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Flunking Sainthood: A Year of Breaking the Sabbath, Forgetting to Pray, and Still Loving My Neighbor

3.61  ·  Rating Details  ·  963 Ratings  ·  276 Reviews
This wry memoir tackles twelve different spiritual practices in a quest to become more saintly, including fasting, fixed-hour prayer, the Jesus Prayer, gratitude, Sabbath-keeping, and generosity. Although Riess begins with great plans for success (“Really, how hard could that be?” she asks blithely at the start of her saint-making year), she finds to her growing humiliatio ...more
Paperback, 192 pages
Published November 1st 2011 by Paraclete Press (first published September 24th 2011)
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Community Reviews

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Jan 15, 2012 Emily rated it really liked it
In the prologue, Ms. Riess mentions how when she presented her editor with the result of her year of trying out a dozen spiritual practices, none of which she felt she successfully completed, she felt "dejected" because of her failures. Her editor encouraged her to view her experiences in a different light and shift the focus of the book to exploring the "wild acceptability of failure." Which I like. But after reading the book, I don't think she was a failure at all.

Ms. Riess may not have perfe
Jan 05, 2012 James rated it really liked it
I am giving it 4 stars because I like her humor, I like that as a Mormon she maintains a healthy critical perspective without being irreverent to her faith or to other faiths - and I like the concept of the book. I also like that she failed, (ergo the name), at most of her prescribed spiritual practices but not because I am cheering for such failure, or because misery likes company, but because I am at a place personally where spiritual practices can't be prescribed, IMHO, they must be learned a ...more
Ryan James
Aug 09, 2012 Ryan James rated it it was amazing
First I have to admit two things. This book was on a pile of books that may partner brought back from the US on the last trip. I thought it was a novel and grabbed it off of the pile. By the first page, I knew it was not a novel, but that it would be a fun read.

The author decides to read religious classics and then follow one practice each month. This was a set-up for writing the book, but she could have titled it "Creating Sainthood". Just about each month she flunked out on her chosen month of
Lisa Nelson
Dec 11, 2011 Lisa Nelson rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I kept having fantasies about having lunch with Jana and A.J. Jacobs (author of, "Year of Living Biblically,") to hear more about their years of following various religious practices. Both of these books rank high in books that motivated me to be a better person and kept me laughing all the way through.

This book was very conversational in nature. It truly felt like I just might be able to invite Jana Riess to lunch because she seems down to earth and is honest in a self-depricating fashion. It
Dec 18, 2011 Gina rated it it was ok
I can't overstate how surprised and disappointed I was by this book. Having read a few things on Riess's blog and general love of her and this book around the internet, I fully expected to love it also. The idea of following various spiritual practices for a month to deepen one's relationship with God is an interesting idea. But from the outset I was already a bit concerned: spiritual practices are generally a form of discipline that slowly change people, not a magic trick with guaranteed result ...more
May 08, 2012 Kathleen rated it liked it
Read this in January of 2012. Review from Journey with Jesus:

We hear a lot today about the "spiritual disciplines," the effect of which, I suspect, is to make the Christian life feel like a very serious endeavor. Jana Riess's contribution to this burgeoning literature takes a different tack. She decided not only to read about the spiritual disciplines but also to practice them. So for a period of one year, each month she read a spiritual classic and practiced the corresponding discipline. Her wh
This witty, wise, and wonderful book is my favorite faith-related title I read this year (and I read a lot of faith-related titles). I follow Jana Riess's blog and Mormon-related podcast appearances, so I knew going in that it was likely to resonate with me. I wasn't disappointed. Her tone is light and accessible, and her central message -- that there is value in establishing a habit of consistent spiritual practices, even when they're not performed perfectly -- is hopeful and encouraging. She s ...more
Apr 03, 2012 Erin rated it it was amazing
This was a fantastic book. I learned. I laughed. I want to do better. The author is the perfect Mormon in my opinion (although she never mentions her own religion). I call it S'mormonism. It means you are a Mormon, but also so much more: mother, friend, sister, wife, teacher, hoarder of Oreos, etc. The book doesn't focus on any one religion, but rather the author focuses on a specific religious practice each month of a year. I knew I'd be able to relate to her when she summed up her relationship ...more
Debra Smouse
Jan 08, 2016 Debra Smouse rated it it was ok
I really wanted to like this book. The author intended to read the works of great spiritual leaders and saints and implement some of their practices in hopes of strengthening her relationship with God. And I went into the book knowing upfront that she "failed" yet still learned spiritual lessons.

And I get that concept. As a Southern Baptist who converted to Catholicism and often understands New Age and Spiritual as beliefs, I know that trying on new spiritual practices can open your mind and hea
Bonnie Jean
Nov 01, 2012 Bonnie Jean rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this book. Riess chooses a different spiritual practice each month to explore along side reading various Christian classics. Some of the practices were a bit extreme (I don't know of any Christian religion that has a Ramadan-style fast from sunup to sundown, and even she admits that a fully orthodox observance of the Jewish Sabbath is not the norm among American Jews), and I'm still not sure I entirely buy the concept of vegetarianism as a spiritual practice, but it was an inter ...more
Aug 10, 2015 Stephen rated it it was amazing
Many books on spirituality are serious to the point of being humourless and intimidating to the point of dissuading the seeker from every beginning. Few begin at the level of "Spirituality for Dummies." Jana Riess' memoir of her year of seeking saintliness succumbs to neither of those faults and seems a good place for dummies to begin. She contrived to create for herself a sort of Spiritual Practice of the Month Club. Despite coming from a low-church evangelical upbringing, she bravely looked at ...more
Mar 22, 2012 Melissa rated it really liked it

If you had a plan to increase your spirituality over the course of a year what would you do?

Jana Riess, in her book “Flunking Sainthood” decides to seek out reading ancient texts and embracing religious traditions – everything from a month of fasting to strict Sabbath day observance to rigorous daily prayer – a journey she expected to succeed at on a monthly basis.

What she realizes is that each of her endeavors are much more difficult – and need a LOT mor
I really enjoyed the premise of this book, the idea to try a new spiritual practice for each month for one year. I liked learning about the diversity of practices within Christianity and it helped me discover further that the methods I was trained in represent a tiny window of ways to worship. The author had a humorous approach too, but sometimes I was a little vague on exactly what she was trying to do each month, and also sometimes all this talk about other Saints or Christian writers on each ...more
Mar 02, 2012 Megan rated it it was ok
The second half of this book is better than the first, but overall this felt very surface-y to me. Riess discusses the motions of religious observance, without a lot of the content and depth--the why of religious observance. For me, it felt like she was reducing religion to a to-do list. She seems to say that she wants to go about knowing God better, but then she simply knows "of" Him. Or, that's all she chose to write about anyway. (For example, can one *really* study scripture while walking th ...more
JennyB Wolfer
Nov 13, 2011 JennyB Wolfer rated it it was amazing
I loved this book -- finished it in one sitting (it's fairly short).

One of the things I loved was though it was written by an LDS (Mormon) writer, it doesn't have that feel. Often LDS writers use a language that is recognizable only to other Mormons, but Riess uses a much more universal tone to which all can relate. I would feel comfortable both using this book in an LDS book club, then passing it to my Baptist friend, then lending it to my Catholic neighbor.

A great read and very inspiring.
Aug 31, 2012 Jennifer rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this book so much. The author's style was so honest and real that it made me want to go and friend her on Facebook. Though a little more whiny than i thought necessary, I thought she explained/resolved the reasons for that well and made some solid theological observations along the way. Definitely a fun memoir, surrounded by insights about the challenge of dabbling in spiritual practices that made me smile.
Feb 18, 2016 Courtney rated it did not like it
Okay, I am marking this as read, but I only read about a quarter of it and I just can't bring myself to finish it. I feel like the author is too snarky and also is just trying these spiritual practices for the sake of writing a book... she doesn't seem to really take any of it seriously. While I see how people can find that a positive thing, I didn't. It made it seem inauthentic. Also, having read this for a book group and not knowing much about it, I didn't realize going into this that it is a ...more
Linda Hart
May 09, 2013 Linda Hart rated it really liked it
The author shares her "failed" experiment at challenging herself to focus on a specific religious practice e.g. fasting, centering prayer, Sabbath keeping, charity, and generosity each month of a year. In reality, her experience resulted in increased spirituality so she only "failed" at perfection. Her keen sense of humor made the reading not only enjoyable, but easy for the reader relate. All of us have at sometime vowed to be better and not met our goal completely.

Favorite quotes from the book
Jan 27, 2012 Pastor2112 rated it really liked it
Shelves: spirituality
It has been said that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. If this is true, then I’ve left my fair share of parched pavement on Interstate 666 in my well-intended but poorly-executed interest in traditional Christian spiritual practices.

For me, the spiritual disciplines always sound great in theory. It is the practice of these disciplines – moreover, the consistent practice – that I find difficult. I can talk well about the spiritual disciplines, but my execution is often, at best, sp
Sep 04, 2012 Heidi rated it liked it
Recommended to Heidi by: Emily
I wanted so badly to love this book. The premise sounds like exactly my kind of book. This is another one of those "set a goal every month for a year" sorts of books. (Is there a name for this sub-genre? Because if there's not, there should be.) In this particular book, the author challenges herself to try different religious practices every month (representing several different religions). It's a fascinating concept, and it made me wonder which practices I'd try if I were inclined to do the sam ...more
There ought to be a genre for this by now. "I'm going to do this for a year and write a book on it!" Only, this one is a bit worse. "I'm going to do one thing for each month that has to do with a religion and then move on to the next one each month for the whole year and write a book on it!" How the author expected to get anything substantial in one month is beyond me. Most of the book felt like her saying, "This is hard and I'm not good at it and I didn't do it right." Well, yeah. You only gave ...more
Tanya W
Feb 06, 2013 Tanya W rated it really liked it
3.5 stars

First let me say, I love Jana Riess.

Like another reviewer, I had a like/dislike/love relationship with this book. My first self-righteous feelings were that I really thought if I had carried out the same experiments, they would have had a greater spiritual impact on me and yielded more "spiritual experiences". Maybe the "experimental nature" and the fact that we are not going to be transformed in a short period of time by any spiritual practice are practical limitations for the success
Aug 19, 2013 Diane rated it really liked it
partway through the book, I became annoyed at Jana Riess, wondering why she ever thought she could master a spiritual practice in a month, and what even gave her the impression that the idea was to master them? I even thought (for a moment) that she knew all along that she would be a failure. Her (mostly) self-deprecating humor, though disarming, also made me think that she had to have known that spiritual practices wouldn't be that easy. I also thought it was weird of her to try to take on a sp ...more
Julie Davis
Nov 22, 2011 Julie Davis rated it it was ok
The premise of this book is that the author was to try a different spiritual discipline every month. She failed at each, if I understand the back of the book (and the title) properly. However, it seemed an interesting read if for no other reason than to read her quotes from other sources and for her take on the various disciplines.

I dipped into this a while back when I received it and found it an easy read but the author came off as really whiny (they call it wry, but whiny was my reaction, espe
Jan 08, 2012 Christian rated it liked it
Shelves: kindle
I always find it difficult to review memoirs seeing as how any review is, in some shape or form, an indictment of the memoirist's experience. Reviews just seem so much more personal.

Fortunately, I found this to be an enjoyable memoir if perhaps a bit short. I feel that there was just so much more, particularly from Riess's personal experiences, that could have been included to truly flesh out and shape the reading experience.

I will say that Riess has a pleasant voice and a touching sense of hum
Dec 05, 2012 Julie rated it liked it
Recommends it for: fans of Anne Lamott
Recommended to Julie by: Byron Borger
Shelves: spiritual-memoir
I thought this book was refreshingly honest and laugh-out-loud funny. Some people might find it lacking in spiritual earnestness, but I deeply appreciated the author's growing understanding that being a super-saint is not attainable through human will or, frankly, even a desirable goal. She repeatedly fails at the spirtual program she designed for herself and learns some valuable lessons about her heart. For example in practicing gratitude (month 8), she learns that instead of feeling thankful f ...more
Sharman Wilson
Mar 06, 2012 Sharman Wilson rated it really liked it
I'm keeping this book around so I can refer back to it--there is so much great stuff in there. I love Jana's ability to make me laugh, even while she's making me think seriously and deeply about the things of the spirit. I've been trying to implement some of her practices--the Jesus prayer has been going through my head a lot, and I've been trying to figure out a way to fast. I have one kidney, so I'm pretty sure I'm not supposed to go without water, and as for food, I'm on some meds that I've a ...more
Jan 01, 2012 Erin rated it really liked it
I picked this one up because she's a woman after my own heart: she makes up ridiculous goals for herself and inevitably fails at them. There are companion works of literature to every discipline she tries to master (in a month!) and there are many good quotes and selections out of them. I was going to give it three stars until I read the epilogue. After the writing of this book, she went through an incredibly emotional and trying ordeal and found that even though she failed at all the discipline ...more
Nov 05, 2014 Merissa rated it liked it
While I enjoyed the entire book it was only the first couple of chapters that spoke to me and felt worth reading. I do love Jana Reiss however and love her irreverent but dedicated Christianity.
Sep 22, 2014 Emily rated it it was amazing
Of course there were parts that drug on a bit, but, I loved the book overall. It was refreshing to be inside her head as she tried different practices and techniques from so many points-of-view to draw closer to God.

I suppose that is the quest we are all on if we are God fearing people: discovering how we individually go about drawing closer to Him. In this book she finds practices that work well for her and others she fails miserably at. The overall tone that I took from it is that it is okay t
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Since 2008, Jana Riess has been an editor in the publishing industry, primarily working in the areas of religion, history, popular culture, ethics, and biblical studies. From 1999 to 2008, she was the Religion Book Review Editor for Publishers Weekly, and continues to write freelance articles and reviews for PW as well as other publications.

She holds degrees in religion from Wellesley College and
More about Jana Riess...

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“It is easy to love the people far away. It is not always easy to love those close to us. It is easier to give a cup of rice to relieve hunger than to relieve the loneliness and pain of someone unloved in our own home. Bring love into your home for this is where our love for each other must start. — MOTHER TERESA” 3 likes
“How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world. — ANNE FRANK” 2 likes
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