"As a new Christian, the first book I picked up on godly femininity I threw across the room. I never picked it up again. In the twenty-five years since, I have only read a few I could whole-heartedly recommend. The rest drive me crazy. Their messages to women make me feel as though, 'You are not the woman you ought to be --- but if you do the following ten things, you can make the grade.' They are, by and large, soul-killing. But femininity cannot be prescribed in a formula."
So begins (or very nearly begins) CAPTIVATING, written by John and Stasi Eldredge. The "I" in question is Stasi, but it's her husband John you are more likely to be familiar with. He's the author of THE SACRED ROMANCE, WILD AT HEART, and a number of other books that promote an adventurous and cathartic brand of Christianity. Whereas WILD AT HEART tailored that message for men, CAPTIVATING looks to tailor the message for women and is likely to have similar bestselling results.
But even though femininity cannot be prescribed in a formula as the introduction says, CAPTIVATING's premise is that there is an essence that God has given to every woman. "We share something deep and true, down in our hearts," Stasi writes. And it's this universal feminine heart that CAPTIVATING hopes to expose, heal, develop, and celebrate.
That this feminine heart needs healing is not hard for the authors to evidence. "Every woman I've ever met feels it --- something deeper than just the sense of failing at what she does. An underlying, gut feeling of failing at who she is. I am not enough and I am too much at the same time. Not pretty enough, not thin enough, not kind enough, not gracious enough, not disciplined enough. But too emotional, too needy, too sensitive, too strong, too opinionated, too messy. The result is Shame, the universal companion of women. It haunts us, nipping at our heels, feeing on our deepest fear that we will end up abandoned and alone," writes Stasi.
If that statement doesn't hold water with you, don't even bother picking up this book because it's an observation (and a foundational one for this book) that's only anecdotally supported. If you don't already believe it, this book isn't going to convince you it's true. But if this being both not enough and too much at the same time strikes a chord with you, as it does for me, you'll want to read on.
When you do so, you will learn that every woman's heart longs for three things: to be romanced, an irreplaceable role in a great adventure, and beauty to unveil. It's worth noting that in WILD AT HEART John Eldredge writes that every man's heart longs for three things as well: a battle to fight, adventure, and a beauty to rescue. Isn't that nice of God to pre-load both male and female hearts with desires that fit nicely in parallel three-point outlines?
Snark aside, CAPTIVATING contains some truly moving stories of women, their anguish, and their beautiful blossomings into whole-heartedness. I especially appreciated a section about emotional promiscuity among young single men and women. And as in the books that John authored alone (or with best friend Brent Curtis), CAPTIVATING's imagery is steeped in nature, also something that I personally appreciate. I feel the closest to God under a West Texas night sky where the stars glitter like so many princess-cut diamonds (though admittedly, the site of Chicago's skyline under a full moon as viewed from Lake Shore Drive has been known to do a number on me too).
The breathlessly romantic tone of CAPTIVATING will alienate some. But of greater concern to me is that, while Scripture is sprinkled around liberally, the real source material here for making sweeping statements about the needs of women is literature, movies, music, and nostalgia. And while all of these are beautiful landscapes to explore and traverse, given that they often offer potent glimpses of Truth, they aren't necessarily meant to be our spiritual base camps.
Having said that, CAPTIVATING surely will be a balm for the souls of many women. And if you and/or the man in your life is a fan of John Eldredge's previous books, don't miss it.
Reviewed by Lisa Ann Cockrel on April 7, 2005