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Sarah Zacharia Davis Answers The Faithful Fifteen -- March 2005

Books by
Sarah Zacharia Davis

A Woman's Quest for the Soul of Friendship

On the Mess, Mystery & Miracle of Marriage


CONFESSIONS FROM AN HONEST WIFE: On the Mess, Mystery & Miracle of Marriage
Sarah Zacharias Davis
Family & Relationships/Marriage
ISBN-10: 0800730917
ISBN-13: 9780800730918

I recently read a fascinating book called A History of the Wife by Marilyn Yalom. In the book, Yalom deftly navigates the waters of religion, sociology, anthropology and pop culture to map the ideas that have shaped a woman’s presence in marriage from Adam and Eve through the present time. One of the challenges, however, of Yalom’s work is the dearth of personal narratives from women for much of history. The quandary was a surprising reminder to me that women have been reading and writing in large numbers for a relatively brief amount of time.

However, if in several thousand years a historian wanted to pick up Yalom’s work and trace the history of the wife from this present time to that then-present time, the task would be significantly different thanks to this newfound literacy and books like Confessions from an Honest Wife. Written by Sarah Zacharias Davis (daughter of well-known apologist Ravi Zacharias), it presents the as-told-to stories of 20 women as they grapple with issues in chapters like “Submission,” “Sex” and “Boundaries.”

There’s also a chapter titled “Expectations,” but the effect of the expectations that people bring to marriage can be felt on every page. As Shannon says in her chapter, “When we eventually married, I had many expectations for what our lives together would be like, but I never knew exactly what those expectations were or even that I had them, until they weren't met. Isn’t that the way of expectations? We never think to voice them and talk them over beforehand, but when they aren’t met it seems as if all heaven and earth hang on them.”

Given that most of the women featured in the book came from homes where their parents filled what are often called “traditional” roles, most of the expectations in question are of decidedly conventional nature. And while many of these women are now wrestling with the lessons of their parents’ marriages, there is still a decidedly conservative flavor to their musings. For example, wanting spiritual leadership from their husbands is a common theme among many of the narratives. This will be helpful to some and wearisome to others.

I found the chapters to be alternately frustrating (as when they reveal inner dialogue that is given to hyperbole: “I truly think it’s entirely possible that no one is more selfish [than me] --- and I hate myself for it.” Surely that statement is naive at best or indulgent at worst.) and refreshingly messy (as when Olivia sounds like she’s trying to convince herself as much as the reader that she’s willing to stay in her marriage despite intense longing for another man).

That said, there is a certain reserve in the prose that gives me the sense that Confessions from an Honest Wife could have gone even further in its exploration of “the mess, mystery & miracle of marriage.” The process many of the women engaged in to deal with their issues in marriage is often truncated. The sense of journey is abridged. The answers, when they do come, come a bit too soon. 

Answers, of course, are not the point of Confessions FROM an Honest Wife. Community, awareness, understanding, empathy…these are the book’s loftier goals. And to these ends, it is a valuable source of wifely camaraderie --- a good and important read for married and single women alike as we all grapple with our own expectations of this state that will shape so many of our lives. While Sarah Zacharias Davis doesn’t share much of her own married life in this book, her experience no doubt served as a catalyst for this collection of stories, and therefore she has done a great service to women. And to future historians.

   --- Reviewed by Lisa Ann Cockrel

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