I was a bit worried that this book would be too Christian or too preachy for my tastes, but that was far from the case. In fact, Flanagan demonstrates that the spiritual lessons in this book can be applied by anyone, whether Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist or simply a believer in a higher power. There were only a few stories that made me slightly uncomfortable (specifically the ones of people who had heard the voice of God).
While reading The Wisdom to Know the Difference, I had an “aha” moment about the importance of accepting the way things are before you can figure out whether or not you can change them. In one particular area of my life, I had been yearning for the way things were instead of coming to terms with the way things are now, which has made it very difficult for me to see my options with any clarity (having things return to the way they were is obviously not an option). Already, letting go of what was has made a difference—and has shifted the way things are in a positive way. It was worth reading this book just for this insight.
Another point Flanagan makes that has gotten me thinking is that each of us has a purpose or calling. As Flanagan says, “While getting in sync with this loving design does not mean that you will be giddy with joy every minute of the day, finding your purpose often brings both serenity and courage, not to mention clarity about what you should try to change and what you should just let go of and accept”
(p. 85). I have known for a while that I’m not “in my lane” (to borrow a metaphor Flanagan uses), but reading this book has prompted me to reflect further on the fact that I don’t know what or where my lane is—among other things, I’m hoping the Discernment Exercise Flanagan proposes in chapter 3 will help with this.
Finally, there was one passage in the book that particularly stood out for me:
“Disciplined spiritual practice can be one of the benefits of being part of an organized religion or a community like AA. For those who have rebelled against the rigidity or sexism of a traditional religion, it can be tempting to adopt the comforting or fashionable aspects of various traditions, while avoiding the hard parts. You may wear Buddhist beads, attend a Native American sweat lodge, visit a friend for Passover, or go to church on Christmas, but never participate in a community that challenges your False Self. In fact most religious traditions have practices that are difficult, like tithing or fasting, which are meant to strip away your selfish parts and develop qualities like gratitude and compassion. By practicing one tradition deeply you can benefit from such challenges, which can also help to transform your attitude.” (p. 145)Because I grew up in a secular household—we didn’t even go to church on Christmas or Easter—I haven’t exactly rebelled against a specific set of beliefs. However, I have certainly been a dabbler, trying out elements of Eastern spirituality (yoga, Zen Buddhism, mettā) and flirting with Unitarian Universalism and neopaganism at various points in my life. When I was younger, I shied away from joining any type of spiritual or religious community for fear of censure and constraint; recently the benefits of both regular practice and community have become more obvious to me—and Flanagan’s words are a further nudge in that direction.
The Wisdom to Know the Difference is an insightful and thought-provoking book that deserves to be read slowly and reflected upon in depth—something I didn’t have time to do as much as I wanted to before writing this review. I highly recommend this book—it’s definitely one I will be rereading.
Thank you to Eileen Flanagan for sending me this book to review.
The Wisdom to Know the Difference is on blog tour with TLC Book Tours in December and January. Visit these other blogs for reviews, interviews and giveaways:
Patricia’s Wisdom • Constantly Evolving • arriving at your own door • Awake Is Good (interview) • Serenity & Style • Always Well Within • emilyism.com • Evolving Beings • Liz Lamoreux • Evenstar Art • Enchanted Oak • I’m just F.I.N.E. • change therapy • Knowing the Difference
Book Fetish • Guinevere Gets Sober • New Consciousness Review • The Power of Slow • Spirituality Practice
Guest posts or articles:
“Living the Serenity Prayer” @ beliefnet • Guinevere Gets Sober • “How Religion Changes Lives” @ The Huffington Post • Without Wax
Interviews with the author:
The Creative Competitor • Embody Your Vision • Lynn Dove’s Journey Thoughts • Beyond Blue • Read the Spirit • Selling Books • She Writes • The Social Work Podcast (with transcript)