In a society saturated with do-it-yourself formulas and self help books, it is rare to find a book focused on constant communication with a higher authority. Honest, fulfilling, and inspirational Bonnie St. John opens a transparent world in her new book How Strong Women Pray. It is an intimate journey into the prayer lives of women who have faced emotional difficulty, yet overcome through the power of God-reliance.
Bonnie was the first African-American to win Olympic medals in ski racing, winning a silver and two bronze medals in the 1984 Paralympics in Innsbruck, Austria; she graduated with honors from Harvard University and won a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford; she was appointed to the White House National Economic Council; she has been featured on The Today Show, Montel Williams, CNN, Good Morning America, as well as People magazine, the New York Times, Essence. Yet Bonnie is no stranger to struggle. Living through childhood sexual abuse, divorce, and disability, she has mastered the art of overcoming as opposed to simply existing. She has relentlessly sought ways to stay positive and live joyfully no matter what life dishes out.
In 2007, Bonnie presented us with How Strong Women Pray. This life-changing book features amazing women such as Maya Angelou, Nadia Comaneci, Edie Falco, Vonetta Flowers, Kathie Lee Gifford, Amy Grant, Kathy Ireland, and Janet Parshall each offering answers to the question asked by millions of people, “How do I pray?” Exploring prayer and its varied perspectives, Bonnie blesses us with wise yet humorous chronicles of courage and triumph through prayer. I was given the opportunity to speak with Bonnie about her life and her new book, How Strong Women Pray. Finding many similarities between Bonnie and myself, such as sexual abuse, I was eager to hear her outlook on healing and prayer. Here is our conversation from 2007:
BTG: What I find interesting about your perspective is that you don’t believe there is a quick fix prayer method to solving personal problems. How did you come to this conclusion?
BSJ: I’ve had a lot of problems, so I’ve had lots of practice with prayer! It is like a quilt; there is a patchwork of things that go into it. Some people find yoga is helpful, some don’t. There is gentle walking, and therapeutic techniques. You have to find your own combination.
BTG: Tell me about the abuse you suffered as a child. What type of abuse and how did you cope with it?
BSJ: I was sexually abused by my stepfather from two years old to seven years old. I suppressed it for a long time until I had my daughter. After she was born I had to deal with those issues in order to be close with her. Healing from the sexual abuse was very hard, even more than skiing. Through prayer God gave me strength. And God expects us to work with Him through the healing.
BTG: At what point did your prayers change from desperation to gratitude?
BSJ: After having to relive all of the struggles during the healing process. The struggles formed who I was in that context, and I had to go back and redo that. As a child it was over my head, so I had to deal with it later in life. In my thirties, I had no connection or interest in my own emotions, and to get those back was a little scary. To have access to joy and love was a little scary. But healing made me a new person, and prayer was part of that. Prayers of gratitude were a part of being that new person.
BTG: If you could say one thing about prayer, what would it be?
BSJ: Experiment; try different types of praying. Find the kinds of prayers that fit you like a custom made suit. That’s what the book does; it explores praying in different ways.