Empty nest moms, try some inspiration

April 16, 2012

Bobz Book Reviews

“Small Mercies: Glimpses of God in Everyday Life” is an easy reading collection of anecdotes from which Nancy Jo Sullivan has reached back and harvested the God moments.

Those are the small mercies of the title, mercies she suggests her readers take the time to share with others as part of their own lives.

You can speed through Sullivan’s newest work in less than an hour, the language is that familiar. Written at her kitchen table in St. Paul, it’s the kind of personal, real-life prose that makes you almost feel that Sullivan is sitting with you at your own kitchen table sharing the stories over a cup of coffee.

The points she makes in each of the 20 short chapters aren’t rocket science, just, well, small mercies — good things not to forget, good things to remember to do. They touch on topics like unconditional acceptance, remembering one’s dreams, dealing with the loss of a marriage and a child, fear of the future, taking risks, heartache and, of course, hope.

A divorced Catholic, the mother of three daughters, one a Down’s Syndrome girl who lived to only 23, Sullivan senses God touching her life almost at every turn. She puts it this way:

“The most precious revelations of God’s love are often hidden in the ordinary moments that shape our days….We can find God’s small mercies in the mundane conversations we share at the kitchen table or in the unexpected chats we have with strangers. When we encourage a coworkers, support a friend, or receive the care of a loved one, God’s mercies shine brightly, like votive candles.”

More than a memoir

Women “of a certain age,” as they say, may best appreciate the voice that 50-something Sullivan writes from, that of an woman looking back at her motherhood years yet looking forward to being more than an empty nester, finding the courage to see herself as more than a wife and mother, grieving yet coping.

She has a great line there. After cleaning out photos of her grown children and filling 10 scrapbooks, she writes about finally being ready to move on. Her own future, as she put it, is “an empty scrapbook waiting to be filled.”

You’ll find gems of that kind of turn-of-phrase sprinkled throughout “Small Mercies.” It’s inspiring writing.

At times Sullivan seems to reach a bit to connect an anecdote with a spiritual lesson, but it’s a minor fault if a fault at that. If anything it’s a reminder to readers to look for God in all things. As Sullivan writes, “God is always closer than we think.”

At end of each chapter Sullivan uses the framework of prayer, fasting and almsgiving to invite reflection and offer thoughts and ideas for how readers, too, can share God’s small mercies and put them into practice for the next chapters in their own lives. For this Loyola Press 108-page paperback, it’s just the right, helpful touch.

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About Bob Zyskowski

Bob is the Client Products Manager for the Communications Office of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. A 42-year veteran of the Catholic Press, he is the former Associate Publisher of The Catholic Spirit. You can follow him on twitter or email him at zyskowskir@archspm.org.

View all posts by Bob Zyskowski