Review: The Complicated Heart by Sarah Mae

I was invested in the concept of this book before it was even available as a book. I’ve been listening to author Sarah Mae’s podcast, The Complicated Heart, for the last year. She does such an excellent job of meeting professionals and subject matter experts who live and work at the intersection of mental health and faith. When Sarah Mae mentioned that she was writing a book on the theme that inspired the podcast, I knew I had to read it.

In the introduction to her book, Sarah Mae writes:
This is our story, the story of Mom and me, but it’s also your story, and how even in great darkness light finds a way in, comforts us when we can’t see, and leads us out into the fullness of day where redemption and freedom and healing are waiting for us.

I think this is an accurate and beautiful lead thought to share her aim and what she delivers on in the spiritual memoir. She explores, through her own memories and letters and diaries written by her mom, a difficult relationship, compounded by her mother’s own brokenness and alcoholism that manifests in abuse and neglect of Sarah Mae. The glory story in all of this is a true reconciliation of hearts. Not a perfect redemption of them as we know we will not experience perfect wholeness this side of Heaven.

Sarah Mae is an excellent writer, that should be of great importance to anyone buying a book. This one was written and organized with care. Some of the stories throughout could have been given a little more texture (more on this later) but on the whole, I think the book is very complete.

The stories in the book are certainly difficult to read in terms of what this young woman experienced with very little support at the time she was going through it all, e.g. an abortion, molestation, etc. But they are not written gratuitously, and all are part of the ultimate story of redemption. The recollections Sarah Mae shares are written often from her point of view at that particular time in her life. So when she recalls being molested by an ex-stepbrother, it’s from her POV as a young teen. This aspect of the book did not work for me. I think there was too much to unpack; it felt like a missed opportunity to delve deeply into how these events shaped the author, rather than glossing over difficult episodes and treating them only as if the wisdom of time had not been granted. Others may find it’s actually a virtue of the book because the author is faithful in all the ways to being a reliable narrator. She didn’t know then what she knows now.

The biblical wisdom in the book is not heavy-handed but helpful, I think, in offering context for how the author wants to frame her own healing and what she believes is possible for others.

The most compelling part of the book for me was at the very end. The author includes an entire chapter on tactical approaches to identifying and rooting out the core lies and core fears that plague our own complicated hearts. She offers spiritual insight on the symptoms and hazards of clinging to these core lies. Many of her podcast episodes have addressed these in different forms but I was very grateful to see the full material in written form, almost like a psycho-spiritual instruction manual.

I would especially recommend this book to anyone who has fought to have a healthy relationship with a parent or felt enmeshed and unable to establish firm boundaries with a family member. Sarah Mae’s willingness to share her story in a vulnerable, accountable way is as inspiring as it is instructive to all who want to explore the complexity of our hearts.

I received this book as a digital edition courtesy B&H Publishing in exchange for my honest review of the book.