“Tell me the truth, but tell it slant.” Emily Dickinson
I read Donald Miller because he tells it slant. His writing is vulnerable, witty, but most of all provocative. Not so much in a controversial way (although sometimes….) but in the purer sense: Donald Miller provokes thought, engaging the reader to find themselves in his journey.
His latest work Scary Close chronicles his insight into his relationship habits, looking at friendship, parenting, dating and ultimately marriage. The meat of the book revolves around his relationship with his now wife, Betsy, from meeting to dating to engagement etc, but also covers previous relationships, friendships and business dealings. The book is vintage Donald Miller in that it contains hilarious moments and profound insights into human behavior. I highly recommend it.
My two favorite themes:
1) Too many people expect too much from another person and from God. He told a hilarious story about his speech at his own wedding rehearsal dinner where he critiques the famous Jerry Maguire “You complete me” speech. He told the crowd, “Betsy doesn’t complete me and I don’t want her to.” He felt most of the crowd turn on him, wondering what sort of cold hearted jerk Betsy was hitching her future too. I was laughing out loud at the idea of tanking your own wedding rehearsal speech, but he’s right. He pushes the idea further when he also shows that even God doesn’t fill that longing this side of heaven. Loneliness is simply part of the human condition. Two profound ideas from this: “Betsy doesn’t fill my loneliness, but she’s the best companion for it,” and ‘the longing, loneliness and pain that humans experience is all fodder to produce character in me.”
2) Don’s very personal journey of shame and his courage to move through it to a new place. Don was unflinchingly honest about the shame he was carrying into relationships, burdening them with a weight no one could carry, sabotaging possibilities, being needy and distant etc. He described a retreat center that helped him face headlong his own recurring tendencies, coming away free and able to fully love and be loved. I believe this is a journey of freedom every human being must enter and many are afraid of, so they repeat old habits and wounds in their effort to cover their shame. But facing it is painful and liberating and is ultimately a taste of grace. It was wonderful to read Don’s journey in this, and as I reader, I was reacting with my own similar journey.
An unexpected side effect from reading this book: Last year I attended Don’s workshop on story telling. He introduced us to screenplay techniques (also found in his book, “A Million Miles In a Thousand Years.”)
As a preacher, I have found tremendous value in his story framework, but now that I read Miller’s writing, I find his framework all throughout. It is not unlike watching a movie with the DVD commentary on – it creates a detachment that is hard to shake.
In “Scary Close” Don is the hero. He is on a journey from weakness to strength. It is a wonderful journey, told well. Betsy is the primary Sage. She is the wise guide who has been down this path before, providing a plan for the hero to enact. Don lists many other sages as well who help him on his quest. Don, the hero, is at a crossroads and must choose a path, ending in tragedy or success. His path ends in success at his wedding and it is indeed a satisfying ending (complete with a link to wedding photos on his website.) But the further I read, the more I had this nagging feeling, “I wonder what Betsy’s point of view is?” “I wonder how Betsy feels about being lionized in a book.” On the one hand, it is none of my business how Don’s wife feels. On the other hand, I would have loved to seen a more balanced writing on their relationship.
Surely Don isn’t as inept at relationships, nor Betsy as wise at them as he portrays in this book. I believe real life is even more enthralling than the story he told in Scary Close.
The true foundation of marriage is the mutual interdependence that a couple develops over time. True intimacy involves the deep knowledge of what each brings to the relationship that the other needs, but Scary Close only showed what Don needed to learn.
Fair enough, this is his story, not Betsy’s to tell, and it fits well in his story telling framework. But in reality Betsy likely saw much in Don that she needed and learned from. But in this story, she was the Sage, thus not on her own journey from weakness to strength. Perhaps Don will write a sequel or even more wonderfully, he and Betsy will write together about relationships. Or perhaps there is no room for that much nuance in a good story. Even so, Scary Close is wonderful and another fine Don Miller experience.