Thursday, July 13, 2023

Holy Unhappiness by Amanda Held Opelt Book Review

About the Book:

American Christians have developed a long list of expectations about what the life with God will 
feel like.  Many Christians rightly deny the prosperity gospel—the idea that God wants you to be healthy and wealthy— but instead embrace its more subtle spin-off, the emotional prosperity gospel, or the belief that happiness and spiritual euphoria will inevitably follow if you believe all the right things and make all the right choices. In this view, frustration is deemed unholy, fear is seen as a failure of faith, and sadness is a sign of God’s disfavor. 

In Holy Unhappiness, Amanda Held Opelt, author of A Hole in the World, grapples with her own experience of disillusionment when life with God didn’t always feel the way she expected it to feel.  She examines some of the historic, religious, and cultural influences that led to the idolization of positive feelings and the marginalization of negative feelings.  Unpacking nine elements of life that have been tainted by the message of the emotional Prosperity Gospel – including work, marriage, parenting, calling, community, and church – she points to a new path forward, one that reimagines what the “blessed” life can be like if we release some of our expectations and seek God in places we never thought to look.

This is a book that asks “what good is God?” when he doesn’t always make sorrow go away or soothe every fear.  It is a book that explores our aversion to sadness and counts the costs of our unrelenting commitment to optimism. This is a book that insists there is holiness to be found even in our unhappiness.

My Review:

This is a good book for Christians who have a nagging feeling that all is not as they have been taught about what their Christian life is to feel like. There may be an underlying feeling of restlessness or a deep sense of not feeling fulfilled or satisfied with their Christian experience.

Opelt opened my eyes to the influence of positive thought on the concept of the emotional prosperity gospel. We may have been told our relationship with Jesus should result in feeling satisfied, fulfilled, blessed and happy. Instead, we have a deep sense of spiritual unrest and may experience shame at our questions and negative feelings.

Opelt identifies the unreasonable expectations from work (totally fulfilled in your calling), parenthood (blessed by the full quiver), body (no physical limits), church (perfect), suffering (always a purpose) and more. She helps us learn to live with unanswered questions, such as with suffering, painful church experiences, and more.

This is a good book for Christians who are curious about their own spiritual discontentment. It is a thoughtful exploration of our expectations on our Christian spiritual experiences and relationship with Jesus. Opelt has given me much to think about, such as being satisfied with my mundane, ordinary and flawed Christian walk.

My rating: 5/5 stars.

About the Author:

Amanda Held Opelt is a speaker, songwriter, and author of the book A Hole in the World: Finding Hope in Rituals of Grief and Healing. She believes in the power of faith, community, ritual, worship, and shared stories to heal even our deepest wounds. Amanda has spent the last 15 years in the non-profit and humanitarian aid sectors. She lives in the mountains of Boone, North Carolina with her husband and young two daughters. You can find out more at

Worthy, 272 pages.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book from the publisher. My comments are an independent and honest review.

(My star ratings: 5-I love it, 4-I like it, 3-It's OK, 2-I don't like it, 1-I hate it.)

1 comment:

Harper Zilmer said...

One of the best books on Christianity and positive thinking. It has quickly become one of my favorites!