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

3.65  ·  Rating details ·  1,321 ratings  ·  328 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 January 1st 2011)
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Ryan James
Aug 09, 2012 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
Nov 30, 2011 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
Dec 03, 2011 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 30, 2011 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
Dec 18, 2011 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
Oct 26, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Bonnie Jean
Jan 04, 2012 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
Dec 12, 2011 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
Sep 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
Delightful and amusing book about a woman's one year quest to master 12 separate spiritual practices in order to self-improve on her Christianity.

She tried and in every one she fell short. She has not failed however, as she continues to be a loving, giving and forgiving soul, the things that make one a good Christian, practices or otherwise
Jan 27, 2012 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
Dec 28, 2011 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 mo
May 08, 2012 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
Aug 18, 2013 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
JennyB Wolfer
Nov 13, 2011 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.
May 30, 2012 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. ...more
Thoroughly readable and relatable, I enjoyed reading about different spiritual practices and the author's attempts to implement them in her life. No one is perfect, but I appreciated her candor and the honestly with which she related her efforts. I especially enjoyed the end when she gave the overall review of what she had learned throughout the year. Short and sweet, this one is worth your time - definitely recommended. ...more
Aug 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and that fact that, while practice may make perfect, you can enter knowing it is okay to fail. The practices I think I found most compelling were honoring the Sabbath, Fixed Hour Prayer, and Generosity. I especially liked her conclusion that generosity should begin at home. I have often felt that you don't have to go a world away to change the world. ...more
Aug 19, 2013 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
Feb 04, 2012 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
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
Linda Hart
Jan 23, 2013 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 07, 2012 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
Third Reading, August 2017 - Reading this again for book club, and I still just really like it. I like the way she approaches things and the realistic approaches she takes to a faith both believed and lived. Solid four stars. I'm also reading her Flunking Sainthood Every Day: A Daily Devotional for the Rest of Us on the daily, and I love the little pick-me-up it gives me every morning.

Second Reading, May 2012: I'm upgrading to 4 stars, because of the way this book helps me reexamine my own faith
Debra Smouse
Dec 29, 2015 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
Sharman Wilson
Dec 07, 2011 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
May 15, 2019 rated it really liked it
The author decides to attempt to improve her spirituality by trying twelve different spiritual practices--one per month for a year. It's a short book and I like Riess' voice; she's under no illusions about herself and she sounds like a normal person who is totally relatable. She details what she learns and what she doesn't when she fails at the practices (but does she actually fail?). The epilogue is the best part of the book and it make me cry. The author is Mormon but it isn't readily apparent ...more
Mar 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
I can hear such a distinctive voice here in the efforts at practicing some disciplines. Her humor and authenticity and blend of scholarship with narrative really suited my reading preferences. I also resonated with Riess’ attempt to “put some zing back into the relationship” with God, even tho nothing magical happened. But the epilogue was so important—the disciplines do often benefit us most in the long run.
Dec 31, 2019 rated it really liked it
The title kind of sums it up: Jana Riess tries on a lot of spiritual practices from various faiths, fails at living them as perfectly as she ought to, but still grows in the process. As someone who struggles with perfectionism, I loved this candid memoir. I'm trying desperately to set aside the checklists of gospel living in exchange for a truer conversion, a deeper relationship with Christ, and in the end, Riess finds that her intentional spiritual practices (though flawed) have done just that. ...more
Bentley Mitchell
Jan 01, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: religious, utah
This was a delightful read. Jana Reiss sought to improve her spirituality by trying to focus on a different religious practice or principle every month for a year—including things like prayer, hospitality, generosity, keeping the Sabbath, etc.

Reiss discusses these things in a very humorous and relatable way. As the title of the book indicates, she was not perfect with any of her practices. To the contrary, the demands of life often required her to stop. And sometimes, both the details of the pr
Sep 04, 2012 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
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Jana Riess is the author, co-author, or editor of many books, including:

"The Prayer Wheel: A Daily Guide to Renewing Your Faith with a Rediscovered Spiritual Practice"
"Flunking Sainthood: A Year of Breaking the Sabbath, Forgetting to Pray, and Still Loving My Neighbor"
"The Twible: All the Chapters of the Bible in 140 Characters or Less . . . . Now with 68% More Humor!"

She is a senior columnist fo

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