Book Review: Beth Moore’s All My Knotted-Up Life

I finished Beth Moore’s memoir, All My Knotted-Up Life, several weeks ago: indeed, I had pre-ordered the book and devoured it pretty much in one sitting.  But I haven’t written about it until now because, perhaps like Beth herself, I’ve been wondering how much my review might reveal about me.

The truth is, since I was a teenager, I’ve admired and felt a kinship with her.

Many do, of course.  And I have completed many, many, many of her Bible studies and read many, many, many of her books.  But my affection for her goes deeper than a fondness for her writing.  I identified with her. I—like her—was born and raised in a Southern Baptist church.  I—like her—loved and still love so many pastors and people in that denomination, including my own parents.  It is indelibly a part of me.  I—like her—have been told within that denomination that certain spaces and abilities and gifts are not for me, because I am a woman.  I—like her—felt a call on my life to write and to share Christ, although that calling led me into academic and the writing life rather than the public speaking circuit.  And I—like her—eventually left my denomination after wrestling with God over it, though my leaving predates hers by many, many years.

Beth Moore details all these aspects of her life in the book—including, up to, and after her split from the SBC which reverberated through the evangelical world.  Much of the coverage of the memoir has focused on that, perhaps in unfairness to Beth, who goes much, much deeper in her sharing and really makes herself vulnerable on the pages in a way that—after the frankly vicious and unmerited public criticism she has received—astonished me.  And I left the memoir reminded of two key truths:

  1. You do not know other people’s lives nor their pain.

Here’s something funny—I’ve envied Beth Moore from time to time. 

Her life seemed a thing of fantasy to me.  Here was a woman living my dream.  She is a self-proclaimed country girl with a gift for study and speaking and God has blessed her devotion to Him with a staggering platform and reach. 

I, too, am a good ol’ country girl gifted to write and study and as I have toiled away in relative obscurity, I’ve often wondered at God’s plan.  I’ve thought to myself that it must be nice to be Beth Moore: to have a world of people eager to buy my books, to have such a platform to win people for Christ, and to have my calling confirmed so resoundingly.

But reading Beth’s memoir is frankly painful.  She’s alluded in previous works to having suffered sexual abuse in her childhood, and in this memoir we learn that the abuser was her father (do be warned that the book contains non-graphic but clear references to child sexual abuse).  We learn about the best friend she lost at a young age.  About the insults and exclusion she reckoned with while beginning as a public speaker, desperately contorting herself so that she wouldn’t seem as though she was trying to take the spotlight or trying to assume authority.  We learn about insults from seminarians and denominational figureheads.  We learn about a child she cared for like her own, and the heartbreak that came of it—and we learn that her beloved husband, Keith, struggles with bipolar disorder and (if I remember correctly) PTSD.

The platform comes with pain.  And as I read through her struggles I found myself marveling that she managed to write a word or speak at all.  I realized that perhaps she would find my life—living out my calling in relative peace, loved and being loved—to be rich and wonderful.  I am astonished by her perseverance.

And I am reminded that we just don’t know what people suffer.  Beth Moore has encouraged so many and has such a phenomenal sense of humor—evident in the book and on her Twitter feed—that the pain she’s borne and still bears (her beloved brother died shortly after the release of the book)–seems impossible. 

But continue reading the book, and through the pain emerges the second truth:

Christ is the only needed thing.

Reading the memoir, I went from “Beth Moore’s life is amazing” to “How on earth does Beth Moore find the strength to get up every day and do what she does?”

The answer, of course, is Christ.

And that shines through the pages of the story, too.  From Beth’s recognition of her call—which came in a deeply unromantic way, in a camp bathroom in front of a mirror—to her perseverance through the bitter insults she received during her departure from the SBC—God’s presence is always clear, always vital, always necessary.

It is His presence through her brokenness that resonates most powerfully.  What has redeemed her call, her life, her marriage, and her ministry is Christ.  The love of God is what has pulled her, sometimes kicking and screaming, through much great darkness and difficulty.  And the love of God, too, is what gives her the joy and laughter and humor that is her trademark.  The book ends on a triumphant note not because of anything Beth Moore has done, despite her many singular accomplishments, but because of God.

This is especially striking as she notes her denominational move.  A staunch lifelong Baptist, Beth Moore now attends and serves in an Anglican congregation.  To some it might not seem like a big deal, but to switch denominations—particularly from Baptist to anything else—can seem life- and heart-shattering to believers who were raised believing their particular denomination was “the rightest one.”  I have experienced this difficulty myself, and I found it challenging to make even the most incremental shift from Baptist to Methodist  a long while ago.  I was fortunate to be supported through that transition from believers in both denominations, but Moore—who faced a caustic amount of hatred as she departed the SBC, and who I absolutely would not have blamed for second-guessing every single justifiable decision—found her road forward because she was quite simply looking for where God was.

This is particularly germane in our current political climate and era of deep polarization.  For Moore, it was speaking out against Donald Trump that ostracized her from her denomination.  But other Christians can testify to similar experiences, to being made to feel unwelcome because they didn’t like a particular candidate or hold a particular political position.  I’ve had evangelicals fret over me because I am a college professor: there are some Christians in my local area who hold the belief that all college professors at secular institutions are, I suppose, only teaching Satanism and socialism.

For Moore, though, all of this is a distraction.  She wants, she is clear, to follow Christ.  And her desire to do so, and her belief in His love, is what seems to have insulated her from what for others might have been a crushing onslaught.  She is neither set to quit nor back down.  Rather, her memoir makes it clear that confidence, her security, and her strength come from a deep rootedness in Christ and a knowledge of who she is in him.

If you’re looking for a Beth Moore Bible study—something warm and humorous, deeply knowledgeable and encouraging—this book might not be what you want.  This is a dark and truthful and—yes—knotty book, one that confronts a lot of pain and comes away with few easy answers.  But if you want to hear the story of a woman who has walked through great darkness and emerged into great life—somehow, still, with great joy and great affection—then Moore’s memoir is well worth your time.


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