Book Review: When We Were On Fire

Book Review: When We Were On Fire


As I thought about my plans for Friday afternoon, I frowned slightly.  I had schoolwork I could do, but I didn’t have enough to fill up an entire weekend.  So I aimlessly wandered into the school library.  After walking fruitlessly through the tall shelves, I typed “Mere Christianity” into the catalogue search box and wrote down the call number.  I expertly maneuvered to the correct shelf and reached for the book.  It wasn’t there.  I glanced at the nearby shelves and even asked my suite mate (who happened to be the librarian on duty) for help.  Both copies of the book were gone.

So I logged into the online digital library and clicked on the first book that seemed somewhat interesting.  I downloaded When We Were On Fire: A Memoir of Consuming Faith, Tangled Love, and Starting Over by Addie Zierman.  Nine hours later, I had played the piano, swam half a mile, eaten two meals, played a board game with friends, and read the entire book.

Within the first few pages, I identified with Addie.  She was born into an evangelical family and raised on a healthy dosage of Psalty the Singing Songbook.  Although our similarities largely end there, I had already decided that I needed to read the rest of Addie’s story.

In middle school, Addie is befriended by two church friends, and she spends her pre-college years piously proving her spirituality.  She is the good church girl that boldly stands when others sit.  But when she starts her freshman year at Northwestern, she becomes just one of the hundreds of “sold-out” Christians.  She realizes that she will “have to vie for what used to be [her] most defining characteristic; [her] faith” (103).  Quickly, she redefines herself, to the dismay of her legalistic roommates.  Addie states that just as two girls encouraged her to live out her faith, two girls were able to drive her away from it.

After a miserable year in China and a disheartening search for a home church back in the states, Addie seeks to drown her depression in wine.  She becomes cynical, disengaged, and hopeless.  In her eyes, Christians are undeniably life’s problem. She resented the Bible-study leaders that seemed to judge her every move and she felt unwanted by the church members that never ask about her true emotions and experiences.  This book chronicles Addie’s journey through piety, penance, abandonment, and finally, grace.

Although I cannot condone every aspect of this book, I do encourage you to follow Addie’s struggle to realize that God does not leave us.

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