It’s been a while since my last review, and I held off on posting my last Blogging for Books review because it means so much to me to get it right (also, I LOVED IT, and my excitement was skewing my ability to write an objective review). So heeeeeeeeere is a book that was honestly very good. Not perfect, but also not long, and I would recommend checking it out if you’ve ever been frustrated or hurt by a church or religious experience. Enjoy!
Spiritual Sobriety: Stumbling Back to Faith When Good Religion Goes Bad by Elizabeth Esther (Convergent Books, 192 pages)
Recommended for: Readers of faith (all kinds), readers who are tired of religion or have a negative viewpoint towards it, spiritual readers, readers of Anne Lamott, Addie Zierman, Madeleine L’Engle, Lauren Winner.
Spiritual Sobriety is a breath of fresh air. A memoir following Esther’s first book, Girl at the End of World, which is about coming out of a fundamentalist cult, this book covers the questions of whether one can come back to faith after experiencing a religious fervor that is damaging and ultimately a hurtful message from the Church. And her answer is yes, though it takes healing.
Esther describes that if you are one of those people who questions whether faith is worth it because of horrible experiences it’s possible you used God and religion like a drug the same way addicts use substances “to numb pain, alter [your] mood, or simply to escape the realities of this messy, unpredictable thing called life.” She calls it akin to being “high” on God. This is what she herself experienced, so she’s speaking from personal experience with a warmth of a mentor sitting down for coffee with you.
Once she identified her problem with what she previously practiced as religion, she struggled with depression and realized that her religious addiction was preventing her from experiencing faith as it was meant to be. At this point, the book is more of a “how to” than a memoir, but with the purpose of helping all who read it discover a deeper faith that is meaningful without being riddled with unhealthy behaviors.
If you liked Addie Zierman’s When We Were on Fire, you’ll love this book, but know that it is more instruction rather than personal emotional recollections. She includes research from books on this subject as well as quotes from interviews she conducted with people who faced similar experiences. Traveling through the journey with the reader, Esther also writes discussion questions at the back of each chapter to help walk you through healing and identifying personal issues to find acceptance, love, and a meaningful faith. The reader has the choice to go through the discussion questions and personally develop their ideas and faith or simply read it as a learning experience. The practical advice invites readers to decide for themselves if they want to rethink the way they relate to God or practice religion, and she is gentle with her suggestions. It is also a short read.
Coming from someone who experienced similarly damaging relationships with churches, camps, religious conventions, and even people in the Church, I very much appreciated the fresh viewpoint. I would say this book isn’t perfect and got a little repetitive at times, but it is definitely a positive stepping point for releasing and working through anger towards harmful religious experiences and looking at them from a fresh, learning perspective. I have a sense that this book will stay with me for a long time, and I may revisit it should I choose to delve back into faith with vigor. I will recommend this to any friend who has ever questioned their relationship with the Church, though I would also encourage any believer or person of religious experience to explore what this book is trying to say. 3.5 or 4 out of 5 stars.