Books for a Healing Heart
Healing is a journey, not a destination. I was diagnosed with multiple systemic exhaustion syndrome in 2001, but the list of physical issues barely scratched the surface of all that was going on in me at the time. During the years since my diagnosis, I’ve been on a journey toward wellness that has included a lot more than just doctor visits, prescriptions, supplements, and essential oils.
There’s just no separating what’s happening in our heart from what’s happening in our mind. The brain controls everything, and what hurts in one place sends chemical shock waves through our entire system. I had been taught that my body, soul, and spirit were separate parts of me and that damage to one didn’t necessarily damage the rest. That’s so out of touch with reality.
For example, when my heart rate rises because I’m feeling anxious, it affects every cell in my body. And, when relief comes to one area it opens the door to healing across the board. Over the last ten years I’ve done a lot of soul-searching along the way back toward wellness. Enough people have asked what has guided me that I decided to create this series on things that have helped heal my heart, and in turn, support wellness in my whole being.
One of the things I learned from Tim Keller is that moving toward healing as we walk with God through suffering doesn’t look the same for everyone. The paths generally head in the same direction, but that doesn’t make them all the same.
You and I might take all the same steps toward healing,
but not in the same order or at the same pace.
So, as you consider these things that have helped me, don’t see them as a formula or a pattern to follow. I’ve listed them in the order I have read them over the past 8 or so years, but if one title resonates with you, start there. Take as long as you need to digest it before moving on to what appeals to you next. And, of course, ask the Holy Spirit to guide you in viewing these themes through the lens of Scripture.
For most of these titles, I’ve included a quote from the book’s page on Amazon.com. Where I could find a short video clip introducing a book or a concept, I’ve included it. It probably goes without saying, but each of these authors writes from his or her own wisdom and experience and, while I respect and appreciate each, listing their books here is by no means a blanket endorsement of everything they’ve written (or said) in these titles or elsewhere.
When Life and Beliefs Collide: How Knowing God Makes a Difference, Carolyn Custis James
The title says it all. Well, almost. I read this when I first started questioning the teachings of IBLP and ATI and felt the ground rocking beneath my feet. It was disorienting, this realization that a system I’d invested so much in was not where – or who – I wanted to be. Some days I struggled to know what I believed – if anything. God used this book as a balm for my shaken soul and I think I’ve probably read it at least 3 times … each time at a different stage of healing. James’ makes the case that theology, the study of God, is important for every person on the planet.
Lost Women of the Bible, Carolyn Custis James
“You know the women of the Bible, but you don’t know them like this… It’s easy for Christian women―young and old―to get lost between the opportunities and demands of the present and the biblical teachings of the past. They live in a confusing world, caught in the crossfire between church and culture. Although home and family still remain central, more women than ever, by choice or by necessity, are blending home, career, and ministry. They need strong biblical role models to help them meet these challenges.”
As you can imagine, when my life and beliefs collided and my social and spiritual culture came crashing down, I spent times feeling very “lost.” Oh the comfort in seeing that women in the Scriptures experienced the same feelings as I did! It’s so easy to skim over their stories – because we know the ending – without pausing to imagine what they felt like in the middle of them. It’s messy in the middle, but, praise God, that is often exactly where we first recognize that we are not lost at all. He always *finds* us, and when He does, He moves towards us with gentleness, grace, and mercy. And, as Psalm 25 reminds us: All the paths of the Lord are marked by steadfast love and faithfulness.
He Chose the Nails: What God Did to Win Your Heart, Max Lucado
What I love about this book is the way it graphically portrays the lengths to which God went to make sure we knew how much He loves us. I lost sight of that for a number of years. Caught up in the idea that I had to prove my love to God and work my way into His favor, I forgot that He had already provided more-than-sufficient evidence of His infinite love for me. I asked a lot of questions of God, but when I sat at the foot of the cross, His love was undeniable. So, even if He didn’t answer all my questions, this book reminded me that God’s love was one thing I should never, ever doubt. And, that was both sweet comfort and strong medicine for my wounded heart and aching body. (Lucado’s book, In the Grip of Grace was also transformational for me.)
The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse: Recognizing and Escaping Spiritual Manipulation and False Spiritual Authority Within the Church, David Johnson and Jeff VanVonderen
“In a breakthrough book first published in 1991, the authors address the dynamics in churches that can ensnare people in legalism, guilt, and begrudging service, keeping them from the grace and joy of God’s kingdom. Written for both those who feel abused and those who may be causing it, The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse shows how people get hooked into abusive systems, the impact of controlling leadership on a congregation, and how the abused believer can find rest and recovery.”
These authors helped me understand that what had hurt me most deeply was the spiritual abuse I experienced during the years I was part of Bill Gothard’s organizations. That was the root of my brokenness and what made me vulnerable to so much physical and emotional distress. Spiritual abuse is so cruel, because it turns what should be a comfort – God’s Words to us in the Scriptures – into a weapon used to inflict pain. This constructs barriers between the wounded and the only One Who can ultimately heal them. That’s why it is so insidious, so evil. While looking back it seems so obvious, at the time it can be very subtle. This book helped me wrap words around what I’d only known intuitively before reading it.
The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are, Brene Brown
“The Gifts of Imperfection, Brené Brown, a leading expert on shame, authenticity, and belonging, shares ten guideposts on the power of Wholehearted living—a way of engaging with the world from a place of worthiness.”
Oh, the comfort of accepting that I do not have to be perfect to be worthy of love! Since Christ has already died for me, I am free to receive His grace and love based on His finished work, not mine. If I really believe the truths of the Bible and trust its Author, then I can operate from a place of freedom and hope rather than the deceitfulness of acting like I’m something I’m not (perfect). This also frees me to accept and love other imperfect souls rather than wasting energy judging them.
The Cry of the Soul: How Our Emotions Reveal Our Deepest Questions about God, Dan Allender and Tremper Longman
“Beginning with the Psalms, Dr. Dan Allender and Dr. Tremper Longman III explore what Scripture says about emotions such as anger, jealousy, grief, and much more. In this groundbreaking work they reveal that often our attempts to control our emotions, far from an attempt to be Christlike, are really a form of rebellion against God or an attempt to flee from Him. The book will help you let go of and learn from the past as you learn about meditation, prayer, forgiveness, and confession.”
A counselor and elder from our church recommended this to me last year. For years I had categorized emotions in my head: good, bad, or neutral and believed only those that landed in the “good” category could (or should) be expressed. Now, there’s certainly a right way and right time for everything, but this book reminded me that God welcomes every emotion. He knows me better than I know myself. I can come clean with Him. He’s not threatened by my honesty, and only when I’m honest are my eyes then opened to the steps I need to take to embrace holistic wellness.
Feelings Buried Alive Never Die, Karol Truman
A lot of what I’ve read falls into the category of theology and Bible teaching/study. This book does not. Truman considers the body/soul/spirit connections and looks at what happens to the whole system when emotions (chemical reactions in the body) get “stuffed.” Combined with prayer and God’s Word, the ideas shared in this book have helped me take very specific emotions to the Lord and ask for complete healing at the cellular level. I can’t explain it scientifically, but I know I am more emotionally free and whole as I practice the suggestions in this book. It’s proven to be a very practical help for me.
Walking with God through Pain and Suffering, Tim Keller
“Walking with God through Pain and Suffering is the definitive Christian book on why bad things happen and how we should respond to them. The question of why there is pain and suffering in the world has confounded every generation; yet there has not been a major book from a Christian perspective exploring why they exist for many years.”
If I loaned you my copy of this book, you could trace the steps of my healing journey on its pages. Almost every one has sentences underlined or highlighted and thoughts scribbled in the margins. What a robust and balanced theology of living in a way that acknowledges the brokenness of our world but doesn’t wallow in it! For so many years I thought I brought pain and suffering on myself because I didn’t follow the right formula or God was punishing me for getting something wrong. I’m so thankful for the way God used this book to torpedo my wrong thinking. It made me want to press in to the Lord when life hurts rather than shrinking from the pain. It’s probably my current favorite on this list.
Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead, Brene Brown
“Every day we experience the uncertainty, risks, and emotional exposure that define what it means to be vulnerable or to dare greatly. Based on twelve years of pioneering research, Dr. Brené Brown dispels the cultural myth that vulnerability is weakness and argues that it is, in truth, our most accurate measure of courage.”
Knowing there is freedom to fail while daring greatly was a revolutionary idea for this recovering perfectionist. I’m so grateful Dr. Brown had the courage to write this book! I also found her explanation of “shame cultures” very enlightening and, like The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse, it helped me wrap words around what I experienced in the some of the places I worked for the Institute.
Emotional Freedom: Liberate Yourself from Negative Emotions and Transform Your Life, Judith Orloff
“Synthesizing neuroscience, intuitive medicine, psychology, and subtle energy techniques, Dr. Orloff maps the elegant relationships between our minds, bodies, spirits, and environments. With humor and compassion, she shows you how to identify the most powerful negative emotions and how to transform them into hope, kindness, and courage.”
This is another practical read with all kinds of suggestions of ways to apply what she teaches. I appreciate the way Dr. Orloff explains how we are “whole” beings. It’s impossible to separate the parts. This is why every wound we absorb touches every part of us, and healing is a journey that requires us to address all levels of our being.