Book Review: This is Awkward

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Embrace awkwardness as a gift of God. Sammy Rhodes recent book, This is Awkward, argues that sanctification is fueled through honest self-awareness and disclosure of those aspects of life typically kept in secret. Rhodes uses his own journey to describe a number of common aspects of life in a fallen world that many may shy away from discussing, even with those who they know and love.  Rhodes' conversational style makes the book read as if you are having these conversations with him over a cup of coffee, which, based on his asides throughout the book, fits Rhodes nicely. Reading a book about awkwardness can go one of two ways—either you will experience the feeling of embarrassment you do when someone forgets their lines in a high school play or you will find your defenses lowered and your heart encouraged by someone who is far more like you than you care to admit.

The later was true for me. I found Rhodes self-reflections on awkwardness encouraging and empowering in my own pursuit of Christ-likeness. As a pastor, I also thought the book would be especially helpful for various groups of people who I encounter on a regular basis

People Who Feel Out of Place in the Church

Like it or not, every church as a certain persona—a certain normative type of persona who fits well within the community of those gathered in each local church. While each church as a different type, there are common groups of people that may often feel like they are on the outside looking in like those who struggled with addiction, have been divorced, aren’t married or don’t have kids when others their age do, or who haven’t grown up around the church rhythms that others know by default. In addition, certain people have personalities that make the community of the church, particularly the large Sunday gathering, quite difficult. These settings are predisposed for outgoing, bubbly extroverts, who’ve never met a stranger. They are crushing for introverts or those who struggle with anxiety or depression. Rhodes’ book normalizes these plight of such individuals, bringing hope to those who feel like they live on the outside looking in.

Small Groups Seeking to Get Beyond the Veneer of “I’m fine”

Throughout This is Awkward, I found myself thinking “I can’t believe he went there.” Rhodes repeatedly toes the line of what’s supposedly appropriate for Christians to struggle with and then jumps across the line. I’m was reminded of the feeling I have so often when I’m in discussion in men’s small group settings that are designed for prayer and accountability. After what seems like dozens of meetings, finally some guy take a risk and admits to a struggle with pornography, an ongoing battle with anger, or suicidal and depressive thoughts. In a moment, it’s as if the entire group takes a collective deep breath thinking, “You too!” By crossing the line of trivial religious conversations, Rhodes’ book can guide small groups into the type of intimacy and healing that can result by simply being honest with our junk.

Young Adults, Particularly College Students, Seeking to Make Sense of Their Identity

The transition through adolescents and into adulthood is fraught with complexity. Rhodes demonstrates the challenges associated with this season of life in a way that most, if not all, young adults will be able to clearly personalize to their own experience. While the nature of each young adults awkwardness will differ, the themes of insecurity, addiction, fear of man, and wounds from one’s family, are likely to be seen in everyone’s story. Rhodes’ journey to understand his identity as a child of God provides hope for all believers seeking to make sense of God’s character and work in their lives as well.

Believers Seeking Freedom from Ongoing Sin Patterns

One of the most endearing facets of Rhodes book is that he writes, not only about his past struggles with sin, but about his present pain, awkwardness, and fight with sin that he’s dealt with for years. It’s one thing to read an author discuss a sinful past. While not intended, these books can often read like, “I used to be really messed up but now I’ve got my act together and you should be like me.” Not so with This is Awkward. Rhodes presents his story as less about a destination to which he has arrived, and more like a journey he is current traveling. Yes, God has brought freedom and healing from sin in Rhoades’ life, but this process is far from complete and is often filled with bumps and detours. Such a story serves to motive others who find their experience with sin to be painful and challenging much of the time.

Pastors and Ministry Leaders Seeking to Provide Honest and Loving Care

Trite, sound byte answers are all-too-commonly given in the face of massive issues like divorce, pornography, depression, suicide, or pride. Every ministry leader encounters these issues in their own life and in the live of those they love. Rhodes shows the insufficiency of simplistic answers to these complex problems. His inner dialogue, recorded throughout the book, can help church leaders understand those to whom they give care and, in so doing, provide them with a guide for how to listen well and provide genuine help where it is most needed.

A Reader Who is Tired of Boring Books that Seem to Lack Relevance for Real Life

Rhodes is funny—really funny. Tucked throughout the personal reflections of pain and suffering and wise comments on the implications of the absurdity host of witty nuggets that will delight the reader. Rhodes excels in using humor to demonstrate the absurdity of life in a fallen world.

I appreciate books that accomplish their stated goal. Those looking for a robust defense of biblical anthropology or an articulation of the contentious of sanctification are apt to be disappointed by Rhodes’ book. Those seeking a guide for biblical counseling for those facing various forms of suffering or addiction are likely to not find what they are looking for either. But, neither of these is Rhodes’ goal. This is Awkward presents the journey of one honest believer in the process of transformation by the power of God. By allowing the reader to eavesdrop on his journey, Rhoades provides a gift to those seeking hope that God is indeed transforming them as well.

Book ReviewsMatt Rogers