Bonnie St. John has an impressive resume. Her list of accomplishments includes Paralympic Silver Medalist, one-legged Olympic ski champion, magna cum laude graduate of Harvard University, Rhodes Scholar, White House official, author, motivational speaker. What one may not expect to learn is that such an accomplished woman was also a victim of sexual abuse for several years of her childhood. While the loss of her leg drove her to succeed, the scars from childhood victimization threatened to destroy her. St. John realized that she had a gift for inspiring others with her story. As she set out to become a motivational speaker and author, she learned the power of prayer. However, the pain of facing her past and finding healing drove her closer to God and deepened her prayer life. St. John has shared her story with thousands of men and women, but many do not understand the strength she receives from spending time in prayer every morning. How Strong Women Pray was born from her desire to share the power of prayer, not only in her own life, but in the lives of twenty-seven other strong women from around the United States.
Most of the women who volunteered their prayer testimonies for How Strong Women Pray are not considered “religious” or “spiritual.” To the casual observer, it would appear that these women have achieved their status by sheer will-power, hard work, and luck. St. John’s goal with this project is to show that some of the most well-known and respected women in music, television, radio, politics, publishing, education, and athletics make prayer a priority in their lives. In addition to St. John, the following women contributed their stories: Maya Angelou, Barbara Bush, NadiaComaneci, Delilah, Edie Falco, Vonetta Flowers, Kathie Lee Gifford, Amy Grant, Dorothy Height, Barbara and Kathy Ireland, Immaculee Ilibagiza, Marilyn McCoo, Janet Parshall, Libby Pataki, Susan Taylor, Christine Todd Whitman, and Heather Whitestone.
I enjoyed the format of this book. Each woman’s testimony serves as one chapter. Then, between each testimony, Bonnie St. John tells a little more of her journey to a life of prayer. St. John’s chapters are the glue holding the whole project together. St. John has lived such an extraordinary life she can relate to something in each woman’s testimony, from motherhood to serving in Washington, D.C. Because such a wide variety of women (and, indirectly, denominations and doctrines) are featured, I think every kind of woman could find something interesting in this book.
The main reason I enjoyed reading How Strong Women Pray is I like to read about real people. The actual content regarding prayer, however, left much to be desired. With the exception of a few women, I did not appreciate much of what they had to say about prayer and the role it plays in their lives. Most of the women featured talked about prayer as more of a focusing exercise, a time for meditation, centering, something to do to quiet and empty the mind. Prayer is used more like a tool to help them be who they want to be. Many of the women spoke of “knowing” something after spending time in prayer, and did so without any reference to Scripture. The worst example of this is St. John’s own account that she knew God was telling her that she could not stay married to her husband. Furthermore, when the word “God” is used I am left wondering which “God” the writer is talking about. A few women mention Jesus, use Scripture, and refer to prayer as a way of talking directly God. Some women even discussed the importance of setting aside time to pray with their spouses, and the difference prayer made in their marriages. While there are some decent testimonies, most of them are rather mystical and disjointed, trying to say something about prayer but not really saying anything about biblical prayer.
The goal of How Strong Women Pray is to share how prayer has impacted strong women, with prayer being defined as loosely as possible. If the reader goes in with those expectations, just wanting to enjoy a handful of human-interest stories, then she will not be disappointed. However, I would not recommend this book because it does not fall completely in line with what the Bible teaches regarding prayer.