Jana Riess discovered she’d been changed by her attempts to practice the classic spiritual disciplines such as fasting, service, and prayer when she received a phone call informing her that her father was dying. He’d abandoned the family while she was growing up. She hadn’t seen him in 26 years.
“Here’s what I learned from my father’s sudden reappearance and death: all of those unsuccessful practices, those attempts at sainthood that felt like dismal failures at the time, actually took hold somehow,” Riess writes in her new memoir, Flunking Sainthood: A Year of Breaking the Sabbath, Forgetting to Pray, and Still Loving My Neighbor (Paraclete). “They helped form me into the kind of person who could go to the bedside of someone who had harmed me and be able to say, ‘I forgive you, Dad. Go in peace.’”