A few weeks ago, I read The Fringe Hours and felt compelled to share my thoughts on the book. My intention is not to disparage the author or her thoughts, but to examine the book and its themes in light of God’s word. I have spent many hours praying and thinking about how to share my concerns in a way that is loving and thoughtful. I hope that you will read my thoughts with that in mind.
If you read Christian women’s blogs, you’ve probably seen a lot of talk about a book called The Fringe Hours. I follow the (in)courage blog, where the author and her friends are leading a video book club during the month of March. When I read their introduction to The Fringe Hours, the premise was intriguing to me—finding pockets of time in your day to pursue your passions.
Like the author, Jessica Turner, I’m often asked how I manage to get so much done with 6 kids. I intentionally leave margin in my schedule so that I have time to pursue my creative passions, but I’m not always able to explain why or how I do this. I picked up The Fringe Hours hoping that Jessica’s thoughts about priorities and time management would help me to clarify and articulate why I make the choices that I do.
In a sense, it did. But not the way I was expecting it to. I went searching for my own answers. While The Fringe Hours offers a lot of practical advice about time management, scheduling, and priorities, I walked away feeling like something was missing. There was a lot of application, and perhaps inspiration, but there were no answers to the “whys” and “hows.”
After watching the video introduction and first chapter discussion of the book on (in)courage, I realized that Jessica didn’t set out to write a book with answers to the “whys” and “hows.” She envisioned a practical book about time management for busy moms. Personally, I was hoping she would dig into scripture more and discuss more of the biblical reasoning behind her ideas. (Because there are good reasons to make time for yourself and pursue creativity! And as Christians, we should always be looking to God’s word to guide our decision making.)
For example, why should we make time for ourselves? Does the Bible really support that? How do we actually make decisions about how we should fill our time? What are the gospel implications for time management? Is it right to be seeking after our own happiness? I found myself asking these questions and filling in a lot of these gaps as I was reading, but I kept wondering how other women were answering these questions if they were reading the book without a strong knowledge of scripture or knowledge about where to find the answers.
I think that women need to know why they are making decisions. The topic of this book is difficult. Women are busy, overwhelmed, and burned out. They need to be gently reminded that there is more to life than just getting through each day. Some of the women that pick up this book are likely on the verge of tears and looking for hope. I think the natural response is to hold back the hard things, so as not to push them over the edge. But without a strong foundation in scripture and dedicated pursuit of the Lord, daily time management techniques will only be a temporary fix to the chaos.
To the casual reader, The Fringe Hours seems to suggest that our ultimate goal is our own happiness. Based on other things that Jessica has written, I don’t think that’s the message she intended to convey. It’s just that there isn’t enough explanation to clarify. I would have loved to see a Biblical definition of happiness. Our happiness is found in Christ. The Bible says we will only be satisfied when the emptiness in our soul is filled with Jesus. “But whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:14)
I know when people hear that, they tend to think that they should be reading their Bible and praying during all of their free time. They imagine that holiness and happiness are opposites. But happiness and holiness are not at odds. They work together! This is what I think needs to be explained in more detail. God actually put that longing for happiness and pleasure within us to draw us to himself. “Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.” (Ps. 37:4) Our delight— our happiness—comes from the Lord. When we seek Him, our desire becomes for his glory. We find true pleasure and fulfillment in seeking the glory of God. John Piper says “God is most glorified in us, when we are most satisfied in Him.” So we don’t have to choose between happiness and holiness. Happiness is found in holiness. And holiness is found in living, working, and enjoying life for the glory of God.
Joy overflows from a heart that understands the gospel; understanding that we fall short of God’s glory everyday, that we can’t do anything to restore that relationship, and that we deserve eternal separation from God and his perfect holiness. BUT Jesus, fully God and fully man, lived a sinless life and took the punishment that we deserved so that we could be restored to God and live with Him eternally. This is the gospel, the good news that should affect our lives at every level, including the way we spend our time each day.
When the gospel is missing, true happiness and fulfillment are missing. But when we find ways to use our gifts and talents and hobbies to the glory of God, our hearts will be truly rested and satisfied. I think of Eric Liddell, the Olympic gold medal runner, who said, “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.” I love that! Eric loved running, and used it to point to the glory of Christ. And we can do the same with the activities that we enjoy!
Let me share a couple of examples from the book, so that you can see practically how the gospel fits and why the book feels incomplete without it.
In chapter 2 Jessica talks about pleasing everyone to the point of emptiness. She says that the idea that we need to be everything to everyone is a lie. That is true! But then there is no follow up conversation about how to fill that emptiness, or reassurance that Jesus is everything to everyone so that we don’t have to be. There is some mention of using your God-given talents to serve people, but even serving people will not be ultimately fulfilling without an underlying desire to delight in Jesus and bring glory to His name. The emptiness that comes from doing too much will never be filled by doing something to feel good. But unfortunately, that is the impression I’m left with when the gospel is not a part of this conversation. We need to be examining the motivations and desires that inform our choices. When our motivation is to glorify God, then we will find happiness that lasts.
Another example…on pg. 50 she says, “In our mess, God makes us strong—in imperfection you can shine bright.” Yes! But how? She doesn’t say. I believe it is an allusion to 2 Cor. 12:9, which says “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” But her paraphrase is incomplete. Following that, Paul says, “Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” We are strong because of the grace of God in our lives. We “shine bright” with the power of Jesus Christ, in order to point the world to His strength and not our own. We must be willing to humble ourselves before the Lord, confess our weakness, and receive His power. Then Jesus will shine brightly through us.
Though there are more examples, I hope you can understand how the gospel could have been more intentionally woven into the ideas in this book. To allude to the power of Christ without a sharing the gospel is a disservice to the readers. Without the gospel, the message is incomplete. If you are interested in the topic of this book, please read it with discernment and a Bible close at hand.
Though there is much more to say on this topic, I’d like to keep this post a readable length. Here are a few resources for further reading if you are interested.
- Are You Chasing Happiness or Holiness (hint: it can be both!)
- If you are looking for a book about living intentionally, that is filled with scripture and is Christ focused, I recommend Own Your Life by Sally Clarkson.