The Grace of Enough: Pursuing Less and Living More in a Throwaway Culture
By Haley Stewart
Haley Stewart’s book is part memoir, part treatise. There’s something in it for everyone, whether you are a single person, a stay-at-home mom or dad, or a grandparent.
The basic premise is this: Haley and her husband, Daniel, hipster Millennials, are active seekers of beauty, and this has led them to unusual places. In many ways, their love of beauty brought them into the Catholic Church, and probably, though she does not write about this in the book, to each other. When they found themselves, in her words, “stuck” in a suburban life with three children and no time with each other, it led them to seek a different kind of life. They got rid of over half of their belongings and moved into a 650 square foot apartment on a farm where Daniel could intern and they could all be together much more. Beauty continues to lead them as they return to “the world,” in a sense, as they now live in the town of Waco, Texas.
Haley is a popular Catholic “mom-blogger,” so readers may be familiar already with her relatability, practicality, and realism. This book will encourage you, especially if you are a mom, but even if you are not. Each chapter begins with a personal experience that is then expounded upon using diverse Catholic (or Christian, or secular) voices, from Pope Francis to Wendell Berry. Haley includes quotes from cultural favorites like Flannery O’Connor and J.R.R. Tolkien. Each chapter ends in practical, do-able action steps for incorporating the chapter’s focus more fully into your life. For example, at the end of the chapter on “Nurturing a Wondrous Love for the Land,” the action step, “Set yourself up for success” notes: “when there’s a system in place, it’s not hard to be thoughtful about sorting refuse… we keep a bowl on the counter for compostable items” (p. 40).
My favorite section of the book was Part II: Reconnecting with What Makes us Human. This section tackles friendship, community life, hospitality, and the internet—things that can bring us together or separate us. The chapter about the “five hour dinner” has convinced me personally that I can expect people to stay longer than an hour for a meal and that I can put them to work. Get ready, friends!
Although I consider myself a Church nerd, I appreciated the memoir aspect of the book more than the analytic or explanatory side. I longed for more stories and less conclusions. Either way, this could be a great book to hand to a neighbor or an acquaintance who has questions about the Church (especially women).
The final chapter is about hope, and it is a message that we desperately need today. With so many false images of happiness flashed at us from every direction, Haley reminds us to look to Christ: “We can start a life of pursuing less and living more ordered to the Gospel right now, in our homes, in our relationships, in our communities” (p. 150). I recommend that you check out this book, and start practicing more simplicity and presence, at home or elsewhere!
About the reviewer
Sara Perla is the Program Specialist for the Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. She attended the Catholic University of America and received her Masters degree in Theological Studies at the Pontifical John Paul II Institute in Washington, D.C. She is also a baker, a ballet dancer, and an avid listener of NPR podcasts.