October is my month of talking about Spiritual Healing. This is part of my Year of Healing, in which I tackle different topics of healing each month. During October, I will introduce you to the topics of unhealthy spirituality, spiritual abuse and what it can look like, and recovering from spiritual trauma using blog posts, poems, and a podcast.
Today on the blog, I wanted to highlight some books that have really helped me along on my spiritual healing journey. For anyone who is struggling with doubt, questions, or pain over their spiritual past and the spiritual trauma they’ve endured, these books are great tools for you to process what happened and how to move forward.
From memoir writers to professional counselors, ordained pastors to renowned poets, I’ve learned something profound from each person. I’m so grateful for their honest look into spiritual trauma and pain, wrestling and doubt, and the grief of losing past faith expressions; and ultimately, how a person can heal, learn, grow, and find new hope no matter what has come before.
7 Books That Help Deal with Spiritual Abuse, Doubt, Questions, and Healing
1. Sacred Wounds by Teresa B. Pasquale
Since I’ve been talking about spiritual trauma, the first book I’d like to recommend is a book by trauma therapist Teresa B. Pasquale. In this book, Teresa offers hope and healing for anyone who has suffered true church hurt or spiritual abuse. Inside, there are healing exercises, true-life examples, and life-giving discussion. Teresa is a trauma survivor herself and understands the depth of spiritual trauma and the wounds it can leave on people’s souls, and she believes that once we’ve acknowledged them, we can recover within community. A hopeful, helpful book for anyone wishing to unpack spiritual trauma from a true professional counselor’s perspective.
2. Girl at the End of the World by Elizabeth Esther
I’ve actually written a blog post about this book before, but I wanted to mention it during this month since I’m diving into spiritual trauma. Elizabeth was born and raised inside a very abusive cult, and yet she was able to start recognizing that something was off and left as a teenager. She is very honest about her journey of healing after leaving the cult, and she has profound insights to give on unhealthy fundamentalist environments of all kinds (not just cults) and the deep love of God. This was the first book that really started helping me frame my own thoughts around what happened to my Kindred Spirit and her death inside a cult, and why it was all so wrong even though her cult had a lot of “passion for God.”
3. Spiritual Sobriety by Elizabeth Esther
Elizabeth went on to write another book that has been very helpful for me, too. This one is not a memoir, but it is a toolbox of resources on how people can use spirituality and religion in really unhealthy ways to deny reality and make excuses for their problems–just as any other person would use drugs to alcohol. Spirituality can be a drug, and Elizabeth shines real insight into this concept and what a healthy, robust, “sober” spirituality should look and feel like. She also offers questions and thoughts on how you can overcome a spiritually unhealthy past and find more freedom, love, and acceptance in your own spirituality. Very, very interesting for anyone who has wondered if all spirituality is just loony or can ever be healthy, or why certain kinds can be so destructive.
4. When We Were on Fire by Addie Zierman
Addie was not raised in a cult. She was raised in the fervent evangelicalism of the 90s, but her own story of depression and alcoholism help paint a picture of how often spirituality is so fake and trite to those people who are suffering. She offers great insight into some of the issues underlying the faith of the 90s, and for anyone who grew up during that age (or anyone in the church now) who wrestles with questions or concerns, this book is a very healing book to read. Addie ultimately bring so much hope and light into what it means to wrestle with faith and spirituality, and she helps those of us who do to feel not alone. It’s a read for anyone with spiritual wounds or anyone looking to understand why someone would have spiritual wounds from a seemingly “okay” upbringing.
5. My Bright Abyss by Christian Wiman
For an Intellectual and artist like me, Christian Wiman is a godsend. I know a lot of intellectuals and artists that struggle in church settings–because art, knowledge, and creativity usually make one not easily conform to rigid black and white ideas about faith. One can feel very alone in dogmatic settings. Christian writes a beautiful memoir of fait, doubt, and wrestling while still clinging to hope in the midst of a fatal illness. He is a nationally recognized poet, and he weaves his beautiful words among spiritual insights, questions, and hope in a profoundly beautiful way. Ultimately, he makes the uncertainty of faith seem beautiful, no matter what kind of wrestlings one may have. Questions are okay, not everything is black and white, and the tension of that grey area can be a beautiful place.
6. Faith Shift by Kathy Escobar
For anyone who has watched themselves drift away from the expression of faith of their youth, this is a really great resource for you to unpack a “faith shift,” as Kathy calls it. I know I have shifted a lot from the expression of my childhood faith, and I’ve benefited from that shift into healthier, life-giving expressions. Good news: MOST people experience a transition in their faith life from childhood to adulthood, or even from adulthood to middle age, etc. Kathy explains the reasons behind this and gives you a practical step-by-step guide to figuring out why you’re shifting and what the future can hold for you. Everyone is growing all of the time, and shifts will occur if someone is truly genuinely, deeply seeking an authentic relationship with God and his or herself. Kathy’s thoughts into this matter are really helpful and provide a framework for anyone who is wrestling with the pain of “losing” their childhood or past expression of faith.
7. Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God by Brian Zahnd
Have you ever wondered why Americans are so obsessed with the wrath of God? I know I have, especially after watching an End Time cult unravel and my Kindred Spirit die because of spiritual abuse. There are actually historical reasons that Christians in America emphasize very vindictive versions of God–and Brian Zahnd unpacks these reasons in an incredibly relevant book to our times. He talks about the abusive implications of a lot of these angry, wrathful, violent-ridden theological themes, the damage it can do to a person’s psyche, and how this affects how churches function in the modern age. A very healing book for anyone who has wrestled with the emphasis on wrath, abuse, and violence in unhealthier versions of Christian spirituality.
Of course, these are a handful of the many amazing books out there. But if you’re curious, definitely give these books a try!