it mean for how we interact with neighbours keeping us awake until 4 a.m.? (For Karen it looked like a little stomping and some cookie baking.)

This is not a book that tells us what we should do by pointing out the ways we are failing. Rather, the author leads by example. We are invited to observe how she works out what a holy life looks like in her own context. Filled with real-life anecdotes, Stiller is honest and vulnerable in sharing the lessons she has learned. And there are some real nuggets in this book – wisdom that can only be learned with time and experience, and some lessons hard-earned through unimaginable tragedy and disappointment.

You will not find dogma here. Stiller does not demand perfection. Framed as an invitation, this is a gentle beckoning to reflect as we are continually pointed back to what God has done for us and what God is doing in and through us. Seeking to live a life of holiness is something God has designed to be good for us. “Holiness leads to blessing,” she writes, “for others and also for ourselves. But it is almost always hard. I fail at this to-do list all the time.”

This book challenged me to consider whether I have become a passive participant in the transformative work I know God to be doing in his world through me. If we are holy then we can bring holiness into all areas of life. There are opportunities presented to us each day. But I must be watching for them.

Have I declared that if it involves being inconvenienced by another I am exempt from a holy act? Do I have too much work to do within myself to even begin? I find Stiller’s words both encouraging and hopeful because I see myself reflected as she graciously she reminds me, “There will always be people who are annoying. You are annoying. I am really annoying and sometimes a lot of work. But we’re still holy, and we still belong together.”

This book is for everyone. Whether you are a lay leader, new to faith or have been a Christ-follower for many years, you will see yourself reflected here in some way, and there is something to be learned by everyone.

Helpfully, the book includes group discussion questions for each chapter. This is a book to read and digested individually and would also make a very good small group study book.

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