Spiritual Memoirs

There are so many beautiful stories out there right now of people wrestling out their faith and trying to move forward. I’m so glad for the ways that these writers have done this hard, authentic work and hope you will feel less alone in your life by reading about theirs.

(See also these additional lists of books for cultivating your faith and books for cultivating community. )

Faith Memoirs That Still Your Restless Soul

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

What Falls from the Sky: How I Disconnected from the Internet and Reconnected with the God Who Made the Clouds, Esther Emery: I had the opportunity to read an early copy of this book and it is exquisitely beautiful. The last third in particular was so full of wisdom and beauty that I had to keep putting it down to think about what I’d just read. Detailing Esther’s year without the Internet, this book is really about learning to pay attention to your own heart. Loved it.

Roots & Sky: A Journey Home in Four Seasons, Christie Purifoy: I found this book exquisitely beautiful, and Christie’s insights into faith and home were both gentle and searing. I’ll come back to this book again — which is the highest praise I can give. Warning: this book is most likely to make you want to sell your house in the suburb stat and move to the country.

Telling Secrets, Frederick Buechner: From the publisher: “With eloquence, candor, and simplicity, a celebrated author tells the story of his father’s alcohol abuse and suicide and traces the influence of this secret on his life as a son, father, husband, minister, and writer.” (This book is the reason I became a memoirist.”

Faith Memoirs that Deal with Mental Health or Addiction

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Lit, Mary Karr: This is my actual favorite memoir of all time. In the third book of her trilogy of memoirs, Karr tells the story of coming to grips with her addictions and finding God. Karr’s work inspires me to be honest with my life and inventive with my language, and I go back to this book again and again.

Still Life: A Memoir of Living Fully with Depression, Gillian Marchenko – I had the chance to read an early copy of Gillian’s new book on motherhood and depression. What I loved about this book was the precision with which she describes clinical depression, which, when you have it, seems to exist almost outside of language. I also appreciated the vulnerability with which she described her work toward managing this disease. If you or someone you love has depression and you’re having a tough time understanding it, this is a great one to read.

Coming Clean: A Story of Faith, Seth Haines: Don’t let the title fool you – this is less a book about Haines’ struggle with alcohol dependency and more about the ways that we, each of us, attempt to numb our pain. “I suppose we’re all drunk on something,” he begins the book. From the publisher: “In Coming Clean, Seth Haines writes rawly through the first 90 days of a work of sobriety, illuminating how to face the pain we’d rather run from, and even more importantly, how Jesus meets us there.”

Sober Mercies: How Love Caught Up with a Christian Drunk, Heather Kopp: This memoir about a good Christian woman who becomes an alcoholic is riveting and self-aware. I love the way Kopp tells her story without a single hint of self-pity or cliché.  Yes, it’s a story about sobriety. But more than that, it’s the exploation of: Where do you turn for hope when you already have the answer, but it isn’t working? And if you’ve ever felt the weight of that question – if you’ve ever needed a God who is bigger than all of the answers you know – then this book is for you.

Memoirs of Faith in Pain or Loss

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Rare Bird: A Memoir of Love and Loss, Anna Whiston-Donaldson: When Anna’s 12-year-old son, Jack, dies in a freak accident, her entire world shifts. This memoir takes us through the journey of love and loss and toward hope. From the publisher: “This is a book about facing impossible circumstances and wanting to turn back the clock. It is about the flicker of hope in realizing that in times of heartbreak, God is closer than your own skin. It is about discovering that you’re braver than you think.”

My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer, Christian WimanThis memoir is brilliant and beautiful (but dense) exploration of faith in the face of death (he continues to battle cancer). It took me most of the month to read this book because I had to do it in teeny, tiny chunks.Wiman is a renowned poet, a Guggenheim fellow, and the former the editor-in-chief of Poetry magazine, and My Bright Abyss is chock full of bits of poems.  It is dense and beautiful and heady, best suited for lovers of mystery and poetry.

Love Warrior, Glennon Melton: This book is an exploration of self and marriage and all the ways we try to keep ourselves from sadness. While I’ve always loved her blogging, Glennon’s first book, Carry On, Warrior, fell a little flat for me. So much of it was repurposed from her blog, and it seemed that she was writing around something to me, rather than into it. Now I know why. Because she was living this book. She was figuring out how to live through really uncertain times, and to me, it speaks of great wisdom that she waited, that she didn’t write it as it was happening, but only now, when she has come to some resolution. Though I don’t always agree with her theology, I find Glennon Melton to be a profound and important voice in the conversation of what it means to live a life of faith and love.

And Life Comes Back: A Wife’s Story of Love, Loss, and Hope Reclaimed, Tricia Lott Willford: When she was only thirty-one, Tricia Lott 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.

Memoirs of Faith in the Dark

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Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis, Lauren Winner: I love the phrase “mid-faith crisis” and Winner’s reflection of it here. From the publisher: “Elegantly written and profound, Still offers reflections on how murky and gray the spiritual life can be while, at the same time, shows us how to see the light we do encounter more clearly.”

Night Driving: A Story of Faith in the Dark, Addie Zierman: My own second memoir is the story of my own struggle to find a theology that is big enough to contain the clinical depression that results in a lot of darkness. Set on a spontaneous winter road trip with my two sons, this is the story of trying to run away from the dark…only to discover that God is present even in the waning light.

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

Learning to Walk in the Dark, Barbara Brown TaylorNot, to be fair, a straight memoir, but this book documents Taylor’s exploration of her own “lunar spirituality” and invites us to understand and reflect upon own seasons of both light and darkness.

Memoirs of Faith Deconstruction and Rebuilding

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When We Were on Fire: A Memoir of Consuming Faith, Tangled Love, and Starting Over, Addie Zierman: I have to throw in my first book here — my memoir of sifting through my evangelical past and trying to find a faith sustainable enough to stand up to the mysteries and complexities of a broken world. If you like what you read here at this blog, you’ll find the whole backstory here.

Spiritual Misfit: A Memoir of Uneasy Faith, Michelle DeRusha: Michelle DeRusha’s upbringing was different than mine – she grew up in a Catholic Church where 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.

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

Out of Sorts: Making Peace with an Evolving Faith, Sarah Bessey: Sarah Bessey is a powerful and beautiful voice in the faith blogging community, and this book is a great resource for anyone going through a faith shift. From the publisher: “In the process of gently helping us sort things out, Bessey teaches us how to be as comfortable with uncertainty as we are with solid answers. And as we learn to hold questions in one hand and answers in the other, we discover new depths of faith that will remain secure even through the storms of life.”

Tables in the Wilderness: A Memoir of God Found, Lost, and Found Again, Preston Yancey: From the publisher: “Journey with Preston as he navigates becoming a patchwork of Anglican spirituality and Baptist sensibility, of reckoning with a God who is bigger than the one Preston thought he was worshiping: the God of a common faith, who makes tables in the wilderness, who is found in cathedrals and in forests and in the Eucharist, who speaks in fire and in wind, who is so big, that everything must be God’s.”

Memoirs of Faith and Self Discovery

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When Women Were Birds, Terry Tempest Williams: Beautiful writing is soul care for me. Like, really  poetic complex sentences and striking metaphors and interesting structures — these are the things that challenge and inspire me as a writer. And Terry Tempest Williams is a master.

From the publisher: “‘I am leaving you all my journals, but you must promise me you won’t look at them until after I’m gone.’ This is what Terry Tempest Williams’s mother, the matriarch of a large Mormon clan in northern Utah, told her a week before she died. It was a shock to Williams to discover that her mother had kept journals. But not as much of a shock as it was to discover that the three shelves of journals were all blank. In fifty-four short chapters, Williams recounts memories of her mother, ponders her own faith, and contemplates the notion of absence and presence art and in our world. When Women Were Birds is a carefully crafted kaleidoscope that keeps turning around the question: What does it mean to have a voice?”

Assimilate or Go Home: Notes from a Failed missionary on Rediscovering Faith, D.L. Mayfield: In this stunning debut, Mayfield writes about her work among the refugee community and how it stripped bare a performance-focused faith. As I read this book, I was moved by its honesty, it’s love and sadness, it’s self-reflection and recognition and grace. And the very best part, for me, was the call at the end not to a major life change, but to the small ordinary ministries for which we are already well-suited, well-gifted.

Bandersnatch: An Invitation to Explore Your Unconventional Soul, Erika Morrison: From the publisher: “Contemporary Christianity seems to be suffering from an epidemic of sameness. Uniformity. Monotony. …Yet God, out of the abundance of his own artistic force, made each one of us unique. Peculiar. Irreplaceable. So why so much pressure to conform? Bandersnatch explores this intersection of disillusionment and welcomes readers to a liberating journey, an odyssey of the soul. This process is an opportunity for fellow Christians who are feeling weary or stifled by established norms to find God in unconventional ways, as well as an invitation for people on the outside to reimagine what following the mystery of Christ could be like.”

Dangerous Territory: My Misguided Quest to Save the World, Amy Peterson: Peterson’s thoughtful and vulnerable exploration of her own missionary experience is punctuated by insights from the historical evolution of this type of work. She is asking the questions that the Christian culture needs to consider around our approach to missions work. She is gently urging her readers to peel away the complicated layers and to learn, finally, what it is to rest in our own Belovdeness.

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