6 New Memoirs About Sorting Out Your Faith

spiritual memoirs

When I was in the downward spiral of my ever-darkening faith angst and depression, I did what I always do. I read. Not the Bible so much…but memoirs. Lots of memoirs. I was looking for someone to make sense of the voices in my head. I was looking for truth and beauty, beauty and truth, all of it bound together in paperback form.

I found every faith memoir I could, and as I did, I found myself faced with a discouraging fact:

The ones that offered the hope of a beautiful and whole faith (Mary Karr, Anne Lamott, Henri Nouwen) came from such different backgrounds from mine. While they spoke to my soul in important ways, they couldn’t help me make sense of my own particular and strange set of evangelical baggage.

The ones that did come from some similar background (Julia Scheeres in Jesus Land and Mark Curtis Anderson in Jesus Sound Explosion) always seemed to be leaving their faith altogether – writing about their childhood religious experiences from the point of view of those who have escaped and are long, long gone.

What I wanted most in those dark days was to know that it was possible to fight through your faith baggage and come out the other side. I needed to see someone who’d done it – who’d made it through and found the Light at the other side. I wanted to hear the story of someone who’d wrestled through their evangelical past and had, in the process, been touched by God.

My book, When We Were on Fire, came out in October, and it’s the story of my own particular journey from on fire Christianity to the ashes of Depression and back towards something that looks like hope. I hope that you read it and that it speaks to you and that it makes you feel less alone.

The book that I wrote comes in a wave of new memoirs by people who are working through their faith in honest, careful ways. I love this. I love that publishers are making space for people to tell their stories and to grapple with the questions of faith in their own, unique ways.

This month (inspired by Leigh Kramer’s Read-the-books-you-have-instead-of-buying-new-ones project) I worked through six new faith memoirs. Not every single one spoke to me in profound ways, but they all spoke to me in some way. And I want to include them here because maybe one of these is exactly the book you need. Exactly the one you’ve been looking for. The one that will help you make sense of your own spirituality. The one that will help you know that you’re not alone.

Please note that this list is just a subset of many beautiful spiritual memoirs out there. This is not a Best Of list (I don’t make those because I hate them). It also should be noted that received these books free of charge because apparently that’s what happens when you become a “Faith Blogger.”

I’m not going to tell you which were my favorites. I’m not going to critique or review. I’m simply giving them to you here because each one is a gift in its own way.

Maybe you’ll find what you’re looking for.

Faith and Other Flat Tires: Searching for God on the Rough Road of Doubt
Andrea Palpant Dilley

memoirs - flat tiresShort Summary: Andrea Palpant Dilley spent part of her childhood in Kenya – the daughter of Quaker missionaries – and the other part attending a Presbyterian church in Spokane, Washington. She was exposed to deep suffering at an early age as her parents faced the world’s poverty and need head-on.

It was doubt of all kinds, but primarily this problem of pain and suffering, that led Andrea away from church and Christianity. She carefully, articulately traces this journey of doubt and questions, never offering pat answers, confessing the ambiguity in beautiful, insightful prose.

Quote:

“Even now with the advantage of distance and perspective, I can’t entirely chart a clean progression of the events leading up to my departure from the church. It happened over a period of about six months. Rather than being driven by conscious, ‘doorway of decision’ questions – should I stay or should I go? – my departure seemed less decisive and more confused. I stood on the threshold of the church leaning out. Eventually the critical mass of my weight forced me over the edge.” 

Who should read this: “People who, like me, find themselves driven by doubt and wandering the margins in search of a place to call home.” 

Buy it: Barnes & NobleAmazon | Books-a-Million | IndieBound

Found: A Story of Questions, Grace & Everyday Prayer
Micha Boyett

(Releases April 1) 

memoirs - foundShort Summary: For Micha Boyett, becoming a mother changed her relationship with God in a profoundly difficult way. Where she’d always enjoyed a rich Spirit life, she found herself suddenly estranged from prayer…and like many of us good Christian girls, she responded by blaming herself.

Micha begins this book exploring the quiet practice of liturgy at a Benedictine Monastery, and it becomes the beginning of a new journey toward the prayer in the everyday. Micha’s is a beautifully written journey of self-acceptance, of receiving grace, and of being found by God over and over again. 

Quote:

“I wiggle wood chips into place and think, Lord, earth me in truth; earth me in Jesus.

“I am loved by God. Belief is my invitation. I am not my performance. God doesn’t love me more when I’m a good mom or when I’m kind to my husband. God doesn’t love me more when I take care of a friend’s kid or when I say something smart. And God won’t love me more when I finally figure out how to pray.

“Then it dawns on me: I am figuring out how to pray.” 

Who should read this: Anyone who’s ever gotten prayer (or other aspects of faith) all tangled up in performance. Anyone who needs permission to take a deep breath and let go.

Buy it: Barnes & Noble | Amazon | Books-a-Million | IndieBound

Thrashing About with God: Finding Faith on the Other Side of Everything
Mandy Steward

memoirs - thrashingShort Summary: In this intimate book, abstract artist Mandy Steward explores the questions the crop up at the intersection of faith and identity. Hailing, like me, from a Christian culture where self-sacrifice was required and applauded, Steward struggles with figuring out the place of the heart in Christianity. Steward chooses to “go dark,” and the book is less a traditional “story” than a grappling with the deep questions of faith.

If you’re looking for a narrative structure or straight story, Steward’s book might not be for you. This book, much like the “Hidden Messages” art that Steward sells in her Etsy shop, is largely a collage of questions, quotations, and word pictures, all surrounding the “hidden message” itself, which is something about the nature of grace.

Quote:

“Negative emotions need not always alert me of wrongdoing. Sometimes they are just there and must be allowed the opportunity to pass by rather than take up residence. Sometimes they are part of healing. Sometimes they are part of learning. Sometimes they are just part of living this messy life.”

Who should read this: The one who feels like her doubts are too big, that her questions are a denial of everything she holds dear, that she doesn’t know who she is anymore. That maybe she never really did.

Buy it: Barnes & Noble | Amazon | Books-a-Million | IndieBound

Spiritual Misfit: A Memoir of Uneasy Faith
Michelle DeRusha

(Releases April 15)

memoirs - misfitShort Summary: Michelle DeRusha’s upbringing was different than mine – she grew up in a Catholic Church where God “was not accessible in a everyday kind of way,” but was rather “like a foreman or a CEO—distant and important, someone you might approach with a serious concern, but not someone with whom you made small talk.” She spent much of her childhood terrified of hell until she decided that she didn’t actually believe in God at all. 

Spiritual Misfit tells the story of a closet unbeliever and her tenuous, careful journey toward Why Not? With a conversational, relatable tone and quirky, hilarious metaphors, Michelle brings her readers along on her journey of faith and doubt in the cornfields of Lincoln, Nebraska.

Quote:

“’Let’s sing “Jesus Loves Me,”’ [the pastor] suggested. Right on cue, twenty brand-new members [of a new-member orientation class] joined him, singing lyrics as familiar and comforting as ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.’

“I stood there, rigid and dumbfounded, silently moving my lips while everyone else around me belted out the lyrics memorized from their earliest days in Sunday school. […] I didn’t know the words. I didn’t even recognize the tune. I stood there with my fake-singing, a smile plastered on my face. I was certain everyone knew the truth: that I was a fake, a fraud, a lying Lutheran, a pseudo-believer among real Christians.”

Who should read this: The one who’s not sure if any of this is real. The one who secretly thinks that God probably doesn’t exist and all of this is a bunch of baloney. The one who feels like a spiritual outsider…but maybe, in some small way, wants to be able to believe.

Buy it: Barnes & Noble | Amazon | Books-a-Million | IndieBound

And Life Comes Back: A Wife’s Story of Love, Loss and Hope Reclaimed
Tricia Lott Williford 

memoirs - life comes backShort Summary: While this book is different than others listed here – it’s not really about untangling one’s faith background – it is a book about grappling with faith and God in the face of loss. When she was only thirty-one, Tricia Williford became a widow when her thirty-five-year-old husband died suddenly in her arms. This book records the first year of the journey through loss, suffering, and heartache.

I appreciated this book for its unflinching honesty and its mix of all that is humorous and hard. I marveled at the way Tricia was able to cling to God in the midst of what felt like a senseless loss. I wonder if I would have reacted the same way – if in the face of actual unspeakable suffering, all of my theological issues with a God who would allow it might melt away and I might hang on, like Tricia did, for dear life. I hope so.

(Warning: this book will annihilate you. I have been crying for days reading it.) 

Quote:

“I have lived one whole year of winter. There were sunny days that peeked through on occasion, but my heart stayed cold, bundled, protected. Still, there are things to enjoy only in winter: good books, shorter days, enveloping blankets, and isolation. I have relished these. In January, when I began speaking to God again, I made a deal with him: if he would get me out of bed and safely to Starbucks, I would visit with him there. I might not talk, but I would listen. My mornings became my sacred hours; Starbucks became my sanctuary. God met me there.” 

Who should read this: Anyone who has experienced loss. Or anyone who feels debilitated by the fear of loss. 

Buy it: Barnes & Noble | Amazon | Books-a-Million | IndieBound

Girl at the End of the World: My Escape from Fundamentalism in Search of Faith with a Future
Elizabeth Esther

memoirs - girl at the endShort Summary: This is the intimate and heart-breaking account of one girl’s experience in a fundamentalist cult called “The Assembly.” Before I began to sort through my own experiences with organizations like Teen Mania, it had never occurred to me that there could be a thing such as a “Christian cult.” However, as Elizabeth and I both learned the hard way, a cult has nothing to do with beliefs themselves and everything to do with coercion, manipulation and shame.

This is a fast, engaging read, and Esther is a master storyteller. The stories she tells from her past will break your heart, but the way that she describes her recovery and the small ways she moves forward is inspiring, insightful and beautiful.

Quote:

“Is it possible that even though I’ve left The Assembly, that frantic way of living hasn’t left me? Have I simply transferred my apocalypse mentality into a new context? The thought haunts and enrages me.”

Who should read this: Anyone who has been (intentionally or unintentionally) manipulated by charismatic faith leaders. (Though there are few who will have experienced fundamentalism to the level that Esther did, there are many who will resonate with small pieces of this, barbs still left in our hearts after so many years.)

Buy it: Barnes & Noble | Amazon | Books-a-Million | IndieBound

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And of course there’s mine. If you haven’t read it, this might be just the right moment to check it out. 🙂

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What about you? Any faith memoirs you’ve read lately that moved you?

45 thoughts on “6 New Memoirs About Sorting Out Your Faith

  1. One I read recently and loved was Sheridan Voysey’s book Resurrection Year. It’s about his and his wife’s attempts to make sense of God and put their lives back together after a long struggle with infertility lead to the discovery they would never be able to have kids.

  2. So glad for this collection of faith memoirs you’ve suggested! I definitely find reading other people’s stories to be a great encourager during wobbly times in my faith.

    I actually just finished reading Micha Boyett’s book, which was really phenomenal. So very gentle and honest. Upon returning to Canada (and thus my library), I have a copy of your book waiting for me. I’ve heard very good things from other friends.

    I also really loved Barbara Brown Taylor’s Leaving Church, even though her experience of church looks very different from my own.

      1. I really could relate to Leaving Church & also loved An Altar in the World. What is her new one & when is it out?

      2. Living in Zimbabwe apparently has me out-of-touch with the book world. BBt is releasing a new book?! So exciting! I still have to read An Altar in the World, which will be waiting for me at the library when I get back to Canada. 🙂

  3. i just read Elizabeth Esther’s book… and i found myself, my friends and my past there on the pages. intense. i grew up in/around other fundamentalist cults… ones that have come crumbling down over the last 4 months. i would say yours and hers have been a lifeline thus far. i just started Found… and i am breathing slow and hopeful like i haven’t in a long, long time. again, i am so thankful for your journey and for your courage to share it because in that sharing, i have found a flickering light at the end of a long tunnel…

  4. I just finished Micha’s book and LOVED it; next on my list is Girl At the End of the World. Thanks for including my book here among such a stellar group of memoirists, Addie!

  5. What a great way to do this, Addie. I’ve read two (Michelle’s & Micha’s – loved, LOVED them both), have a third on my nightstand (Mandy’s) and one that is supposed to be here for review, but isn’t yet (Esther’s). There has been a deluge of fine memoirs of late and I’m so grateful for each voice, yours right there in the mix. A true gift to the church – thank you so much.

  6. Thank you so much for sharing about my book, Addie. Andrea Palpant Dilley became a friend when I lived in Austin and went to church with her. So happy you included her book here!

  7. Amazing list, Addie! I LOVED Andrea’s book and, of course, yours. I look forward to reading the others soon.

  8. I finished Found a few weeks ago and felt my soul exhale. I even brought it up with my counselor a few times! So, so good. Only a few chapters left of Girl at the End of the World. Spiritual Misfit is on deck after that. It goes without saying how much I loved yours. I finally read Lit and while I loved it, I was ever aware it wasn’t close to my story so I do appreciate the ones you’ve listed here.

    1. Yes. I love Mary Karr’s writing (and always will) but her journey to faith is so different from mine. Micha’s is exactly like that — permission for our soul to exhale. I felt that too. Well said.

  9. Do you have any to suggest for guys? My husband was raised in the church. His parents divorced after 32 years of marriage when his father decided to pursue homosexual lifestyle. So my husband is understandably angry and confused re: the God and church this same father raised him to love.

  10. Looking forward to checking some of these books out. Addie, your book was amazing. I read it this winter when I was really struggling with a number of things. It has really helped me to think through some areas of my life & to let go of the tangled web of evangelicalism. What really matters & that it’s ok to not go along with everyone in Christian circles. Oh, & we found a wonderful church, that so far, I feel safe in. I am even going to volunteer one Sunday a month & maybe check out a small group. Not so sure about that, but I’ll go once.

    1. Thank you so much for these kind words Sheri. I’m so honored and humbled and happy that my book was instrumental in your journey. So glad you found a place where you feel safe and are finding your soul expand a bit there.

  11. Even though I’m a different gen from Mandy Stewart and def not an artist type, her book really spoke to me. Have Micha Boyett’s in my stack, but life intervenes and not much reading lately. Which is a shame, cause I am anxious to delve into Metaxas book on Bonhoeffer(not a memoir, I know, just been wanting to read it for ages)It seems like my list of to reads outpaces my reading time, but always good to have this list to refer to eventually.

    1. I hate it when life gets in the way of all the reading. It happens to me constantly. Glad that Mandy’s book spoke to you! Micha’s is wonderful too.

  12. Your book should arrive on my doorstep today. So excited! A memoir I particularly enjoyed recently was “Good God Lousy World and Me” by Holly Burkhalter, a human rights activist who is an athiest turned believer.

  13. I just read and thoroughly enjoyed “Little Black Sheep” by Ashley Cleveland, a singer/songwriter. While not exclusively about her faith, I was greatly encouraged by it!

  14. Your book was remarkable. It got me through one of the darkest parts of my life. I myself was not experiencing depression, but my boyfriend had struggled with depression and suicide his whole life and hit one of his lowest points while I was going through one of my hardest times at work. It was overwhelming, to say the least.

    I called in sick to work one day and spent the entire day reading your book. I have my own blog, and wanted to share an excerpt from that day, “So I spent the day reading a book about faith and loneliness and depression. And I realized how lonely I feel and how I’m clinging to my faith, praying so hard, that somewhere, a light will shine and something will change. The book outlines how hard it is to comprehend feeling lonely when you have God. How society expects you to always feel protected and safe and that you have a friend but right now my best friend needs a ring and he needs hope and neither of them know what I need. My constants are failing to be constant and I’m falling. But there’s God and there’s grace. So I’m praying. Praying that He will hold me through this pain and this loneliness. Desperately praying he gets help. And praying that I can find the strength to move through the days as best I know how without shutting down.”

    Your book, and your blog, constantly give me relatable hope and comfort, that even when we have God, life is hard. But it is beautiful. I appreciate you and your honesty and your humor.

    Also, I know this is super bizarro posting this in the comments, but whatever.

    1. Thank you so much for sharing this here Kelsie. I’m so glad that the book made you feel less alone in the dark place you’re in. I know how isolating that can feel, and I’m humbled and honored that my journey could somehow breathe some hope into yours. Saying a praying for you and your boyfriend now…

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